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Ohio State AD Gene Smith backtracks on million dollar assistant talk

Fresh off a promotion and raise, Gene Smith sat down with the Columbus Dispatch and talked about escalating assistant coaches salaries, Ohio State scheduling Xavier/Dayton in hoops, Penn State being a conference realignment candidate, and more.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

If you were knee-deep in Super Bowl parties yesterday, it's possible that you missed this huge interview that Gene Smith did with the Columbus Dispatch. Fresh off his new contract, which gave him a raise and a promotion to university vice president, Smith discussed most of the major issues of the day for Buckeye fans, in a long and wide ranging interview. If you have the time, I encourage you to read the whole thing, but we have some of the most pertinent bits below.

First, Smith gives his thoughts on the rapid escalation of coaching salaries, including those of assistant coaches:

Q: Coaches salaries keep escalating.

A: Unbelievable.

Q: What’s your strategy for dealing with that?

A: We’re going to have to keep up with it. There’s new caps being set.

Q: In some places, we’re now seeing $1 million salaries for coordinators.

A: We’re not there yet. I don’t think our league has jumped there yet. A lot of people made the assumption that Michigan did that. They did not. One day it’ll probably happen. I don’t know when. We watch the market based on talent and performance. I project that at some point it’ll happen to us because of who we are, but I don’t know when that’ll happen.

Q: You wouldn’t preclude that possibility of a $1 million coordinator here?

A: Never say never. Not where we are.

Those comments represent a bit of a hedge from Smith's comments at the Orange Bowl, where he said he doesn't anticipate moving in that direction at Ohio State in the near future. Given the current relative paucity of assistant coaches making at least a million dollars, it isn't too surprising Smith isn't that excited to open up his wallet to that level, but these comments seem to make it clear that for the right guy, and at the right time, Ohio State isn't going to let somebody walk because of money.

Smith also talked about some #hot #scheduling #takes. Like, 'WHY DOES THIS BASKETBALL SCHEDULE HAVE SO MANY CUPCAKES, HUH?!?'

Our deal is to get our young men ready for the gauntlet. The gauntlet is the Big Ten. Sometimes that’s a lighter schedule, and sometimes that’s a heavier schedule.

We truly have some cupcakes. I’ll sit up in the stands and say, "We’ve got next. Give me five guys and we can beat them." I know that. Then there are some teams that come in here and give us a run that all of us call cupcakes. The reality is this: we work on a formula. Our formula is to win as many games in that time a year as possible. I wouldn’t call Marquette a cupcake or Notre Dame a cupcake or the ACC Challenge a cupcake. That’s three out of nine. So I would say that we’re not going to go wholesale and upgrade our non-conference schedule where we’re playing six or seven top-15 teams. It’s just not going to happen. Now there are some things conference-wise that will make (more competitive games) happen with some relationships we’re talking about.

I think savvy basketball fans understand this principle, and it's not like Ohio State has been afraid to schedule quality teams in the recent past (Kansas, Duke, North Carolina, and Florida, to name a few). The team will always look for a way to balance the onslaught of the Big Ten with the need to give fans a show, and provide a compelling computer profile.

Sure, Notre Dame and Marquette kind of suck this year. But American and Delaware are still undefeated in league play, and North Dakota State has a double digit RPI. Smith is right, every year, at least one of those "cupcake" teams ends up being a solid squad that makes a postseason tourney. It ain't Duke, but it ain't Grambling State, either.

But you know who would probably help that schedule? Dayton. Or maybe Xaiver. Right, Mr. Smith?

If you had some kind of round-robin with Ohio schools like Xavier, Cincinnati, Dayton, Kent State or Akron, you’d probably draw better.

A: We played OU. They drew a little bit. We tried to do Akron two or three years and it fell apart. So we’ve tried to do some of those teams. I don’t think we’ve ever tried Kent. I’m not sure Kent would draw. But Akron would draw.

Q: Dayton and Xavier also would.

A: We’re not going to play those guys that much. We’re happy with what we’re doing. No one’s ever going to be satisfied on that one.

I proposed a round-robin tournament in one of the first things I ever wrote for LGHL, and other blogs have repeatedly done the same thing. Smith's answer echoes what we've heard for a while, though. Ohio State doesn't see the need to schedule one of Ohio's stronger squads (Dayton, Xavier, and I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say this includes Cincinnati as well), since the risk is probably greater than the reward.

It's interesting that the team tried to get Akron on the schedule, who could have provided a better-than-some challenge. Perhaps the team will revisit that in the near future (or maybe Toledo, who is playing good basketball as well).

Next, Smith talks about Rutgers and Maryland, with a very interesting comment about Penn State:

Q: When you look at Rutgers and Maryland, they haven’t set the world afire and Rutgers has had its issues with coaches and its AD. Do you still feel those are good additions?

A: I do. We could have gone a number of ways. I think it was great for the league and really good for Penn State. People haven’t focused on that enough. Penn State was sitting out there like an appendage. Anybody could have plucked them. The ACC could have plucked them.

The other one was the lock up a little bit of the East Coast with television. We’re doing that. We’re going to Navy next year. We’re playing in the Ravens stadium.

Yes, we’re still happy with (having added them). Do we need to help Maryland and Rutgers get better? No doubt. In football, obviously. Their Olympic sports are phenomenal. We have to help them with football and basketball.

*record scratch* Say what?

That might be a little hyperbolic, given that leaving the Big Ten wouldn't be a financially sound move for anybody, but Smith wasn't just blowing smoke about the ACC interest. It appears that a few ACC schools did make a few calls about Penn State (and I guess...Northwestern? Whatever).

Oh, and speaking of Northwestern, what does Gene Smith think about Kain Colter and the Wildcat football team's attempt to unionize? (SPOILER: It's what you think it would be)

Q: What did you think about the Northwestern football players forming the College Athletes Players Association and filing a petition with the Chicago regional office of the National Labor Relations Board to become a union?

A: My first response was, OK, what does this mean? Then I started reading about it. I read what (former Northwestern quarterback) Kain Colter said and I actually got like, this is cool. What you’re trying to do is teach your young people that they have rights, too. You want to teach them to be leaders. He’s taking a leadership position. Then I began to obviously move to what does it really mean for intercollegiate athletics? While I do not agree that student-athletes are employees, while I do not agree that unionizing is the appropriate way to go about solving these issues, I still got to applaud them because they’re taking a stance. All the other students have an opportunity to do that. Why shouldn’t they? I looked at it from that viewpoint.

Smith details his thoughts on the football team, athletic department construction projects, his detailed duties as a VP, and more in the full interview.

What are you thoughts? Do you disagree with anything Smith said?