As high school football popularity soars, so do coaches' salaries

Euless Trinity coach Steve Lineweaver can talk football all day long.

Offensive line schemes, tough matchups and weekly preparation are all comfortable topics.

But when asked about his coaching salary, he hesitates.

That's because, with a salary of $114,413, Lineweaver is the highest-paid high school football coach in the area. He is hardly alone. Local coaches, with a few exceptions, are near the top of their school district's payrolls.

"It's kind of embarrassing to me, really," Lineweaver said. "I'm blessed, but it's something I don't think about. I don't even look at how much I make. I let my wife get my paycheck. I don't compare it to anyone else's."

As high school football grows -- top games are broadcast on TV each week and teams square off in style at venues such as Cowboys Stadium -- coaching salaries have become more competitive.

"It's a case of the school districts' making decision based on the market value for the employee, in this case, a football coach," said Keller athletic director Bob DeJonge, who follows salary trends.

Texas communities thrive on football of all levels, from the Cowboys down to local high schools. With so much value placed on football success, high school head coaches are paid to produce. Information requested from area school districts shows 46 area coaches make an average of $88,420 a year.

At the same time, teachers in the North Texas region (for grades 7-12) make $51,452 a year.

"I'm not comfortable talking about it, and I think many other coaches would say the same," Lineweaver said. "But at the same time, people have a right to know exactly what we make."

Lineweaver has led a successful Trinity football program to 10 consecutive district championships and three state titles. Trinity principal Mike Harris, who makes $126,443 a year, said football is a valuable part of any high school and coaches are typically in place to run any district's largest and most popular program.

"I believe that having a strong football program is very important to a campus because of the school pride that it builds," Harris said through an e-mail. "In Texas, especially North Texas, market value for a good [Class] 5A head coach drives the salary."

The Hurst-Euless-Bedford district's teachers made, on average, $56,071 last year. That number is significantly higher than the local and state average of $48,977.

"I think [coaches salaries] are justified because of the time and hours they put in and because of the service they provide to a wide range of students," Keri Bartlett, an English teacher at Trinity, said in an e-mail.

Bartlett graduated from Trinity in 1990 and is entering her 15th year teaching there. She was the only teacher who would comment for this story. More than 10 other teachers, across several districts, declined to comment.

"When you are winning, everything is good," she said. "Attendance, attitude, morale and academics are all impacted by the success of athletic programs."

The lowest-paid coaches in the area come from the Fort Worth school district, which pays its head coaches an average of $62,436 a year. It is also the largest with 13 high schools. Fort Worth's teachers made an average of $53,894 last year.

"We knew going into this what we were getting in to. If you are in this to make money, you're probably not going to last long in the coaching business anyway," Fort Worth Arlington Heights coach Ged Kates said. "For us it's about kids. I was also an assistant for 12 years, so I got a raise. I think you get paid for what you do. Coach Lineweaver, who I worked for, deserves every penny he gets. He probably deserves part of my paycheck as well, because I learned most of what I know from him."

For many of the area's top coaches, high-dollar salaries are the result of years of experience. Lineweaver started out making less than $10,000 as a middle school coach in Houston in 1968.

Arlington Bowie coach Kenny Perry, who makes $100,856 a year, made $15,000 at his first job at a high school in Utah 20 years ago.

"I think high school football plays a major part in the education process, as well as the community," Perry said. "It's important for every school, and there is a lot that goes into the sport in this state, from band and color guard to cheerleading and spirit teams."

Perry said he feels he and the other 185 Bowie teachers are all worth their pay.

"But I definitely think coaches are getting paid more now," Perry said. "It started with the NFL and colleges coaches earning more. It's a waterfall effect that has carried all the way down."

Perry and Arlington Martin coach Bob Wager make the same amount. The average for Arlington's six head coaches is $96,693.

"There is a lot of added pressure that comes along with the higher salaries and expectations," Perry said. "Now, if you have three bad years, you are looking for a new job. The good part is that you get great salaries; the bad side is that it affects your life every single day."

In the Keller school district, which has faced sweeping budget cuts, the four head football coaches will make an average of $88,547 this year.

"Most people I've dealt with don't have negative feelings for the coaches. They understand the hours they put in," DeJonge said. "The typical coach might put in an extra 50 hours each week in addition to their school time. During their season, they go far above and beyond. That's why they have the extra coaching stipends."

In addition to their importance to the football program, many coaches oversee the rest of their school's sports. Perry is also Bowie's athletic coordinator; each Arlington head football coach fills that role at his school.

Most high school head football coaches in the Fort Worth area make several thousand less than their principals each year. A few coaches, however, are the highest paid on campus.

Tim Buchanan, who has led the Aledo Bearcats to two consecutive state championships in football, is one of the few coaches in the area who makes more than his school's principal. Buchanan will get a slight raise this year to give him a salary of $109,240. Aledo principal Dan Peterson will make $98,672. Buchanan also serves as Aledo's athletic director and has coached the football team for 20 years.

Dale Keeling, Everman's coach and athletic director, gets a $13,000 coaching stipend that takes his salary to $106,438, more than Everman principal Nita Page, who makes $94,095.

The traditional power football programs aren't the only ones paying high salaries; Burleson Centennial, which opened last fall, will pay Kyle Geller $95,573 this year.

"Those are just the times we are in," Perry said. "Principals are in the same situation. They are paid more to make sure that their schools are competitive in their overall ratings."

As long as people care about high school football, school districts will continue paying top dollars for successful coaches.

And in Texas, football is still gaining popularity.

"It's a big thing in the state of Texas, and it's been a way of life here for as long as I can remember," Perry said.

Brent Shirley, 817-390-7760