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Kirby Paid, Saban Out: Where Josh Heupel Ranks Among Highest Paid SEC Coaches

Josh Heupel
Tennessee football head coach Josh Heupel. Photo via Tennessee Athletics.

The SEC didn’t have too many changes to the coaching ranks this offseason, but the biggest one did create waves across the college football landscape.

Alabama’s Nick Saban officially announced his retirement in January as the Crimson Tide worked to bring in Washington’s Kalen DeBoer as their next head coach. Mississippi State brought in Oklahoma offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby in late November while Texas A&M hired Duke’s Mike Elko after parting ways with Jimbo Fisher in mid-November. Kentucky almost lost Mark Stoops to Texas A&M during the Aggies’ coaching search, but mixed reports say that both sides grew wary after social media backlash online. Stoops wound up sticking with the Wildcats while the Aggies hired Elko from Duke.

While not new additions to their own programs, Texas and Oklahoma will be new additions to the conference overall as the Super SEC conference gets ready for its first full season in 2024. Steve Sarkisian is entering his fourth year with the Longhorns while Brent Venables is looking at his third season with the Sooners this fall.

Otherwise, though, the conference remains the same despite some thoughts of turnover that never came to fruition. Arkansas is running things back with Sam Pittman (you’re welcome for the open money, John Calipari) while Vanderbilt is sticking with Clark Lea.

Saban’s retirement opened the door for Georgia’s Kirby Smart to be the highest-paid coach in the Southeastern Conference; Saban was making $11.407 million in 2023 while Smart made $10.706 million. The Alabama coach’s departure gave Smart the top slot in the SEC, which was then doubled down on by the Bulldogs’ program in May as Georgia made Smart the highest-paid coach in college football with an annual salary of $13 million.

Josh Heupel, entering his fourth season as the head coach at Tennessee, received a raise and extension following the 2022 football season in January 2023. Heupel received a raise of $4 million for an annual salary of $9 million. Heupel has gone 27-12 during his three years on Rocky Top with back-to-back bowl wins over the past two seasons.

Heupel is tied with Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops for the fifth-highest salary entering 2024.

More From RTI: Where Tennessee Football Lands In Post Spring Practice SEC Power Rankings

Here’s a look at how the SEC coaches rank in terms of annual salary entering the 2024 college football season:

1. Kirby Smart – Georgia – $13 million

2. Kaleb DeBoer – Alabama – $10.875 million

3. Steve Sarkisian – Texas – $10.3 million

4. Brian Kelly – LSU – $9.5 million

T5. Josh Heupel – Tennessee – $9 million

T5. Eliah Drinkwitz – Missouri – $9 million

T5. Mark Stoops – Kentucky – $9 million

8. Lane Kiffin – Ole Miss – $8.85 million

9. Billy Napier – Florida – $7.5 million

10. Brent Venables – Oklahoma – $7.25 million

11. Mike Elko – Texas A&M – $7 million

12. Hugh Freeze – Auburn – $6.5 million

13. Shane Beamer – South Carolina – $6.125 million

14. Sam Pittman – Arkansas – $5.25 million

15. Jeff Lebby – Mississippi State – $4.51 million

16. Clark Lea – Vanderbilt – $3.05 million

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