Forbes Names the Most Powerful Coach in Sports

by Jim Harris  on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2008 4:08 pm  

This story is from the archives of

Forbes magazine applies the dollars and sense to a college football spread in its upcoming issue, with a major feature on "The Most Powerful Coach in Sports."

We'll give you a hint: He coaches a team whose colors are a shade of dark red and white. It's in the South. Substitute one letter and you'd get the name Satan.

OK, because you can now easily figure it out, here's more from the story that captured our interest about Little Nicky of the SEC:

What's more, he was given total control of the football program: recruiting, coaching, business administration and public relations. There are coaches at other universities who have similar salaries, like Charlie Weis at Notre Dame and Pete Carroll at the University of Southern California. But no coach, including those in the professional leagues, can match Saban's combination of money, control and influence. Saban, now entering his second year as the coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, is the most powerful coach in sports.

Handing Saban the keys was a business decision. Bigger TV contracts and bowl game payouts helped push revenues for the Division 1-a colleges to $2 billion, up 25% in four years. Saban has already had an impact. At his first spring practice game 92,000 fans showed up. The waiting list for season tickets tripled after his arrival to 10,000. A stalled 10,000-seat stadium expansion now seems inevitable.

Alabama's football program had $54 million in revenue this past year and an estimated $32 million profit. The profit is used to pay off the athletic department's $130 million debt for capital improvements. Football finances 77% of the athletic department, bankrolling nonrevenue sports like swimming and softball. It also has kicked back millions of dollars to university academic programs.

But the economics of hiring Saban go well beyond athletics. The decidedly pro-football University of Alabama's president, Robert Witt, points to the school's recent $500 million capital campaign as an example. "We have had 100,000 donors in that campaign, and a major reason they support us is football," he says. It's no different at any other college with a football team. Why do Ivy League schools even bother to field teams that are never going to win a bowl game? It keeps the alumni money flowing. That's how you pay for the English department.

Another part of the package is a look at the best and worst bargains in the college coaching field.

Forbes surmises that Southern Cal is getting its money's worth with Pete Carroll, who by the magazine's calculations is being underpaid 14 percent for what he delivers. Jim Tressel at Ohio State is an even better bargain, Forbes says. Iowa, on the other hand, is paying far too much for Kirk Ferentz, who just a few short years ago (like, about the time Iowa was beating Saban and LSU on the final play of the game in a Jan. 1 bowl, just before Saban bolted for a short NFL stint) was the coaching golden child. How quickly it can change. He's been a .500 coach the past three years, but he's making $3.4 million a year.

Here's a Forbes slide show of the best and worst bargains on the college football field.




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