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UPDATED: Matt Rhule’s contract will pay $72 million over its eight years

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at Nebraska Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

According to Ross Dellenger of Sports Illustrated, newly hired Nebraska Cornhuskers head coach Matt Rhule will be making $72 million over his new eight-year contract with the Huskers. However, much of that pay we now know will be on the back end of his contract as deferred compensation with plenty of incentives to both stick around for the full terms and find success. However, roughly 90% of the salary is guaranteed.

While the head coach of the Baylor Bears, Rhule was making $4.1 million prior to leaving for the Carolina Panthers. The new contract with Nebraska, taking what an average annual salary would be, would have made Rhule the eighth-highest paid coach in the country and third in the Big Ten for the 2022 season. However, his salary for the first season will be much lower than that at $5.5 million.

Rhule is still owed approximately $32 million by the Panthers, but Dellenger claims that Nebraska’s salary will mostly offset the majority of that sum. His contract with the Panthers stipulated that Rhule needed to look for work and accept a reasonable salary in his new position, so claims that Nebraska athletic director Trev Alberts should have low-balled the salary based on what the NFL franchise still owed him were uninformed opinions. However, his salary was structured in such a way that the Panthers owner will arguably only be partially financing his salary to start with.

As for the hire, Rhule will have a tough road ahead. He takes over a broken Husker program that limped to a 3-6 finish under interim coach Mickey Joseph. UNL finished 4-8 overall on the season and wasted plenty of its money to fire head coach Scott Frost after a 1–2 start to the season despite a reduced buyout just weeks away.

Frost went an astoundingly awful 16–31 record across more than four years. Nebraska has not posted a winning season since head coach Mike Riley did so in 2016, also the last time the team made a bowl game. It has not had back-to-back winning seasons since Bo Pelini did so from 2013-2014.

Rhule’s contract is as follows (unless noted otherwise, years are Jan. 1 - Dec. 31):

  • First Year (Nov. 28, 2022 - Dec. 31, 2023): $5.5 million
  • Second Year: $6.5 million
  • Third Year: $7.5 million
  • Fourth Year: $8.5 million
  • Fifth Year: $10 million
  • Sixth Year: $11.5 million
  • Seventh Year: $12 million
  • Eighth Year (Dec. 31, 2030 or program’s last game that season): $12.5 million

In addition to the annual salary, there are a number of retention dates that result in “deferred compensation” in the form of a $1 million lump sum payment for Rhule should he still be the head coach in Lincoln at each date. They are as follows:

  • March 1, 2025
  • March 1, 2027
  • March 1, 2029
  • Dec. 31, 2030

There are also other incentives for Rhule as well. They are as follows:

  • Wins or ties for the Big Ten West title without a Big Ten Championship Game appearance: $100,000 bonus
  • Plays in, but does not win, the Big Ten Championship Game: $200,000
  • Wins a Big Ten Championship: $300,000
  • Reaches a non-College Football Playoff bowl game: $150,000
  • Reaches the College Football Playoff: $250,000
  • Reaches the College Football Playoff semifinals: $300,000
  • Reaches the CFP national championship game: $350,000
  • Wins the CFB national championship: $650,000

Finally, should Rhule resign as head coach prior to the termination of his contract, there are financial penalties he will owe to Nebraska as well. They are:

  • Between today and Dec. 31, 2023: $7 million
  • Year Two: $6 million
  • Year Three: $5 million
  • Year Four: $4 million
  • Year Five: $3.5 million
  • Year Six: $3.5 million
  • Year Seven: $3.5 million
  • Year Eight: $2 million

The salary pool for his assistants is $7 million. Several names have been reported as hired already for some of those roles. Be sure to keep up to date on the latest news via our stream here.

Around the rest of the Big Ten for comparison, Wisconsin has officially hired Luke Fickell as its new head coach and will pay him $7.9 million per year starting next season. Barring potential contract extensions and raises that await current head coaches ahead of the 2023 season, this is where Rhule stands in the Big Ten salary pecking order (again, using the average as the official 2023 sum is not yet available) for 2023:

Tied No. 1 - Mel Tucker and Ryan Day: $9.5 million
No. 3 - Luke Fickell: $7.9 million
No. 4 - Jim Harbaugh: $7.05 million
No. 5 - James Frankling: $7 million
No. 6 - Ryan Fitzgerald: $5.748 million
No. 7 - Matt Rhule: $5.5 million
No. 8 - Kirk Ferentz: $5 million
No. 9 - PJ Fleck: $4.42 million
No. 10 - Jeff Brohm: $4.417 million
No. 11 - Tom Allen: $4.26 million
No. 12 - Bret Bielema: $4.2 million
No. 13 - Greg Schiano: $4 million
No. 14 - Mike Locksley: $2.538 million

Fired Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was under contract for $4.323 million at the time of his firing. Frost was making $4 million per year under his renegotiated contract at the time of his firing with a path to return his salary for 2023 to the $5 million per year he was making before the reduction.

This article has been updated since its original publishing to reflect the news of Luke Fickell being confirmed as the new Wisconsin head coach and the salary details that have since been released on Rhule beyond his total compensation.