Sad state of pay: Florida high school coaches earn little compared to others
Wide gap between what football coaches are paid in Florida, Georgia
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Thirty-five miles away. Tax brackets apart.
Raines and Camden County high schools are a quick drive from one another. Forty minutes if traffic is light.
Vikings coach Deran Wiley has led the Vikings to back-to-back state championships and played for another. His teams have hosted eight playoff games since 2014. Wiley is already among the most successful football coaches in area history.
His pay for 12 months of work: $4,699.
Camden County High School in Kingsland, Georgia, is the closest Peach State school to Duval County.
The football coaching supplement there: $30,000.
It’s a question that’s asked every year, and every year, it goes unaddressed as the pay chasm between Florida and many other football talent-producing states widens.
It’s not just a local problem. From Alachua to Washington counties and everywhere in between, the state of pay for public school football coaches in Florida is a disgrace.
The football coaching pay topic needs to be prefaced with this.
Coaches don’t do it and have never done it for the money. They do it to shape the lives of students or because they genuinely love the game they coach. But the other side warrants mention, too. The hours and responsibilities and stress levels and expectations have grown so much over the past 20 years that it’s unfathomable to think that pay in some areas hasn’t been so much as touched in decades.
“I think you give credit to those individuals in Florida, pay is really not the first thing you think about in this profession, too many coaches do it for the right reason,” said Camden County athletic director Welton Coffey. “And I use that term intentionally -- profession. When you’re investing that kind of time in anything, it’s a natural progression to want to be compensated for those efforts.”
That’s the reality that coaches in Florida face. And they don’t have to look too far to see how disproportionate the sad state of pay is in arguably the best place in the country for high school football talent. Coaches can cross the state line and head to Georgia, where teaching and coaching pay are both significantly better.
Every year, quality coaches leave. They get out of the business entirely. They pick up another supplemented job, like tutoring. Or, they can stay in the profession and grind it out. They’ll never get paid for what they’re worth and most are OK with that. But, it’s the principle of the matter more than an actual number.
“You start adding up every week that you’re out there, washing uniforms, cutting grass, maintaining facilities,” said First Coast coach Marty Lee. “We do it for love of the game, but you’re taking time away from your family. Most of the time, we spend more time with the kids than their parents.”
Lee estimated that head coaches earn less than a dollar an hour. Assistant coaches, who work just as much, earn far less than that.
The financial realities are grim.
• The highest football supplement available in the 11-county News4Jax Florida coverage area is Clay’s at $6,370. That total ranks third-highest in the state. The lowest head football coaching supplement in the News4Jax south Georgia coverage area is Charlton County’s at $14,000. Charlton is a Class 1A program with an enrollment of fewer than 500 students. On an apples-to-apples comparison, that’s a $7,630 difference.
Where Georgia coaches gain significantly is that they often receive an additional 30, 40 or 50 days of pay which is tied to their teaching contract. That can be a number higher than the actual supplement itself.
• Most teacher’s contracts are for 10 months, and many coaches in Florida are teachers working on 10-month contracts. That’s the job that pays the bills. So, in June and July, when the weight room is open or the team is competing in a 7-on-7 tournament, coaches and assistants are still working.
Just for free.
“Imagine a coach closing the weight room in the summer and the coach telling people, ‘Hey, I’m a 10-month employee, we can work out when I’m contracted.’ You’d get fired,” said Orange Park head coach Tom MacPherson. “As a head coach, you being there’s the expectation. Me and my AD [athletic director] are 11-month employees, but we’re both here for 12.”
• Only 13 counties in the state pay coaches an additional supplement for spring football. Many districts elect to pay a portion of the supplement in the fall (75%, 80%, 85%) and the remainder (25%, 20% or 15%) in the spring.
• Only a dozen counties provide supplement increases based on experience. Putnam and Union counties are the only ones locally that offer any financial incentive based on years of service coaching.
• A total of 24 counties in the state have seen supplemental pay raises since 2016. Locally, Bradford ($75 increase), Columbia ($1,261 raise) and Nassau ($189 boost) have gotten supplemental increases within the past five years.
It’s been more than 10 years since Baker and St. Johns counties have seen a supplemental increase. In Duval County, the last raise came in the mid-1990s.
• Only 17 counties in the state compensate coaches for reaching or advancing in the state playoffs. St. Johns is the only local county to pay coaches anything additional for reaching the postseason. Head coaches receive 5% of the base supplemental rate for each round. In football, that supplement is $3,622 for fall football and works out to $181.10, before taxes, for each round.
A coach could go 15-0 and work five weeks longer or finish 0-10 and be done in the first week of November and the paychecks in most Florida counties would be identical. In 55 counties in the state, a rookie head coach will make the same supplement as a coach who has worked the same job for 40 years.
Apply that same criteria to your own profession. Would you work for free for two months a year?
“For the first time in my career, it’s starting to get to me,” said Raines’ Wiley, who has played for three state titles since 2015 and won two of them. “No disrespect to the other coaches or schools. You go to the state playoffs, especially if you’re hosting a game. We win two state championships. And I’m getting the same thing they’re (teams who went 1-9 and 0-10) getting?”
What can be done?
High school football is a massive industry and coaches in many states that produce exceptional talent are compensated accordingly.
Despite a state that contends for the most talented in terms of top prospects annually, coaches in Florida know that their wages are never going to catch up to the heavyweights, the Alabamas and Georgias and Texases of the industry.
A report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram last January found that the average salary of 32 coaches who made the Class 5A and 6A state playoffs in Texas was $112,375. A total of 25 of those 32 coaches made $100,000 or more.
Lake Travis (Austin) coach Hank Carter earned $158,512. That’s more than both the governor of Texas (Gregg Abbott at $150,000) and attorney general (Ken Paxton at $153,750) earn.
School districts in Florida are routinely stressed financially. Funding reductions from the state have strained most counties over the years, while many others need massive amounts of capital to fix, maintain or build new schools. Clay and Duval County alone have said that they need in excess of $2 billion for those projects.
One system that multiple coaches and a former district athletic director said is a positive one for coaches is the indexing system, which is used by 16 districts in the state.
Locally, Bradford, Clay and Nassau pay coaches on an index scale or multiplier. In Bradford’s last contract, the football supplement was based off a percentage (.15) of the starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree ($34,500). In Clay County, the base amount is $35,000 and football coaches get an index of 18.2. In Nassau, the base is $35,360 and an index of 0.1048.
In theory, that’s a system that, over time, would lead to increases for coaches. If the base salaries for teachers get a nudge upwards, even slightly, then coaches could notice something small if that base number was part of the increase. Both Bradford and Nassau have seen small supplement increases since 2015-16.
“I’d love to see them go to an indexing system,” said former Duval County District Athletic Director Jon Fox. “I think that would provide continuous relief. You might not get a huge jump in the beginning, but you would over the years. I understand the budget shortfalls. Been through a few of them and I understand all of that. I also understand that these people are woefully underpaid for what they do.”
St. Augustine coach Brian Braddock said that the Clay County version is the most desirable on the First Coast because it checks off several boxes.
“I think one thing that would make me feel better is if we’d do what Clay did, make your coaches 11-month employees,” he said. “We’re at the school four days a week all summer except the week of July 4. That’s not a lot of money, but at least you feel like it’s some acknowledgment of ‘we know you’re here.’ It’s the principle behind it. I think the Clay model in our area is the best one.”
Why not just pay them?
Football is the largest revenue generator in high school athletic departments and helps offset losses in numerous sports that are in the red.
Coaching supplements are, like everything else in the school system, negotiated as part of school district contracts with unions or associations.
Former Duval County district athletic director Fox said that the easiest way to understand how supplements have gone untouched over the years is this: there’s never enough money to go around in contract negotiations.
The finite amount of money that is carved out is delegated to the widest audience which benefits members of the union. Fewer and fewer head and assistant coaches are members of the union.
“Even if the school board is willing, and at times, they have been, there’s no interest from the union’s point of view,” he said. “Over the years, coaches found out they could make more money doing other things besides coaching after school in programs that were not nearly as stressful.
“We lost some people and replaced those people with laypeople [adjunct coaches or teachers who didn’t have certifications]. Lay people aren’t members of the union. The union has no incentive to pay them. It’s very understandable why they do that.”
Wiley said that he has lost coaches from year to year who have opted to get out of the profession and pick up other supplemental jobs within the school system. As difficult as head coaches have it financially, Wiley said, assistants are pinched as bad or worse.
"I've made this comment before, I could make much more money if I did not coach football," he said. "I've lost guys who have went to go tutor or do something else after school, and it needs to be said. I lost a coach this year who said, 'I've got to go do something else after school, I can make much more not coaching.' I understand.
"Football is a year-round deal. We won a championship in December. In January, we're back in the weight room. We’re letting guys leave that are quality coaches, for monetary purposes. We've got to come up with a formula that will allow them to make some decisions to compensate these guys. You want us to train the team with no pay?"
Lee, the area’s longest-tenured public school coach at 23 seasons, said that he’d be in favor of loosening restrictions on what booster clubs in the state could provide coaching staffs with, or charge small fees -- $.50 on tickets or $25 to $50 per athlete per school year -- that could wind up being passed down to coaches across all sports. He said something as small as 5% cost-of-living raises every few years would be a well-received gesture.
The natural comparison is to look at a position out of state and Georgia is the most logical choice.
Among the six schools in the News4Jax south Georgia coverage area, three head coaches there -- Ware County’s Franklin Stephens, Camden County’s Bob Sphire and Glynn Academy’s Rocky Hidalgo -- made more than $100,000 last year, according to the OpenGeorgia.Gov website.
The bulk of their money is tied to their teaching contracts, which can easily reach $70,000 or more based on their experience and level of degree and certification. Stephens’ pay topped the south Georgia list at $128,225.52. He left recently for the top job at McEachern.
Three others, Pierce County’s Jason Strickland, Charlton County’s Rich McWhorter and Brunswick’s Sean Pender, made between $93,958.18 and $98,067.60. Pender also received a $1,147.91 travel stipend. Both McWhorter and Strickland left for different positions since the end of last season. McWhorter is one of the most successful coaches in Georgia history. He spent 29 years at Charlton, won 288 games and four state titles.
Two notable head coaches from the area went the Peach State route this offseason: Baker County’s Jamie Rodgers and Ridgeview’s Cameron Porch. Many others have done it over the years, too, for better teaching salaries and more robust coaching supplements. For many, it’s often the simplest path to stay coaching and teaching -- and make more for doing both.
According to the National Education Association’s most recent data (2017-18), public school teachers in Georgia earn an average of $56,329, the 22nd-highest average in the country. Florida teachers earn an average of $48,168, which ranks 46th. Instructional staff average salaries in Georgia have an average of $59,185, again ranking 22nd. Florida is 48th ($48,526).
Porch, 33, said that he enjoyed coaching at Ridgeview. The supplement, and the 11-month teaching contract, were much better than anything he’d had at stops in Alachua, Bradford, Levy and Putnam counties. It still didn’t keep him in town.
“They do a great job in Clay County, the head coach, at least you get 11 months as teachers, so that helps,” he said. “But it’s still real low on the totem pole everywhere in Florida. I’ll make more up here as an assistant coach and as a teacher. It’s hard to pass up significantly less responsibility for significantly more money. Me still being young, you’re trying to advance to help your family.”
Former Mandarin and Fletcher coach Ricky Medlock is entering his fourth season at Coosa High School, a Class 2A program in Rome, Georgia. With an increase this season for coaches in that district, Medlock will make $11,900 as the team’s offensive coordinator.
During his 34 years in Duval County, Medlock got one supplement increase.
“It’s been kind of a breath of fresh air,” he said. “Facilities up here are a lot nicer. They put more money into education. The money they put in for the kids, it’s incredible. It’s a lot different. If you cut the field, you get a supplement for that. You do laundry, you get a supplement for that. Anything you do, you are compensated for. We never got paid for cutting the fields in Florida. I did it my whole life. It was just something you did.”
It pays to move
In 2003, Welton Coffey was a 35-year-old preparing for his seventh season as the Raines football coach. He’d already carved out his place in history, leading the Vikings to the Class 3A state championship in 1997, his first year as a head coach.
Rick Darlington had just been hired at Valdosta High in Georgia and offered Coffey a position on the Wildcats’ staff.
Coffey thought that he’d be a Raines’ lifer. But when he weighed everything out, it didn’t make sense to discount the possibility of making the move.
“Just teaching-wise for me, it was an $8,000 pay raise as a teacher, I don’t mind sharing that,” he said. “I was living what I thought was my dream job. I thought I was going to be like [former Raines coaches] Jimmie Johnson and Freddie Stephens and be there for 25, 30 years. I was looking at working at Foot Locker in the summer, part-time [for extra money]. My mentor told me, ‘I know you’re loyal to a fault, but don’t be a dern fool.’ You’ve got to look at this for your family. Pray about it.”
Coffey spent three years with the Wildcats and left for a position at Camden County in 2006. He was an assistant for seven seasons before being promoted to head coach in 2013. The football head coaching supplement now in Camden County is $30,000, as well as an extra 50 days of pay based on their teaching contract.
“This is the bottom line, the part I would always tell people,” Fox said. “If you want quality coaching, like every other profession, you’re going to have to pay to get it. Because if you don’t, someone somewhere will.”
A young and talented coach like Coffey leaving then didn’t exactly ignite a trend of Florida coaches running for the border, but it was an indicator that talented coaches won’t stay forever, even in situations that they may have once considered ideal.
“It’ll get even worse,” said Orange Park’s MacPherson. “The [Darrell] Sutherlands and [Chuck] Dickinsons and Marty Lees, those days are over. Fifteen years from now, you won’t see guys who’ve been at a program 15, 20, 25 years.”
MacPherson brought up the recent move of Darlington, who left Valdosta and returned to Apopka High in Florida where he coached for 13 years and won titles in 2012 and ’14. Darlington was hired last December by Enterprise High School in Alabama.
According to AL.com, he’ll make $115,000.002 there on a 12-month teaching contract, with a chunk of that total ($50,810.93) solely from coaching football.
After 15 years of service in Orange County, Darlington, one of the most accomplished and well-respected coaches in Florida, would have maxed out at a $5,313 football coaching supplement.
Ten years is a number that several coaches mentioned as a threshold for longevity at a program.
Only six have been head coaches at their current programs for 10 years or more -- Keystone Heights’ Chuck Dickinson, Fort White’s Demetric Jackson Sr., Sandalwood’s Adam Geis, First Coast’s Lee, Bartram Trail’s Darrell Sutherland and Raines’ Wiley. Union County’s Ronnie Pruitt is entering his 10th season.
“I do think something is giving. There just aren’t many coaches in this area who have been in it 20-plus years. You wonder how realistic that is now,” Braddock said. “This will be my 16th year coaching, and it’s changed exponentially. Now, compared to when I started (2004), coaching is a 24/7, 365-days-a-year job. It’s definitely its own full-time job and more.
“I’m always guarded about complaining about it here. This isn’t, ‘Woe-is-me, I’m underpaid.’ Coaches could choose to leave and go to Georgia. I’ll do my job to the best of my ability or I’ll go find another job. Every school has kids and parents who go out of their way to tell you how much you’re valued. Those are things that keep you going. But I’d also be lying to say that the pay doesn’t get to you. I think you just see coaches weighing it out in the long term. Just look at the coaches who left since last year.”
Looking at the last five years at the 45 public high schools in the 11-county Florida coverage area, there have been 90 coaches at those programs, an average of two per school. Only 14 schools in the area have the same head coach as they did five years ago.
“I think some of it is possibly that if you’re starting out and have the opportunity as a young coach to make $5,000 to $10,000 more going out of state to coach, I’m sure that’s got to be a factor,” Dickinson said. “If you broke it down per hour, it’d have to be less than a dollar an hour. You always wish you could get more. I love what I’m doing. If it was about money, I’d have been out of it. I love to coach. Love to be around the kids.”
Not all coaches in Georgia teach a full class schedule. Some teach a class and handle lunch duty. Some teach two or three periods. Others coach football and serve as the athletic director. Among some of the local football coaches' duties: Braddock teaches algebra. Lee teaches driver’s education and is also the athletic director. Wiley teaches math.
“I knew when I took the job what I was getting. From a coaching standpoint, it’s not like they duped me,” MacPherson said. “But if I was a young coach or had a lot of flexibility [to move] and I knew I could get a $15,000 supplement in Georgia and teach one class? Yeah, it’d be nice.”
The district contracts that spell out coaching pay for football coaches in each of Florida's 67 counties also spell out the supplements for other sports.
For some sports, like baseball/softball, basketball, soccer, track and volleyball, every or nearly every county in the state pays a coaching supplement.
In sports like golf and swimming, supplements are not paid as consistently statewide, and in sports like bowling and lacrosse, fewer than half of the state's districts have contracts that specify a supplement.
Below are the starting supplements for coaches in some of the other major high school sports across Florida:
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