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High School Coaches Are Leaving Florida. Is High End Football Next?

Better pay elsewhere is luring coaches away from the Sunshine state, and eating away at Florida’s reputation as the premier place for high school football. For coaches, a treasure trove of five-star recruits pales in comparison to the prospect of tripling or even quadrupling one's salary. 

By Cameron Priester | MediaLab@FAU

Dec 15, 2023

This time of year, Kevin Thompson’s days start at 5 a.m. The head football coach and dean at Palm Beach Central High School is usually on campus an hour later. Most days it won't be until around 8:30 p.m. that he is home to his wife and two kids. On Fridays, gamedays, Thompson will be lucky if he’s home by 2 a.m. 

That is the case at nearly every high school football program in the state of Florida, where head coaches’ low supplemental pay means long hours as both coach and school employee, a situation that has sent dozens running for higher-paying, full time gigs in surrounding states.

“A lot of coaches in Florida, we’re not coaching to go to college or the NFL. You know what a lot of these coaches are coaching for? To go to Georgia, to go to Texas,” said Thompson. “A lot of their goals are ‘Hey maybe I can build up my resume and go coach in Georgia and get paid and appreciated.”

Palm Beach County alone had at least 45 head coaching changes in the past three years, most leaving for higher paying jobs, according to The Palm Beach Post. That is an unprecedented amount of turnover that Thompson and others predict will take a toll on the quality of football being played, and Florida’s reputation as the premier state for high school football.

In Palm Beach County, head coaches are paid with a base supplement of $4,532, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Escambia County’s supplement of $7,382 ranks as the highest in the state, though not nearly enough to support a family which is why many coaches will end up working as school employees—another full-time job in addition to what is essentially a full-time job as a head coach. As opposed to neighboring states like Georgia, South Carolina, and Texas, where head coaches and most assistant coaches are paid as full-time employees. 

“[My salary is] nowhere near what they’re getting in South Carolina, nowhere near what they’re getting in Georgia,” said Thompson.

In 2022, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported that 64 coaches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone make at least $120,000. In Georgia, 44 head coaches earn salaries north of $100,000 per year, according to First Coast News


A significantly larger salary with much less responsibilities was impossible to turn down for many of the dozens of coaches that left the state in the past two years. One of whom was Eric Lodge, who stepped away from Seminole High School in Sanford, Florida after seven years with the program to take the head coaching position at Berkeley County High School in Moncks Corner, South Carolina.

“It was a tough decision for us,” said Lodge, who added, “but it just came down to — we’re getting a forty to fifty thousand dollar pay raise.”


Like Lodge, Robert Paxia signed on at Winder-Barrow High School in Winder, Georgia in February after two seasons leading his alma mater Flagler-Palm Coast High School, and saw his salary skyrocket.

“If you took my supplement that I made as the head coach at Flagler Palm Coast and put it on the Winder-Barrow staff, I’d be the lowest paid coach,” said Paxia. “I’m talking lowest-paid assistant.”

Though Paxia said it had, “absolutely no” effect on his decision to step away, Lodge and other coaches that dashed for cushier gigs in surrounding states first had to consider the fact they’re leaving the largest, most heavily-recruited pool of talent in the country behind in Florida. 

From 2010 to 2020, Florida produced 59 five-star recruits, the most in the nation in that time period and 14 more than Texas, the next leading state. Three of the nation’s 10 highest ranked recruits in this year’s class all hail from Florida, the most of any state. 

“While Florida may have a ton of high-end kids, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and some of these other places are not as far behind as some people would like you to think from a football perspective,” said Paxia. 

Coaches agree that Florida talent isn't going anywhere — it’s still the only state where athletes can train 365 days a year, and not many high school athletes have the means to up and follow their coach around the country. But with dozens of the best coaches leaving every season, that talent might go undeveloped and Florida’s reputation as the nation’s football hotbed could diminish.

“When people go recruit football players they always stop in Florida. When you want a basketball player, you go to Indiana. When you want a football player you come to Florida,” said Thompson. “What you’re starting to see is not very well coached Florida kids. And when Florida goes out of state to play, they might be better talented but they’re not well coached.”

Though the Sunshine State claims three of the nation’s top 10 recruits, according to 247 Sports,  Texas’ 43 recruits in the Top 200 outnumbers Florida’s 31 — Georgia is right behind with 30. This is evidence of a closing gap between Florida and the rest of the country that will continue to shrink as coaches leave by the handful.

For many coaches though, even a treasure trove of five-star recruits pales in comparison to the prospect of, in some cases, quadrupling their salary. 

“I try not to make straight up emotional decisions because if that were the case I’d still be at Seminole High School. The community, the kids, my assistant coaches that we had there really is everything you could ever dream of,” said Lodge. “But if you just look at it logically, and try to make the best decision for your family, there really is no comparison.” 

Coaches agree that while the pay in Florida is a problem that needs to be addressed, it's merely a side effect of the problem that is the neglect and underfunding of all high school athletics across the state. 

“It’s just a completely different level of love for football,” said Thompson. “The talent might love football. Florida people might love football. But for the people that have the long money and the purses, it might not be a priority for them.”

In September, The Prosper Independent School District in Collin County, Texas requested $94 million in funding for the construction of what would become the most expensive high school stadium in the state. A record setting amount even in Texas, where nine school districts house stadiums costing north of $40 million, and communities have spent over $500 million on just practice facilities, according to the Dallas Morning News. 

“You look at the facilities being built in Georgia and Texas and all those other places. How many Florida schools do you know that have an indoor practice facility?” said Paxia. “I don’t know any.”

“Football is the big one,” said Paxia. And though football is the most visible example of the under-pay high school coaches in Florida are facing, coaches in all sports are suffering equally; and football coaches agree their colleagues in other sports work the same long, taxing hours they do. 

“This is not just a football coach issue. Right now they’re leading the charge,” said Paxia. “But if you look across the board at all sports in the state of Florida, every single coach in the entire state is underpaid. Every single one.”

As programs in neighboring states continue an arms race to see who can overtake Florida as the country’s marquee destination for high school football, the ones still in the Sunshine State continue to make nickels and dimes compared to salaries in neighboring states. Many of them are forced to ponder whether fulfilling their passion of coaching football is worth it.

Thompson said many times he’s sat in a meeting room with his staff at Palm Beach Central and sparred with the question.

“We’ll all sit around,” said Thompson, “and ask ourselves, like, what are we doing? What are we doing? There’s no way this is worth it, like, what are we doing?”

Kevin Thompson, head football coach and dean at Palm Beach Central High School. (Photo by Cameron Priester)

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