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Did Ohio State football’s assistant coaches deserve big 2023 raises? Hey, Nathan!

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 3/25/2023 Nathan Baird,
Brian Hartline, Ohio State wide receivers coach © David Petkiewicz Brian Hartline, Ohio State wide receivers coach

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio State football may again have the highest assistant coach salary pool in the nation in 2023.

Not surprisingly, some fans wonder whether the investment is paying enough dividends. They point to their frustration of two straight losses to Michigan and impatience for defensive improvement.

Now, the same fans would almost certainly criticize OSU for not competing with the nation’s other top programs salary-wise. But scrutiny of those decisions is warranted, and leads to this week’s question.

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Hey, Nathan: With all the raises for the coaching staff, I don’t think they’re worth it. Because they haven’t won a national championship since 2014 and lost two straight games to (Michigan), If they fail to win, why give these outrageous raises to the coaching staff? They haven’t proved their value. What say you? — Harry from Philadelphia

Hey, Harry: While all of the nine returning assistant coaches received raises, many of them were standard, cost-of-living adjustments. About half of them involved a big bump:

• Brian Hartline’s promotion to offensive coordinator (on top of his receiver coach duties) took his salary from $950,000 to $1.6 million. No question he deserves to be the nation’s highest-paid receivers coach at this point. While he is a full-time coordinator, and his play-calling duties are yet to be determined, that OC salary is in line with norms for national powers.

Maybe to simplify the logic: The more they pay Hartline to be whatever version of OC he is, the less likely they lose him as a recruiter and developer of receivers.

• Justin Frye now makes $1 million after a 25% raise. There was no apparent change in title, though he may take some of Kevin Wilson’s load in the offensive game-planning, especially as it relates to the running game.

Ohio State will have at least one offensive lineman taken in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, maybe two, and a third may go on Day 2. Frye helped push Paris Johnson Jr., Dawand Jones and Luke Wypler to finish that development.

Eventually, OSU will need to win a national recruiting battle for an out-of-state offensive lineman again. Those were the sorts of successes reflected in defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s compensation over the years.

• Tim Walton’s $300,000 raise to an even $1 million came with a title change to defensive passing game coordinator. Ryan Day explained earlier this week that the cornerbacks and safeties will meet as a unit more often going forward. Walton’s new title reflects that he is in charge of that collaboration.

He is also in charge of the cornerbacks — a unit that needs a bounce-back performance this season.

• Special teams coordinator Parker Fleming’s new two-year deal nearly doubled his salary to $500,000. Again, the optics aren’t great, because special teams mistakes — or at least missed opportunities — were central to both the Michigan and Georgia losses.

I would suggest listening to the Buckeye Talk episode built around Doug Lesmerises’ extended interview with Fleming.

I have always thought this was a curious use of the staff position, since Fleming has an offensive background. In creates an imbalance between offense and defense, though Fleming does sit in on the defensive back meetings. It will make more sense if/when the NCAA gets rid of the 10-assistant limit. Right now, it just feels weird.

As for the overall salary pool, which may again lead the nation: Price of doing business at the top of college football. When the defense needed fixed, OSU threw money at the problem to hire Knowles. It rewarded Hartline in a big way. It hired Frye away from a big job at UCLA and Walton away from the NFL.

But if you are a fan paying for the tickets, parking, concessions and gear that fund this payroll, I understand why you expect a return on that investment.

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