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Ohio State football: Assistant coaches salaries on the rise

Ohio State handed out more raises to the football staff, and now have three assistants making over $500K/year. High assistant pay is a trend on the rise nationally, and Ohio State is trying to go dollar for dollar with the rest of the country. Because they have to.

Luke Fickell is one of three Ohio State assistants making over $500K/year.
Luke Fickell is one of three Ohio State assistants making over $500K/year.

Urban Meyer is paid a lot of money to do a very difficult job. As coach of the Ohio State University football program, he has to manage not only a staff of people under his supervision, but he also has to manage, coach, mentor and succeed with a family of over 100 scarlet-and-gray-wearing teenagers that comprise the Ohio State football team. It isn't an easy job, and no one coach, especially one who has a somewhat binding agreement with his daughter, can do it alone.

Meyer has plenty of help on the sidelines, just as any modern college football coach should have. Everett Withers is one of his defensive coordinators. Tom Herman is the man calling the offensive plays. Mike Vrabel brings his NFL pedigree to the Buckeye defensive line. Kerry Coombs brings a righteous brand of crazy to the defensive backs. Luke Fickell is a nationally recognized assistant who runs the defense. These are just a few of the key people coaching all of the key Buckeye players every day and for every game.

Back at the end of the 2012 season, the coaching staff as a whole received almost $1 million in bonuses for going undefeated and winning the Leaders Division title. The raises went from modest, if we can use that word, for Zack Smith (up $37,500 to coach the wide receivers), to major for Meyer (up $200,000 for his efforts).

As The Columbus Dispatch reports, a few assistants are getting even more money in Ohio State's drive to stay competitive on the national stage. While all the staff saw yet another increase, the big winners, salary-wise, were Tom Herman and Everet Withers, who will see their yearly pay cross above the $500,000 threshold, joining Fickell as the only Buckeye assistants making that much money.

All of Ohio State's assistants now make more than $250,000/year (with the exception of Zack Smith), a fact that makes me want to reconsider my career in public service. But considering some of the other salaries for assistants nationwide, Ohio State is only now starting to enter the rarefied air of huge assistant coaching contracts.

Consider these salaries, all reported in the Dispatch article:

• Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart’s salary was raised to $1.2 million earlier this year.

• LSU is paying defensive coordinator John Chavis $1.1 million, and hired former Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron for that same job with a three-year, $3.4 million contract.

• At Clemson, offensive coordinator Chad Morris is in the midst of a six-year contract that pays him $1.3 million annually, and defensive coordinator Brent Venables is expected to make $850,000 this year.

That's a lot of scratch for playing second (or third) fiddle to the likes of Nick Saban, Les Miles and Dabo Swinney, respectively. Even in the Big Ten, the salary is lower for Fickell, the highest paid of the Buckeye assistants at $600,000/year, than for Michigan Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison, who takes home $750,000 annually. But the trend at Ohio State is headed upward; as if coaching on the Banks of the Olentangy wasn't attractive enough for a budding assistant, now the paycheck makes it even more worthwhile.

Salary figures are one thing, but one of the bigger questions surrounding assistant pay isn't just how much, but for how long. Of the nine assistants on staff, only Withers, Herman, Stan Drayton and Ed Warinner are signed for multiple years, while the other five are simply on one-year deals with the school.

Does that hurt Ohio State? Potentially, yes. The Buckeyes got very lucky after last year, losing none of the coaching staff that helped bring a 12-0 record to Columbus, and help the team and fans rebound from a tumultuously awful 6-7 campaign the year before. But there were caveats after last year, like the inability to play in the Big Ten Championship Game, or progress on to a bowl game, BCS or otherwise. Perhaps the chance to do more kept some of the assistants out of other, higher paying jobs. No matter what happens this year, however, there won't be that same promise waiting in 2014.

But Gene Smith and the Ohio State Athletic Department are taking a positive step in raising assistant pay. With Urban Meyer already the fifth-highest paid coach in college football, it makes perfect sense that paying those that help Ohio State along the way should also receive the fruits of the team's labor.

As of now, 28 states' highest paid employees are football coaches, including in Ohio. With the first college football playoff year right around the corner, the difference off the field (in terms of recruiting, promotions and strategy), not just on, will be the work done by coaching staffs, from head coach down to position coach. Ohio State is not only showing the ability to change with the times, but embracing that necessary change. And the dividends for such an investment could be very big in the very near future.