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Some head football coaches in our area are cashing what some would call "big" paychecks. Are the salaries justified for the job?
BRUNSWICK, Ga. -- All around the Peach State, winning isn’t just about the score. Football is in the DNA of Georgia -- from the Brunswick coast to the streets of Atlanta. In the race to field a winning high-school football team, some say coaches have proven to be the real winners.
“Pay across the state is going up, and in some cases they are offering a $135,000 to $140,000 for a football coach in a one high school town,” says Glynn County School District athletic director Steve Waters.
At least 22 school districts around Georgia paid their head football coaches six figures in 2015. Waters estimates that number will rise.
“Everyone knows about the college market but the high school market is getting more and more competitive each year," Waters says.
Records obtained by First Coast News show a growing trend of coaches making six figures.
The highest paid coach in Georgia is Jess Simpson of Buford High School ($174,107.65). Simpson has a record of 138-8 as Buford’s head coach and has multiple Georgia state titles.
The second highest paid coach is Colquitt County High’s Thomas Propst ($130,038.00). Both teach classes and neither serve as athletic director.
In southeast Georgia, Ware County’s Franklin Stephens and Glynn Academy’s Rocky Hidalgo make appearances on the list.
“Coaches are paid based on their experience and certificate level,” says Waters. “If they have a higher degree, they are paid more and that’s the way we do it in Glynn County.”
Waters began studying high school coaching salaries in 2015 because he wanted to make sure Glynn County could stay competitive. He looked at salaries around the state, but focused on the 12 counties nearest Glynn County. Waters says he believes coaches are fairly compensated, but says some coaches around the state are overpaid.
“We certainly spent a lot of time paying attention to what other people were paying because at the end of the day you want to be able to hire the best candidate. We wanted a coach that can create a winning environment and it showed this year.”
If You Win, You’re Paid
Coach Hidalgo knew this moment was coming. Playing meaningful football on the first weekend of December against Glynn Academy’s rival only meant his team was one game away from the state title game in Atlanta.
Glynn County played Ware County High School on Dec. 4, 2015 and came away victorious. The Red Terriers advanced to the state championship but lost to Allatoona High of Acworth, Ga.
Hidalgo left Atlanta’s Walton High School in 2014 for Brunswick’s Glynn Academy and the Georgia coast. He also received a $28,000 raise.
“When you hire a coach, you certainly look at how much he made and where he came from. We feel like with the lifestyle we have here being on the coast and certainly with the fan base and booster club here we can certainly be competitive and we were able to give him a significant raise,” says Waters.
Hidalgo was hired to help take Glynn Academy to new heights. It’s a school with rich tradition and a hunger for winning, but not much of a winning history.
“I think our coaches’ in Glynn County are worth every penny. I wish we could pay them more because I see what they do behind the scenes.”
Glynn County Schools pay the entirety of Hidalgo’s contract, including a salary for teaching ($70,870.00); working an extra 50 days ($18,650.00); and a supplement for coaching football ($16,500.00). Per a Glynn County Schools spokesperson, the annual base salary for teaching is determined by years of credible service and degree level. Hidalgo teaches two classes per day on a block schedule. Hidalgo makes $106,020 a year.
“I’ll never apologize for how much money I, or my assistant coaches, make because we earn every penny of it. We are good at what we do and we are an investment,” says Hidalgo.
Ware County’s Franklin Stephens contract pays even more than his Glynn Academy counterpart. Stephen’s contract includes a salary for teaching ($70,417.00), working an extra 40 days ($14,825.60), and a supplement for coaching football ($27,507.08). Stephens also receives an additional teaching supplement ($2,340.00), money for coaching the girl’s track team ($2,989.90) and winning the football region championship ($2,750.71). His total compensation? $120,830.29.
Ware County opted not to comment for this story.
“It’s not a job that stops. I don’t get home at 3:30. We are on the clock 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year,” says Hidalgo.
Is It Worth It?
Mixed opinions are common in Brunswick about coaching salaries. Everyone agrees teachers should be paid more, but how much is too much for a high school football coach?
“That sounds a little steep,” says Glynn Academy alumnus Mike Tinball hearing about Hidalgo’s salary. Tinball lives and pays taxes in Glynn County. “I could understand if he has been there a long time but still…wow.”
“I’m sure [Hidalgo] works real hard but so do all the teachers I know and I wish their salaries were a little closer to what he makes,” says another Brunswick resident.
“I think they earn what they are paid,” says life-long Glynn Academy fan and former educator Derrick Hulsey. He says the role of a coach is much more than just a coach: it’s a role-model for the entire community.
“As a classroom teacher that didn’t always set well with me either. But if you look at what coaches do and how much time they spend working…I think they earn every penny of it.”
In Lamar County, Ga., which lies between Macon and Atlanta, head coaches are on an extended month contact which multiplies the salary. Depending upon postseason performance of the football team, the coaching staff receives an extra 5 percent of their coaching supplement. School district officials say this is funded 100% through the athletic department budget, made up of primarily game day gate receipts.
For an expanded view of the salary chart, click here.
In Pierce County, the head football coach serves as athletic director and makes an additional $5,000. Neither coach makes six-figures.
In southeast Georgia, Hidalgo and Stephens are the only local-area coaches who make more than $100,000 teaching and coaching. Camden County's Welton Coffey nearly hits the mark. The former coach at Jacksonville's Raines makes $98,802.96 in Kingsland.
According to the National Education Association, the average teaching salary in Georgia is about $54,000 ($53,382). In Florida, the average salary is about $47,000. ($46,921).
For perspective, Georgia football coaches in some cases make nearly four times as much as their Florida counterparts. Duval County and St. Johns County pay their football head coaches less than $4,600 as a supplement. Glynn County pays $16,000.
In some cases, the coaches are the some of the highest paid district employees. Buford High’s Coach Jess Simpson is the fourth highest paid district employee behind the superintendent, two principals and a director of curriculum.
In Colquitt County, Coach Thomas Propst is the third highest paid employee behind the superintendent and one other district administrator. Propst was paid $6,881.08 more than the principal at Colquitt County High School. Locally, only Ware County’s superintendent and a principal make more than their head football coach.
The average salary for a teacher in Georgia is about $54,000, according to TeachingDegree.org. As with the coaches, teaching salaries are based on educational and higher degree levels. Georgia even has a few teachers making six figures.
Winning & Losing
The list of six-figure coaching salaries is sure to change before next season. Teams are always looking to improve and gain the winning edge.
“It is extremely important to be competitive in football. We want to create men as well but at the end of the day it’s about winning and losing,” says Waters.
“As an athletic director, part of my job is to make sure we get the right guy. When you’re hiring someone you go through every step possible to make sure you have the right guy.”
Finding the right guy to replace former Glynn Academy coach Rob Ridings was important. Ridings and Glynn Academy parted ways before he found himself back in the six-figure club at Thomson High in McDuffie County ($106,295.04).
Waters is responsible for hiring head coaches in all sports for both Glynn Academy and Brunswick High School. Waters says a lot goes into the process for hiring a new head coach.
“We want to be competitive and offer the best we can offer but at the same time we don’t want it to be an outrageous figure and not in line with what coaches should be paid.”
Finding balance is key and not all positions pay the same, even in the same district. While Glynn Academy's Hidalgo makes over $100,000, Brunswick High’s Larry Harold is paid just over $84,000.
Hidalgo describes his role during the off-season as anything but a coach. He walks the grounds of the historic Brunswick campus chatting with everyone. He likes to make sure all of his players are successful on and off the field.
“Our coaches spend hundreds of hours with our players. It’s worth an additional… you’re talking about a small investment to make sure you have quality people and to make sure your kids are successful.”
Since the end of the 2015 Georgia high school football season, some coaches in the six-figure threshold have left their positions. Hidalgo says the months after football season are the busiest.
“I don’t think coaches make so much money when teachers make this. I think in most situations only make a few thousand more than teachers. I think in our situations when we are on extended contracts…I am here every day six days or seven days a week. I am here every day during the summer.”
Keeping Hidalgo is important to Waters. He knows the day will come when they have to revisit how much they pay him. Waters knows what it will take to keep Glynn Academy competitive.
“A coach isn’t going to move unless it’s a sizable jump up in pay.”
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