OXFORD — There isn’t any doubt that one of the newest residents of Mississippi will be the highest paid public employee in the state come next year.
I’m referring, of course, to Lane Kiffin, the new head football coach at Ole Miss.
Contract details released by the University of Mississippi disclose that Kiffin has a four-year contract — the maximum allowed by state law — worth $16.2 million in base salary.
It starts at $3.9 million in 2020 and increases $100,000 a year to reach $4.2 million by 2023.
In addition, there are bonus incentives that can be awarded based on performance. They include $150,000 per Southeastern Conference win beginning with SEC win No. 5 in an individual season; $100,000 per non-conference Power-5 win in the regular season; $150,000 for an SEC Championship game appearance or $400,000 for an SEC Championship game victory; bowl game incentives ranging from $50,000 to a million dollars for winning a national championship, and some other incentives.
Not to forget that his players are students, Kiffin can earn an additional $150,000 for a single year when the team’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) is above 950, whatever that means.
That’s pretty good money. It’s far more than his bosses, the chancellor and the athletic director at Ole Miss, are paid.
It’s more than the governor or any other state official earns, even when you count campaign contributions and, in the case of a former head of the Department of Corrections, kickbacks.
The average Mississippi wage earner would love to make in a year what Kiffin will get in a single bonus if he takes his team to a major bowl game.
Mississippi State’s coach Joe Moorhead obviously is the second-highest-paid public employee in the state.
Last May, he signed a contract extension through the 2022 season that will pay an average base salary of $3.2 million, which is in the neighborhood of former Ole Miss coach Matt Luke’s salary.
As high as they are, those salaries are less than half that of Clemson’s Dabo Sweeney and Alabama’s Nick Saban.
All of this, of course, is a reflection of how much big-time college sports has grown as a business the past several decades.
In May 1982, The Associated Press reported that the late Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was the highest wage earner in collegiate sports, getting a base salary and benefits totaling $450,000 yearly.
It is said that Bryant once told someone who complained about his being paid more than professors at Alabama, “50,000 people don’t come to watch an English class.”
Bryant’s salary, even adjusted for inflation, wouldn’t match Saban’s. And 50,000 fans is a small crowd at a top SEC football game these days.
There are those who wonder whether we have our priorities right, and I guess I do, too, at times.
But it is what is it is, and I’ll confess I’m one of those who enjoys the entertainment.
Football coaches and professional athletes aren’t the only ones in the entertainment business who are paid far more than doctors, nurses, policemen, firemen and schoolteachers, whose jobs are more important.
But it’s a free country and plenty of us — myself included — are willing to pay for it up to a point.
And don’t forget, it’s fans and boosters — along with the revenue that sports bring in from ticket sales, concessions and television — that pay these big salaries, not tax revenue.
So, for now, as an Ole Miss fan, “I’m getting on the Lane train,” as they are saying around Oxford, where a good football team is a driver of the economy as well as a lot of fun.
Dunagin, who lives in Oxford, is a retired longtime Mississippi newspaperman.