More than a dozen state employees topped the $1 million pay mark in 2023, including football and basketball coaches, the head of Georgia’s ports and a pension investment director.

The highest pay went to University of Georgia head football coach Kirby Smart, which isn’t surprising since during fiscal 2023 — which ended June 30 — his Bulldogs won a second consecutive national college football title. College football is a huge revenue generator for the state flagship university’s athletic program.

The state’s Open Georgia salary website said Smart earned $13.25 million in fiscal 2023.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution put its annual top state pay list together for fiscal 2023 using data from Open Georgia. The million-dollar pay club has gone from nine to 13 members in the past two years.

Rank-and-file state employees got $2,000-$6,000 raises from lawmakers last spring, depending on their job. Members of the General Assembly earn about $24,700 a year. Gov. Brian Kemp is proposing more pay raises in the coming year.

But those raises will be a drop in the bucket for some of the state’s highest-paid staffers.

The public is used to football and basketball coaches earning big money. Behind Smart on the 2023 list was Michael White, UGA’s basketball coach, who came in at $3.4 million, according to Open Georgia, and Georgia Tech football coach Brent Key, at $2 million (during part of fiscal 2023 he was an interim head coach).

In state government, Charles Cary, longtime chief investment officer at the Teachers Retirement System, has traditionally been at or near the top.

But in 2023, he was replaced at No. 1 by Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority. Open Georgia said Lynch made $1.715 million in 2023, up from $994,000 in 2022.

Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, joined the state's million-dollar pay club in 2023, earning $1.715 million to become the highest paid staffer in state government. (AJC Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Credit: Stephen B. Morton for The Atlanta Journal Constitution

Ports Authority spokesman Tom Boyd said, “His compensation is commensurate with his port career expertise, demonstrated pattern of new customer growth, stakeholder management, budget skills, decision-making, risk mitigation and long-term strategy necessary to ensure the port creates a positive business environment that attracts more business to the state of Georgia.”

Boyd said Lynch’s compensation is “benchmarked” by a Ports Authority committee alongside other major CEOs in Georgia.

Lynch appeared during budget hearings in recent weeks touting the ports’ growth. He said the ports and inland terminals support more than 561,000 jobs in Georgia.

Second on the list of agency employees was Cary, who received $1.159 million in 2023, up from $1.065 million the previous year. Cary’s compensation has gone up most years at the TRS, a $100 billion fund that provides or promises pensions to hundreds of thousands of the state’s teachers and University System of Georgia employees.

Buster Evans, executive director of the TRS, said the fund saw a nearly 12% gain last year, one of the best rates in the country, in large measure because most of the money is invested in the kind of equities that somewhat mirror the overall stock market. State and local governments help fund the pension system: Evans said they will put in $1.66 billion in fiscal 2025, which starts July 1.

According to 2023 National Association of Educators data, the average teacher salary in Georgia was about $62,000 a year.

Most of the others on the $1 million pay list were coaches, although Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera came in at $1.255 million, up from $955,000 the previous year. Also making the list was Dr. Richard Lee, a cardiovascular surgeon, section chief and professor at Augusta University, who earned $1.205 million.

Georgia Tech President Angel Cabrera saw his annual earnings increase from $955,000 to $1.255 million over the past year. (Steve Schaefer/

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Most of the top-paid, non-university staffers work for either the Georgia Ports Authority or the Teachers Retirement System. Traditionally, among noncoaches, the highest pay in the University System goes to doctors working at Augusta University, home of the state’s medical college.

One of the new additions to the top 10 list for agency employees was former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who was named chancellor of the University System in early 2022. Perdue, who was Kemp’s political mentor and his choice to take over the system, was paid $529,000 last year, according to Open Georgia.

According to Open Georgia, the highest-paid school system employee was Rickey Edmond, superintendent of Washington County schools, who made $784,030. Edmond was released from his contract with the district in 2023, and superintendents frequently get payouts when they leave systems.

Top earners

The top 10 pay recipients in state government, the state’s public universities and school districts in fiscal 2023, which ended June 30:

State government

  • Griff Lynch, executive director, Georgia Ports Authority, $1.715 million
  • Charles Cary, chief investment officer, Teachers Retirement System, $1.159 million
  • Michael Majure, co-chief investment officer, TRS, $981,570
  • Thomas Horkan, co-chief investment officer, TRS, $969,955
  • Edward McCarthy, chief operating officer, Ports Authority, $785,382
  • Clifford Pyron, chief commercial officer, Ports Authority, $770,908
  • James McCurry, chief administrative officer, Ports Authority, $627,314
  • Lise Altman, chief human resources officer, Ports Authority, $566,681
  • Bill Sutton, chief information officer, Ports Authority, $552,124
  • Sonny Perdue, chancellor, University System of Georgia, $528,900.


  • Kirby Smart, head football coach, University of Georgia, $13.25 million
  • Michael White, basketball coach, UGA, $3.422 million
  • Brent Key, head football coach, Georgia Tech, $2.041 million
  • Josh Pastner, former head basketball coach, Georgia Tech, $1.922 million
  • Todd Monken, former offensive coordinator, UGA, $1.424 million
  • Glenn Schumann, defensive coordinator, UGA, $1.42 million
  • Angel Cabrera, president, Georgia Tech, $1.255 million
  • Richard Lee, cardiovascular surgeon, section chief and professor, Augusta University, $1.205 million
  • Bryan McClendon, wide receivers coach and pass game coordinator, UGA, $1.114 million.
  • Geoff Collins, former head coach, Georgia Tech, $1.066 million.

School systems

  • Rickey Edmond, former superintendent, Washington County schools, $784,090*
  • Christopher Ragsdale, superintendent, Cobb County schools, $479,051
  • Calvin Watts, superintendent, Gwinnett County schools, $452,710
  • Michael Looney, superintendent, Fulton County schools, $452,315
  • Vasanne Tinsley, superintendent, DeKalb County schools, $415,866*
  • Morcease Beasley, former superintendent, Clayton County schools, $399,623*
  • Brian Hightower, superintendent, Cherokee County schools, $392,752
  • Marie Levett, superintendent, Savannah-Chatham County schools, $391,937*
  • James Pulos, superintendent, McIntosh County schools, $390,748
  • Lisa Herring, superintendent Atlanta City schools, $381,762*

* No longer in those jobs

Source: Open Georgia