Key Takeaways

  • The average salary of Pac-12 football head coaches in 2020 was $3,109,214. This is about $1.6 million less than Kelly’s starting salary in the new contract.

  • Average UCLA head coach salaries from 2015 to 2019 range from about $3.5 million for football to about $100,000 for women’s rowing.

  • Men’s basketball coach Mick Cronin earned 4.2 million last year compared to women’s basketball coach Cori Close, with an annual salary of about $600,000.

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From 2015 to 2019, a head coach for men’s basketball or football was the highest paid employee at UCLA. In 2020, the two highest paid employees from any UC school were Chip Kelly and Mick Cronin. Kelly’s gross salary of $4.3 million was the only salary over $4 million within the University of California system. To add perspective, Kelly’s salary was almost nine times the size of UCLA Chancellor Gene Block’s salary of $484,947. However, not all coaches receive the same level of monetary compensation.

The Stack analyzed base salaries for head coaches of all UCLA Division I sports from 2015 to 2019 and compared the salaries of head football coaches across the Pac-12. However, base salaries do not account for the other aspects of a coach’s contract including buyout clauses, performance bonuses and retention bonuses, according to AthleticDirectorU. Buyout clauses specify what happens if a coaching contract ends early. Performance and retention bonuses are extra incentives paid for a certain number of wins or end-of-season ranking, and money promised for a coach that has stayed a set amount of time respectively.

Average salaries of UCLA head coaches from 2015 to 2019

Data was not available for Women's Gymnastics for 2019. Starting in 2018, the head coach for water polo coached both men's and women's teams. Buyout contracts for basketball were paid in 2015 and 2019. Buyout contracts for football were paid in 2018 and 2019.

Why are salaries for football and basketball consistently higher than other sports?

College athletics departments make money from a combination of sources including media rights, sponsorships and ticket sales. Because of their larger fan base, football and basketball are generally the largest revenue-generating sports.

Collin Flintoft, a fourth-year political science student and former UCLA football punter, said that because of the money drawn in through revenue generating sports, coaches of those sports tend to have the highest salaries.

In 2019, football and men’s basketball accounted for 84.4% of UCLA’s revenue brought in by athletic teams.

“It’s the big money-making sports that are the reasons why smaller sports can keep the lights on, pay coaches and give scholarships,” Flintoft said.

UCLA Athletics spokesperson Scott Markley declined to comment.

Both these sports are also men’s sports. Tessa Musser, a UCLA Women’s Club Basketball Player, said the differences in crowds for men’s and women’s basketball games can be sensed just by attending games. Musser, a first-year computational and systems biology student, added that you could feel a difference in promotion for men’s games as compared to women’s games.

The differences in attendance and revenue may account for the discrepancy between the base salaries for men’s and women’s basketball, with Cronin at $4.2 million per year and head women’s basketball coach Cori Close making $600,000 per year. However, the base salary gap between the coaches for men’s and women’s sports exists in sports other than basketball. Volleyball was the only sport – out of the six where both men’s and women’s teams were coached by different individuals – in which the women’s coach made more than the men’s coach in base salary over the past five years.

Can UCLA avoid massive contract buyouts in the future?

From 2015 to 2019, the third- and fourth-highest average salaries were paid to coaches that no longer work for UCLA as part of a contract buyout for the former men’s basketball and football coaches. The buyouts written into contracts are worth millions of dollars, such as Steve Alford’s $3.6 million buyout for men’s basketball paid in 2019 and Jim Mora’s $12 million buyout for football paid in 2018 and 2019.

Despite the risk of large payouts, buyouts are an important part of athletics contracts because coaches want insurance in case they lose public favor, Flintoft said.

“Avoiding buyouts is definitely tough because if you want to attract a good coach, you have to include a buyout in there in case things do go awry,” Flintoft said.

Data for the University of Southern California was not available 2015-2017 and data shows the scheduled pay for head football coach of each school

UCLA is not the only university budgeting large sums of money towards athletic departments and coaching salaries. Within the Pac-12, the annual head football coach salary from 2015 to 2020 averaged almost $3 million, and all schools have exceeded an annual salary over $1.5 million dollars in the same period. The chart above shows the base scheduled pay for the head football coaching position based on the contract each coach signed at the beginning of his first season. However, this number does not include the additional monetary bonuses coaches can receive from broadcasting revenue, team records, accomplishments and appearances.


In light of UCLA football’s 8-4 finish and qualification for a bowl game last season, Flintoft said while Kelly’s $4.7 million per year contract may be on the higher end, it still was within normal bounds when compared to who UCLA competes with.

Ultimately, the athletic director helps decide what level of compensation is fair as part of contract negotiations to put their school and athletic program in the best position to succeed.

Coaches are measured by a range of statistics including records, graduation rates and playoff performance, but some aspects of coaching cannot be measured with a statistic. Musser said coaches are there to help athletes succeed, even outside of the sport.

“A coach is there to guide you and to teach you and to help you succeed – not just on the court, or on the playing field, or in the gym, but to help you go where you want to whether it’s Pro or whether it’s to make a greater influence as you proceed on with life,” Musser said.