HOOVER, Ala. – When Bobby Petrino was a 14-year-old boy flipping burgers at the A&W restaurant in Helena, Mont., playing baseball with the rest of the boys wasn’t an option.

Daddy said work. So every year, Petrino would succumb to odd jobs such as delivering produce, working the dock at a dairy or driving the milk truck.

Now he’s making serious milk – $2.85 million a year’s worth as the University of Arkansas football coach. And he feels great about it.

“My father always told me, ’Reach for the top of the rainbow,’ ” Petrino said at last week’s Southeastern Conference media days. “You can be as good as you want to be. You can do anything you want in the United States of America.”

The SEC’s healthy salaries aren’t reflective of America’s struggling economy, but the 12 coaches are regular dudes with humble beginnings.

Sometimes that’s difficult to believe when 12 tie-wearing football coaches account for more than an estimated $29 million that breezed through the doors of the Wynfrey Hotel last week.

Some salaries have increased almost eightfold from the days when Tennessee’s Phil Fulmer made $300,000 a year in 1993. Now he makes $2.4 million, one of seven SEC coaches to surpass the $2 million mark.

Six of the top-11 highest salary earners in college football hail from the SEC, and with each dollar increase, the desire for winning rises with interest.

But it’s not like LSU Coach Les Miles – worth a cool, crisp $3.75 million per year to lead all SEC coaches – wipes his forehead with $100 bills in front of the common folk.

“I’m embarrassed by it,” Miles said. “If I had my father alive, he’d say, ’You’re not worth it.’ I’d say he’s right.

“But how wonderful in this country that those things happen. And for our players going into the NFL draft, changing the income level of their family, I’m for a system of economies that allow people to ascend.”

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