Gene Smith ‘went berserk’ with Ohio State football coach salaries this year

COLUMBUS — Money can’t buy love, but can it buy championships?

Gene Smith apparently decided to find out on his way out the door.

The soon-to-be-former Ohio State director of athletics said he feels bad for successor Ross Bjork after “blowing out the budget” on football this winter.

“I probably put a significant burden on Ross with the budget because I was playing poker with football and went all in,” Smith said.

A look at the contracts of Ohio State’s coaches, which were obtained via an open records request, indicates he was not exaggerating.

Ohio State hired new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chip Kelly for three years with a salary that starts at $2 million.

That is $400,000 more than Brian Hartline received last year when he was given the title offensive coordinator to go along with receivers coach. Hartline is still on the staff, but Corey Dennis, who made $412,000 last season as quarterbacks coach, is gone. That means the total being paid to the positions of offensive coordinators, quarterbacks coach and receivers coach is $3.6 million this year, a net increase of more than $1.5 million.

Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles ($2.2 million), associate head coach/defensive line coach Larry Johnson ($1.4 million) and secondary/cornerbacks coach Tim Walton ($1.4 million) also received contract extensions and raises while offensive line coach Justin Frye is under contract for one more year at the same $1 million salary he made last year.

Tight ends coach Keenan Bailey also remains at the $400,000 level from a year ago but received another year on his contract, which now runs through the end of Jan. 2026.

New hires Matt Guerrieri (safeties) and James Laurinaitis (linebackers) will make $425,000 and $350,0000, respectively.

Ohio State did not have anyone with the title linebackers coach last season, but the staff did include special teams coordinator Parker Fleming, who made $500,000. He was fired over the winter, and head coach Ryan Day said his duties will be handled by multiple staffers, including Day himself.

Guerrieri’s salary represents some savings as Perry Eliano made $515,000 in his position last year.

In full, Ohio State owes its on-field assistants $11,425 million for the upcoming season, an increase of more than $2 million from last season (before factoring in performance-based bonuses).

Head coach Ryan Day is set to make about $10.2 million in total compensation after making $9.6 million last year, so the total amount going to the coaching staff is more than $21 million, an increase of more than $2 million and nearly $10 million more than when Day became head coach in 2019.

“Where we are with football and not winning Big Ten championships, I wanted to make sure that we did everything we could to make sure football has a real chance next year,” Smith said. “So when I think about my legacy, so to speak, I hate to leave Ohio State when football is not back to winning Big Ten championships.”

Credit: Marcus Hartman

Credit: Marcus Hartman

Ohio State won the Big Ten football championship 11 times during his tenure, which ends May 30 after 19 years. That includes the first six seasons Smith was on the job and five more from 2014-2020, but the Buckeyes have not been back to the conference title game since that last victory in it.

Exacerbating the frustration of slipping off the top of the mountain has been watching Michigan take their place, culminating in the Wolverines also winning the national championship three months ago.

“I put a financial burden or Ross that he’s gonna balance the budget in the future because I just went berserk,” Smith said in response to a question about whether or not he feels his legacy is still being finalized based on how the athletics department fares this fall and beyond.

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