Before he was the namesake of the most prestigious individual award in sports, John Heisman was one of the first superstar coaches of college football. After playing the game at Brown and Penn and graduating from Penn’s law school, Heisman jumped into coaching at Oberlin College in 1892. He effectively served as the father of Auburn football with a 12-4-2 run from 1895-99, then did the same at Clemson by leading the Tigers to a 19-3-2 mark from 1900-03.
Heisman left for Georgia Tech, where he again attempted to establish a fledgling Southern program. Georgia Tech was so pleased with Heisman’s 8-1-1 debut season that the school wanted to sign him on for three more seasons.
Heisman’s $2,250 salary in 1904 dollars translates to roughly $58,000 today, according to this surely-trustworthy website I found. (The government’s calculator goes back only to 1913, of which $2,250 would be nearly $55,000 today.)
But the ghost of Heisman may shake his ghost fits at current Tech coach Paul Johnson’s $2.8 million salary, he was still probably better off than modern day coaches.
For instance, 30 percent of Ohio State’s gate receipts in 2016 — where tickets for the Buckeyes’ seven home games average nearly $103 — equates to roughly $22.7 million. And that’s before you add in the bells and whistles that didn’t exist a year ago — luxury suites, required donations on top of season tickets, in-stadium sponsorships — that would also funnel to today’s coaches under the pre-World War I system.
Go back to the 1904 system and 2016 coaches would gladly take a 1904 salary. Even in 1904 dollars.
Another way 2016 coaches would trade for 1904: the patience schools had with their coaches. Heisman never sniffed a Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship — basically the SEC before the SEC — in his first decade in Atlanta before turning the Ramblin Wreck into an early Southern powerhouse, helping Georgia Tech go 30-1-2 with a national championship and three SIAA titles from 1915-18 — the famous 222-0 whipping of Cumberland came during this period — before returning to his alma mater after the 1919 campaign.