Georgia could make Kirby Smart a $100 million coach

Georgia Bulldog Coach Kirby Smart waves to fans during the Dawg Walk as part of the team’s celebration parade in Athens, Georgia on January 15th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Georgia Bulldog Coach Kirby Smart waves to fans during the Dawg Walk as part of the team’s celebration parade in Athens, Georgia on January 15th, 2022. (Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATHENS – Kirby Smart is about to make a bunch of money.

The Georgia football coach already does. With $1.8 million in bonuses earned from leading the Bulldogs to the national championship this past season, Smart cleared $8.9 million in the last academic year. But that was under his old deal.

A new deal is coming. UGA President Jere Morehead and Athletic Director Josh Brooks confirmed that after the Georgia Athletic Association’s board of directors meeting Wednesday.

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Not that it’s a revelation necessarily. Virtually all coaches not named Nick Saban get raises and restructured deals after winning a national title.

In Smart’s case, though, it figures to be substantial.

“I think we’re in a situation where you’ve got a coach that wants to be here; you’ve got an administration that wants him to be here; so, we’re just working through the process,” Brooks told three reporters after the hour-long board meeting at the Georgia Center for Continuing Education. “It’s not something that we’ve put a hard timeline on, but we’re in active talks and talks are going well. We feel very optimistic about getting it done in the near future.”

UGA is in talks with Smart’s agent, Jimmy Sexton of Memphis, the famed representative of football coaches.

Smart himself has remained almost 100% engaged with Georgia’s football program, which just completed its 2022 recruiting class with signing day Wednesday.

“I mean, Kirby’s been busy until today with recruiting,” said Morehead, standing alongside Brooks in a second-floor lobby. “He said he had his priority focused on that. But we’ll get it done expeditiously.”

Said Brooks: “It’s working in good faith, and Jimmy’s great to work with.”

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart holds up The Coaches’ Trophy during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Georgia coach Kirby Smart holds up The Coaches’ Trophy during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia coach Kirby Smart holds up The Coaches’ Trophy during the celebration of Georgia’s College Football Playoff national championship at Sanford Stadium in Athens on Saturday, Jan. 15, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

Credit: Hyosub Shin/hshin@ajc.com

By running down Georgia’s first football national championship in 41 years after playing for it another time four years ago, Smart is expected to move toward the top of the pecking order for college football coaches. That would mean making him a $100 million man.

The top spot, traditionally held by the 70-year-old Saban, recently was relinquished to Southern Cal’s Lincoln Riley. While difficult to verify because USC is a private school and therefore not subject to open-records laws, numerous published reports have Riley’s deal with the Trojans at $110 million over 10 years.

Depending on interpretations, Brian Kelly was hired recently by LSU at $100 million over 10 years or $95 million. The discrepancy is thought to be in the bonus structure. Both Kelly and Riley are represented by Trace Armstrong.

The next couple of coaches on college football’s highest-paid list are Saban and Mel Tucker. They’re both represented by Sexton. Sexton recently worked out a new deal for Tucker that will pay him $95 million over 10 years. Saban’s deal currently averages $9.75 annually.

Notably, only Saban and Smart have won national championships. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, who is sixth on the list at $8.37 million, has won two.

Smart’s $7.1 million annual salary places him 10th overall among highest-paid college coaches. That’s behind fellow SEC coaches Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M and Lane Kiffin of Ole Miss. That won’t be the case once Smart gets a new deal.

It reasons that Smart would move into one of the top few spots. That would require an agreement in the range of $100 million over 10 years.

Based on the total asset numbers that treasurer Ryan Nesbitt shared with the athletic board Wednesday -- $450.6 million as of December -- Georgia shouldn’t have a problem meeting such an obligation. Just when it will have to step up to do so remains the only question.

“We are working with intent but without rush,” Brooks said.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S BEST-PAID COACHES

Numbers according to Sportsnaut.com, a website that monitors the sports marketplace:

  1. Lincoln Riley, USC, $11 million/year
  2. Brian Kelly, LSU, $10M
  3. Nick Saban, Alabama $9.75M
  4. Mel Tucker, Michigan St. $9.5M
  5. David Shaw, Stanford, $8.925M
  6. Dabo Swinney, Clemson, $8.37M
  7. Mario Cristobal, Miami, $8M
  8. Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M $7.5M
  9. Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss $7.25M
  10. Kirby Smart, Georgia $7.1M