Whether literally or figuratively, the coaches in the SEC have plenty of money to throw around if they are inclined. Five of the nation's approximately 10 coaches who make more than $2 million a year work in the SEC, and Richt is one of them.
Alabama made Nick Saban far and away the highest paid coach in the league, and the nation, earlier this year with an eight-year deal worth $4 million annually. The only other conference coach making more than $2.4 million is Florida's Urban Meyer, who was bumped to $3.25 million after winning the 2006 BCS national title.
Richt, who received a raise in base salary from $270,000 to $278,100 this year, makes $2,008,100 a year, including his longevity bonus.
Since the beginning of this decade, coaching salaries have been the most visible aspect of the arms race to compete at the highest level of NCAA athletics. In 1999, only five coaches in the country were making more than $1 million annually, according to a study by USA Today. Now at least 42 are beyond that figure, the newspaper reported.
There is so much money involved now that Richt has wondered about the motives of some who join the profession.
"When I started out, I didn't want to become a coach because I thought I could make a lot of money at it," he said. "Where now guys might look at it like, ‘Man, I can make a lot of money.' I just hope money is not the driving force that gets people into the (job). I hope it's still for the love of the game and the love of the players."
While some observers are now buzzing almost year round about what this coach or that coach makes, it only comes up with coaches once a year, Richt said.
"There is a certain time of the year where salary becomes an issue," he said. "When the season is over, at the coaches' convention, jobs are changing and guys are getting raises, and, for a moment in time, it becomes an issue and a point of conversations and point of thought, but then as soon as spring ball rolls around, you're coaching. You're going to work the same whether you got the raise or you didn't."
Coaches have an easy defense for those who question their huge paydays. Particularly at SEC schools, the football program makes almost every other program possible. At Georgia, Richt's team generates half the athletic budget through ticket sales alone.
"If we're going to have women's gymnastics and women's softball and men's and women's tennis and all the other things that we do all over the country, it is those revenue-producing sports and the big arenas that get all the attention that make all these other things possible," UGA president Michael Adams said.
Where the escalation will stop is hard to predict.
The NCAA is unlikely to get back in the business of mandating coaching salaries. It tried that once, creating a restricted earnings position on men's basketball staffs in the 1990s, and eventually lost a $54.5 million lawsuit. (Georgia assistant basketball coach Pete Herrmann was one of the five original plaintiffs in that case. Eventually, more than 2,000 coaches joined in the class-action suit.)
"We have to take responsibility to mange that process," Hamilton said. "At some point, you have to say, ‘How much value do we place on a tennis coach at the University of Tennessee or on an assistant football coach or a head football coach?' You have to say, ‘This is what we can do. That doesn't mean we don't love you. That doesn't mean we don't want to keep you. But this is all we can do.'"
David Ripdath, director of the Drake Group, a college sports watchdog organization, said the rising salaries have skewed the power structure not just of the athletics department but throughout the university. The Drake Group would favor a rule forbidding coaches from earning more than their school's president.
"I think a football coach can survive," Ridpath said, "making one dollar less than a president."
In the SEC
Alabama made Nick Saban the highest paid coach in the SEC by far this year. Here's a look at each SEC coach's his annual salary:
1. Nick Saban Alabama $4 million
2. Urban Meyer Florida $3.25 million
3. Tommy Tuberville Auburn $2.35 million
4. Phil Fulmer Tennessee $2.05 million
5. Mark Richt Georgia $2 million*
6. Les Miles LSU $1.85 million
7. Steve Spurrier South Carolina $1.75 million
8. Houston Nutt Arkansas $1.2 million
9. Rich Brooks Kentucky $1 million
10. Sylvester Croom Mississippi State $960,000
11. Ed Orgeron Ole Miss $905,000
12. Bobby Johnson $805,433**
*Including longevity bonus
**Based on 2005 tax records