Dan Mullen, who I am sure most of you have never heard of, is the head football coach at Mississippi State. In 2009, he went 5-7, 3-5 in the SEC. This year his team went 9-4, although only 4-4 in the SEC, and capped the season by destroying Michigan in the Gator Bowl. Before that victory over the Big Blue, he was awarded a four year extension worth 10.5 million. That works out to 2.65 million a year. This is the head coach of Mississippi State we're talking about here.
Let's put this in some perspective. Huston Nutt, the head coach at Ole Miss, a much better known coach and school makes 2.5 million a year (although I'm thinking he's going to be asking for a raise). The president of Miss. State only makes 220,000 a year (this figure could be wrong because all I could find was this number which is a couple of years old. This should be easier to find that it is). Is Mullen really 10 times more important to the university than the president of the university? That's certainly what this would indicate.
I know that some of Mullen's salary is being paid by sports boosters, but couldn't the school still better use that money elsewhere? But here's the biggest kicker. Miss. State is, of course, a state school, which means that tax payers’ dollars are being used to pay this exorbitant salary. A state which continually rates near the bottom in educational attainment is paying, between just these two schools, in excess of five million dollars a year for their football coaches.
The average teacher salary in Mississippi is $41,500, which rates them 47th in the country. (I found some lower figures, but want to give them the highest reported figure I could find.) That means for what they are paying Dan Mullen they could hire about 60 teachers. (I don't know the actual number because I don't know what the benefits packages for teachers in Mississippi is in order to figure out the specifics). I'm sure the state could use 60 more teachers more than paying their football coach a lot of money.
This figure does not include the raise that Mullen also negotiated for all of his assistant coached or the discussions currently taking place about "improving the facilities." In addition to Mullen there are 13 other coaches/administrators on the football staff, for 108 players. That gives them a student:coach ratio of 7.7:1. The schools student:faculty ratio is 14:1. So the football coach is ten times more important than the president based on salary, and football players are twice as important as the average student based on people responsible for them.
Now I'm not picking on Mullen or Miss. State, I'm just using them as an example of how out of whack we have gotten in the importance we have given to college athletics, and in particular the insane salaries we are paying coaches and their staffs. If a private institution wants to pay their coaches millions of dollars they have a little more leeway as it's mostly private dollars, although they do accept federal student loans so it's not completely free. But there is no reason why a person on the public payroll should be receiving millions of dollars a year to do what they do, especially not to coach football. (Miss. State. graduates 63% of its players)
Just as an aside story on the state of education in Mississippi. In April, a federal judge ordered Walthall County to follow a 1970 desegregation order. That was April of 2010, not April of 1971. They were still segregating their classes deliberately and also de facto, by allowing white students to transfer to white schools.