Infographic: Who’s The Highest-Paid Public Employee In Your State?

Spoiler alert: It’s probably the football coach.

In May, a reporter at Deadspin released a carefully compiled map of the United States’ highest-paid public workers. After Reuben Fisher-Baum culled through state salary databases and various media reports, he tallied the findings.


The list of highest-paid active employees counts 27 football coaches, 13 basketball coaches, and 1 hockey coach. The leftover ten include five college presidents, a medical school chancellor, a medical school department chair, a medical school plastic surgeon, and a law school dean. (The math gets you to 51 positions because Minnesota’s football and basketball coach are each earning $1.2 million.)

The map imparts at least two inescapable, jarring insights. One: These upper echelon salaries beat out those for all public employees, including state governors. Two: That’s a lot of yellow.

The bottom line is that coaches and athletic directors make healthy salaries. Their extravagant salaries, due to “additional compensation” and bonuses, eclipse what a lot of people make annually. Along with the map, Fisher-Baum explains that, no, payroll for coaches is not coming out of taxpayers’ pockets, but that, yes, these figures are still cause for concern. Why?

The salaries are unnecessarily inflated:

It can be tough to attribute this revenue directly to the performance of the head coach. In 2011-2012, Mack Brown was paid $5 million to lead a mediocre 8-5 Texas team to the Holiday Bowl. The team still generated $103.8 million in revenue, the most in college football. You don’t have to pay someone $5 million to make college football profitable in Texas.

Also, the revenue that athletic teams generate does not ultimately benefit the educational institution they represent:

All this football/basketball revenue is sucked up by coach and AD salaries, by administrative and facility costs, and by the athletic department’s non-revenue generating sports; it’s not like it’s going to microscopes and Bunsen burners.

This may or may not reflect our nation’s priorities. As evidenced by the original article’s comments section, there’s much room for debate about what the hard facts signify. But visualizing this trend makes it quite clear that football is central to what we care about–or at least to what middle America values. In some ways, the color pattern of the map also parallels a red and blue electoral map. If nothing else, we can all get a kick out of Nevada, our nation’s only state to give a plastic surgeon the top prize.


Read more over at Deadspin.

About the author

Margaret Rhodes is a former associate editor for Fast Company magazine.