But it took an online sports website, Deadspin.com, to crunch the data to identify which state employee is the highest paid. And surprisingly, in 41 of the 50 states and Washington D.C., the highest paid employee is a college sports coach. At the top end, a handful of coaches at state universities earn more than $5 million a year, according to newspaper reports.
Sports that pay the most: Of the 41 highly paid state university coaches, the majority -- 27 -- coach football. Thirteen are basketball coaches; and there is just one hockey coach. Only one of the 41 coaches works with a women's sports team. The lone exception? University of Connecticut women's basketball coach, Gino Auriemma.
The highest-paid employees in the other 10 states are working in fields that require advanced degrees. They are university presidents and deans of law and medical schools.
Do coaches deserve 7-figure salaries? A common argument in favor of paying college coaches high salaries is that they bring money into the schools. In analyzing the data, Deadspin attempted to refute that argument. The "coaches don't generate revenue on their own," as Deadspin writer Reuben Fischer-Baum noted. In deciding who deserves the money, "you could make the exact same case for the student athletes who actually play the game and score the points," he wrote.
Who is in the $5 million club? The Deadspin study did not release specifics about names and salaries, but each year USA Today releases a list of the highest-paid college coaches. And topping the list last year was John Calipari, the head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, and Nick Saban, the head football coach at the University of Alabama. (Saban is pictured above.) Their salaries? $5.4 million each. Fair enough, Saban's Crimson Tide did snag this past year's national championship, just like Calapari's Wildcats did in 2012.
And these coaches aren't alone in the $5 million club. Also joining them is coach Mack Brown at the University of Texas, Austin, who brought home $5.3 million last year. His Longhorns finished with a 9-4 win-loss record, leaving them tied for third place in the Big 12 athletic conference.
Penn State's football coach gets a big payday. Despite the Jerry Sandusky child-rape scandal that engulfed the football program at Penn State University, its football coach remains a top earner. According to Pennsylvania news website PennLive.com, current Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien made $3.6 million last year.
That was even higher than the salary of the late Joe Paterno, his famed predecessor. In his last year as head coach -- during which he was fired over the Sandusky scandal -- Paterno earned $1.1 million, according to The Associated Press. Paterno also walked away with a $13.4 million pension, reported The Huffington Post.
The highest-paid coach: Private universities are not required to disclose salary information for their coaches. But USA Today has reported that legendary basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski made $7.2 million back in 2010. Since he began coaching the Blue Devils back in 1980, Coach "K" has led the team to four national championships.
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