King Kaufman's Sports Daily

A Texas newspaper looks into the green, green world of high school football coaching. They make way more than teachers. Not to mention players.

Published August 29, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

The Austin American-Statesman is running a fascinating, multiday special report on high school football salaries called "Fields of Green: High School Pay."

What? High school pay?

Coaches' salaries. What did you think?

Don't worry. There's no movement afoot for high school football players to get paid, though at least in Texas and a few other places where high school football is a quasi-professional sport, maybe there should be one. And anyway it's not a bad guess that quite a few players do get paid in the same illegal ways college players do.

American-Statesman writer Alan Trubow reports that football coaches at Class 4A and 5A schools in Texas, those with at least 950 students, make over $30,000 a year more than teachers at those schools. The coaches average $73,804 a year in salary, the teachers $42,400.

Interesting as that is, it shouldn't be surprising. In fact, Texas high school football coaches making more money than teachers might be the ultimate "Dog bites man" story. Coaches, unlike teachers but like their better-paid brethren in college football, run a lucrative business in which the workers work for free. There's plenty of dough left over to make sure a good coach doesn't go generate revenue for another company.

Sorry, I mean another school's athletic department.

The pay disparity also shouldn't be surprising because it's not new. Ten years ago, the paper reports, the Associated Press found that the average 4A and 5A salaries were $54,000 for coaches and $31,000 for teachers. What I find surprising is that the teachers are actually keeping pace with the coaches.

Ten years ago, the average teacher was making 57.4 percent of the average coach's salary. If you'd told me Texas high school teachers were making 57.4 percent of football coaches' salaries in 1996 and asked me what percent they were making today, I'd have guessed 35. The correct answer: 57.4.

That figure's a little misleading because coaches work a longer year than teachers. They're on 226-day contracts, the teachers on 187 days. So in pay rate, teachers make 69.4 percent of what coaches make, on average.

"I think all of these coaches earn every penny that they get," Trubow quotes Texas Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley saying. "Those football coaches put in more hours than most people realize."

Maybe so. I'm guessing teachers put in more hours than most people realize too, but Trubow cites surveys showing that teachers say they work 40 to 70 hours per week while football coaches work 70 to 100. That's a significant difference.

"I really think with the salary, it is based on the number of hours we put in," Lufkin High School's John Outlaw, the third-highest-paid coach in the state at $103,500, is quoted as saying.

Right. It wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that the Lufkin Panthers are 28-2 over the past two years, or that over the past five they've won a state championship and been to the state semifinals twice. It's all about those long hours. The janitors get paid as much as the vice-principals too, because they work similar hours. Right?

Neeley, the education commissioner, also defends the "return on investment" on coaches' pay. "I know Coach [David] Aymond doesn't make enough for what he does," she says about the coach at a high school in Galena Park where she was once the superintendent. "Just look at how many scholarships he's gotten kids over the years."

Thirty-six this decade is the answer to your next question. I suppose it could be argued that a few of those talented athletes wouldn't have gotten scholarships with another coach holding the clipboard at North Shore High, but what's the return on investment? Is a high school somehow in the business of procuring a half-dozen athletic scholarships a year for its 950-plus students? Is that the mandate?

Here's the real reason the coaches get paid so much: They generate more revenue.

"He's worth it because of the role model he is," Ennis High School superintendent Mike Harper is quoted as saying about his coach, Sam Harrell, who pulls down the highest salary in the state, $106,004.

The $4 must be for the role modeling. And wait, aren't teachers supposed to be role models too? Oh, hang on. There's more to the quote: "And last year, we made about $260,000 from the football program."

So take away the $60,000 a year more than the average teacher that coach Harrell is making, and the school is still $200,000 ahead. "And that helps fund other things," Harper says, though that's a little vague. Of course it funds other things. That's what money does. Presumably he means other sports.

That works out nicely. The wrestlers and volleyball players benefit from the football players' labor.

So where am I going with this? A campaign against high salaries for prep football coaches?

No. As several people are quoted pointing out, the issue here really isn't that high school football coaches in Texas get paid too much -- a top salary of about $100,000 really isn't "that much," in the scheme of things, and if that's what the market bears, then good for the guys with the whistles.

The American-Statesman's readers don't necessarily agree with that sentiment, by the way. In an online poll asking if football coaches' salaries are justified, the readers voted 57-43 percent that coaches are overpaid.

The issue is that teachers in Texas and anywhere else get paid so little.

But this wonderfully reported and written series has got me thinking about all those students generating all that revenue and not getting a share. I'm not ready to start pushing for high school athletes to get paid, but then again I can't really tell you why I'm not.

The main argument against paying college athletes is that they're being compensated with a free college education, plus room and board. What's the argument for high school students? They don't get room and board, and they're entitled to the free education whether they play ball or not.

Could it be that that free education argument for college players is bogus?

Previous column: Bill Laimbeer and the Detroit Shock

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