For most of football’s history, the term “defensive line” was self-explanatory. The D-line was, primarily, the first line of defense against the opponent’s running game, and the pass rush came second.
In 2021, the dynamic is different. Stopping the run is important, still is and always will be. But the defensive line is now the first line of attack. It doesn’t matter how sticky your cover guys are, they can’t cover all day. It makes no difference how fast your linebackers can run, they can’t outrun a flying football. The only surefire way to contain the passing game is to affect the guy doing the passing.
The best of the best, of course, build defensive lines that do both, and head coaches are willing to north of half a million bucks a year to the elite at the position.
Here are the highest-paid defensive line coaches in college football:
1. Larry Johnson, Ohio State — $1.133 million+
2. Bo Davis, Texas — $875,000
2. Elijah Robinson, Texas A&M — $875,000
4. Nick Eason, Auburn — $700,000
4. Freddie Roach, Alabama — $700,000
6. Joe Salave’a, Oregon — $650,000+
7. Tray Scott, Georgia — $600,000
8. John Papuchis, Florida State — $570,000+
9. Ron Burton, Michigan State — $553,000
10. Joe Bob Clements, Oklahoma State — $550,000
10. Odell Haggins, Florida State — $550,000+
10. Rodney Garner, Tennessee — $550,000
13. Terry Price, Texas A&M — $533,000
14. Tracy Rocker, South Carolina — $525,000
15. Todd Bates, Clemson — $515,000+
+ – assistant head coach/co-coordinator/recruiting coordinator
^ – defensive ends/outside linebackers coach
— LSU will pay Andre Carter — the sole defensive line coach — $200,000 in 2021 and $450,000 in ’22. The Tigers are getting help from the New York Jets, who washed Carter out in the change from the Adam Gase regime to Robert Saleh.
— New Arkansas D-line coach Jermial Ashley signed a 1-year deal worth $300,000. We don’t know what he made for the same role at Tulsa, but that is…. not a great contract for an SEC defensive line coach. New Hogs tight ends coach Cody Kennedy got a 2-year deal at $300,000 per.
— We don’t yet know what Randall Joyner will earn at Ole Miss.
— Inoke Breckterfield left Wisconsin, where he made $425,000, for Vanderbilt. His Vandy salary is not public, but there’s a good bet he’d be on this list if it were. Ross Kolodziej, Breckterfield’s replacement, will make $375,000 on a 1-year deal at Wisconsin.
— Oregon’s Joe Salave’a is perhaps the most multi-hyphenate assistant in college football. This man is Oregon’s associate head coach for defense and co-defensive coordinator and run game coordinator and defensive line coach.
— The stated goal of this project is to isolate, as best we can, the specific value of position coaching in major college football, and Clemson may have given us the best window yet. Todd Bates, Clemson’s defensive tackles coach, makes $515,000, while Clemson’s defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall earns $500,000. The difference? Bates is also Clemson’s recruiting coordinator. Apparently, recruiting coordinator duties are worth a $15,000 stipend on Dabo Swinney’s staff.