USC Trojans Head Coach Lincoln Riley’s Compensation Revealed

When Lincoln Riley left Norman, Oklahoma for the sandy beaches of Los Angeles, it rocked the football world. Not necessarily for the change of climate and topography, but because Riley had had amazing success at Oklahoma, while the USC Trojans, albeit a historic program, were in dire need of a facelift and a lot of work would be needed to turn things around.

There were many reasons that Lincoln Riley made the decision to move his family across the country, as he has stated many times. For one, as mentioned above, USC is a historic program, one of the blue bloods that deserves to be back at the pinnacle. Riley saw this as an opportunity to awaken a sleeping giant, and make USC the “Mecca of College Football.”

We knew that the money was also a pretty savory cherry on top. Because USC is a private institution they don’t have to divulge coaching contracts, but it was reported that Riley received a 10-year deal worth roughly $110 million.

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Well, now we have a bit more clarity on the compensation, at least for the first year of employment.

USC Trojans Head Coach Lincoln Riley’s Compensation Revealed

USC head coach Lincoln Riley
Oct 28, 2023; Berkeley, California, USA; USC Trojans head coach Lincoln Riley walks on the field before a game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY SportsCredit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Times obtained federal tax returns filed by USC. According to the Times, USC paid Riley $19.7 million in total compensation from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2023. That compensation included over $10 million in salary and benefits for the 2022 season.

In terms of highest-paid coaches in College Football, Riley is up there with Kirby Smart, Dabo Swinney, Steve Sarkisian, Kalen DaBoer, and Ryan Day who all reside in the $10+ million per year club. This also far exceeds Riley’s $7.81 million salary at Oklahoma.

A true example of the kind of money that USC athletics has is when you look across the board at these staff payouts. Not only were they paying close to $20 million to Riley, but former head coach Clay Helton was receiving nearly $4 million in severance pay in 2022. Alex Grinch, every Trojans fan favorite defensive coordinator, also received $4.3 million, but that did include over $1 million in buyout cash.

So now the elephant in the room. Is Lincoln Riley worth this massive price tag? In year one it certainly looked like it.

Riley inherited a 4-win team, and in one offseason, shocked the college football world by leading the USC Trojans to an 11-1 regular season with a berth in the PAC-12 title game and a shot at the College Football Playoff. Unfortunately, the magic ran out as SC lost to Utah in the Conference Title game, and then had a defensive collapse in the 4th quarter of the Cotton Bowl to fall to Tulane. An unceremonious ending, but still, going from 4-8 to 11-3 in one season was quite the feat.

Not to mention, Riley produced another Heisman Trophy winner (Caleb Williams) and boasted the 7th-ranked 2023 recruiting class and the 3rd-ranked transfer portal class. After such a fast start, things were looking up, and USC was seemingly back.

Not so fast.

Disaster struck in 2023. The team finished 7-5 in the regular season, the defense was one of the worst in all of college football and defensive coordinator Alex Grinch was fired before the season ended. The one bright spot was an impressive Holiday Bowl win over 16th Ranked Louisville with 20+ starters out, including Caleb Williams.

So now what?

The expectations of USC Football are always National Championships. It has been quite some time since the Trojans have been a true contender (’22 withstanding). This feels like a make-or-break year for Lincoln Riley, especially with the price tag that he carries.

That doesn’t mean he needs to win the national championship or he is out as the head coach. But it does mean that there needs to tremendous progress. A culture and foundation need to be firmly established.

This will be Year 3 of the Lincoln Riley era. It will also be Year 1 of the USC Big 10 era. How will the Trojans fare?