Like any elite organization, the National Football League essentially makes its own salary rules. Head coaches fare best, with seven-figure salaries being the norm for Super Bowl winners and playoff contenders. Further down the scale are offensive and defensive coordinators, whose annual paydays have been edging into the $1 million range. Near the bottom are assistant coaches, who average between $200,000 and $300,000, which may not include a pension plan.
National Football League owners have shown themselves willing to open their checkbooks for head coaches they consider proven winners. Super Bowl winners like Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan lead the pack with estimated annual salaries of $7 million, Forbes magazine reported in May 2010. Shanahan's five-year contract with the Washington Redskins paid him $35 million. The Seattle Seahawks reportedly gave Pete Carroll a similar deal, based on his 97-19 record and two national championships with the University of Southern California.
Recent trends have boosted prospects for assistant coaches, who traditionally earned far less than their higher-profile bosses. Once confined to the $200,000 range, between 20 and 25 assistants now earn seven-figure salaries, The Los Angeles Times reported in January 2005. Wide variations still persist, however. Assistant coaches earned the highest average salary in Dallas, whose organization paid $301,710, The Jacksonville Florida Times-Union reported. The Washington Redskins had the highest budget, with $5.22 million for their 20 assistants. By contrast, Jacksonville Jaguar's 17 assistants averaged just $194,782.
Offensive and defensive coordinators—who actually direct the players' moves on the field—are rapidly outpacing their counterparts. In 2002, Marvin Lewis became the league's first $1 million coordinator, according to The Los Angeles Times. Other notable examples include the $1.7 million paid to Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, and the $1 million package for Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Norm Chow. In joining the Titans, Chow reportedly doubled his earnings as one of the University of California's highest-paid assistants.
Lack of retirement security remains a major issue for assistant coaches, who voted in late 2010 to look at unionization options, according to The Boston Globe. In 2009, the NFL let teams opt out of pension plans that had previously been mandatory. Nine teams immediately responded by dropping plans for all employees, not just assistant coaches. The changes were poorly-received among older coaches, who are less likely to retire early, and younger assistants—whose advancement depends on their standing with the head coach.