Only 30 people in the world can call themselves NBA head coaches. That means being the architect of some incredible runs, like that of the 2020-21 Atlanta Hawks or the 2019-20 Miami Heat.
However, that also means being the scapegoat when the team falls short of (sometimes unrealistic) expectations. This is especially true in the case of the so-called ‘championship-or-bust’ teams.
Most coaches don’t have long careers at the head of their teams. In fact, just two active NBA head coaches have been at the helm of their teams for longer than 10 years: Erik Spoelstra recently entered his 14th year with the Miami Heat, and Gregg Popovich has been with the Spurs for more than 24 years!
The 2020-21 Playoffs required a crazy amount of adjustments from coaching staff, and these adjustments (or lack thereof) can easily decide a series.
It’s a difficult job, and you’d expect it to be well-compensated. That’s what we’re looking at today.
Average NBA coach salary
An average NBA head coach salary is around $4 million, with top earners making anything between $8 million and $11 million.
Unlike NBA player salaries, which are limited by the CBA rules and the salary cap, an NBA coach salary has no limitations.
In theory, this gives big-market teams an edge because they usually have significantly more spending power than small-market teams. However, you’d be surprised to see which teams have some of the highest-paid coaches in the league.
Highest-paid NBA coaches
Before we dive into the list, keep in mind that the salaries of basketball coaches aren’t always made as public as those of players. The reason is simple – there are no limits, and teams don’t want to reveal all their cards in public.
That’s why you should take these numbers with a grain of salt since some of them are just estimates or educated guesses.
#1 Gregg Popovich – San Antonio Spurs – $11 million
The Spurs’ head honcho, Gregg Popovich, is the longest-tenured coach in the league by a large margin. Entering his 25th year on the sidelines, Popovich leads the league in all-time wins as a coach, he is the proud owner of five NBA championships as a coach, and he has led the Spurs to a record-tying 22 consecutive playoff berths. Many rightfully consider him one of the best, if not THE best NBA basketball coach of all time. His assistants are always in demand for head coaching gigs that open up around the league because other teams desperately want to recreate the magic Pop has brought to the Spurs. It’s no wonder he’s the highest paid coach in the league with a salary of $11 million per season.
#2 Steve Kerr – Golden State Warriors – $10 million
If you’re looking for the gold standard for success when it comes to rookie head coaches, look no further than Steve Kerr. After taking over the Golden State Warriors in 2014, Kerr led them to three NBA titles in his first fours seasons and the team even had the greatest regular-season record in NBA history by going 73-9 during the 2015-16 season. That legendary season was stained a bit by blowing a 3-1 lead in the finals, but you still can’t deny the team’s greatness. Kerr has played under some of the best coaches in NBA history, such as Phil Jackson and Pop, and players often praise his approach to managing people and his knowledge of the game. Despite the team’s recent struggles, Kerr got a hefty extension from the team. The exact annual amount isn’t known, but reports put it just shy of $10 million.
#3 Steve Nash – Brooklyn Nets – $9 million
After getting KD back following his torn Achilles, getting Kyrie back to full strength, and trading for James Harden, many fans and analysts pegged the Nets as the title favorites. A team with three superstars needed a strong leader who’s able to manage not just the game plan but also the egos. The Nets entrusted this team to Steve Nash, a man with an incredible playing career but no head-coaching experience, mostly because he was KD’s first choice. Nash got a contract that earns him a base salary of just under $9 million per season. He did pretty well considering the rotten luck they’ve had with injuries, and his team will hopefully be at 100% for the next season.
#4 Doc Rivers – Philadelphia 76ers – $8 million
The LA Clippers parted ways with Rivers after they blew a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the 2019-20 Playoffs. The Clippers never had that much Playoff success with Rivers, but he instantly became the hottest commodity on the NBA coaching job market as soon as he was fired. Critics argued that he was living off of the glory of his 2008 title run with the Celtics, but the 76ers paid them no mind as they brought him on as the new coach. Rivers implemented some changes in their scheme that produced great regular-season results, and he led the team to the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference. However, the NBA team once again fell well short of expectations in the Playoffs, losing their second-round series against the Hawks in seven games. Rivers currently earns around $8 million per season, but the next season might be his last on the 76ers’ bench if he fails to lead them past the second round.
#5 Rick Carlisle – Indiana Pacers – $7.25 million
Rick Carlisle took a small pay cut since leaving Dallas Mavericks and returning to Indiana Pacers, but he still ranks as one of the highest earners in the league. Rick Carlisle is famous for leading the Nowitzki-Era Mavericks to the NBA finals in 2011 and going on to win the championship. His 4-year, $29 million contract is a clear indication that the Pacers are serious about being championship contenders.
How much do assistant coaches make?
Of course, not every NBA coach is necessarily a head coach. Besides the league-approved head coach, NBA permits a maximum of three assistant coaches on the bench for each team.
Salaries of assistant coaches are even less well-known than those of head coaches. Many estimates place the average assistant coach salary somewhere in the low six-figure range, with the minimum salaries reportedly being less than $100k per year.
However, there are some notable exceptions. A few years back, the Cavaliers made Tyronn Lue the highest-paid assistant coach in NBA history with a 4-year/$6.5 million contract.
That contract was later reportedly eclipsed by Jason Kidd’s contract with the LA Lakers, but the exact amount of that deal wasn’t disclosed. It’s pretty safe to say that seven-figure salaries are a rarity among assistant coaches.
What About The NCAA?
NCAA college basketball players are paid in scholarships instead of actual money and NCAA match officials earn significantly less than their NBA counterparts. But when it comes to coaches, it’s a different story.
John Calipari, who has won countless accolades over his coaching career, nets an impressive salary of $8 million per season at Kentucky.
Meanwhile, Mike Krzyzewski, or simply Coach K, of Duke will earn $7 million. The list of NCAA coaches making more than most NBA head coaches is a long one, so becoming a college coach is a seriously lucrative career.