Offense has changed, dramatically and rapidly, in college football, which means defense has changed along with it. As Nick Saban said himself, long gone are the days when the key to victory was sending your linebackers to stuff the running back as often as you could -- and they're not coming back.
In 2021, if you had the choice to be elite in one unit, pretty good in another and merely okay in the third, you'd probably choose to be elite along the D-line, pretty good in the secondary and okay at linebacker. Or at least I would.
None of this means the linebacker position is unimportant. Of course not. No other position is expected to consistently make plays sideline to sideline and goal line to goal line. In any given snap, a linebacker can find himself 10 yards behind the line of scrimmage or 40 yards beyond it.
There's also the practical matter that the linebacker, by definition, is right in the middle of the defense. As offenses have placed more emphasis on the passing game, an increasing number of defenses have responded by having their coordinator coach safeties rather than linebackers -- and as the huddle has become extinct, there's less a need for the Mike 'backer to be the quarterback of the defensive huddle. But even in 2021, if you're defensive coordinator is going to coach a position (more on this below), the default is still linebackers.
And because of that, we've broken this position into two sections. The goal of this exercise is still to isolate the specific value of each position, and to do that our first list will be coordinators who happen to coach linebackers, and the next will be linebacker coaches by trade.
Defensive coordinators who coach linebackers:
1. Brent Venables, Clemson -- $2.4 million
2. Pete Kwiatkowski, Texas -- $1.7 million
3. Dan Lanning, Georgia -- $1.4 million
4. Pete Golding, Alabama -- $1.225 million
5. Zach Arnett, Mississippi State -- $900,000
5. Clayton White, South Carolina -- $900,000
7. Brad White, Kentucky -- $875,000
8. Tim DeRuyter, Oregon -- $825,000
9. Jim Knowles, Oklahoma State -- $800,000
10. Peter Sirmon, Cal -- $750,000
11. Tony Gibson, NC State -- $700,000
11. Charlton Warren, Indiana -- $700,000
13. Joe Rossi, Minnesota -- $625,000
14. Jake Dickert, Washington State -- $615,000
15. Tim Tibesar, Oregon State -- $600,000
16. Bob Gregory, Washington -- $575,000*
Linebacker coaches (who also do other things):
1. DJ Durkin, Ole Miss -- $700,000+
2. Sal Sunseri, Alabama -- $675,000
3. Seth Wallace, Iowa -- $560,000+
4. Keith Heyward, Cal -- $600,000
4. Glenn Schumann, Georgia -- $600,000+
5. Brian Jean-Mary, Tennessee -- $550,000
5. Tommy Thigpen, North Carolina -- $550,000+
7. Ikaika Malloe, Washington -- $525,000+
8. Chris Marve, Florida State -- $520,000+
9. Al Washington, Ohio State -- $515,000
10. Blake Baker, LSU -- $500,000
10. Jeff Choate, Texas -- $500,000+
10. Brad Lambert, Purdue -- $500,000+
10. Jeff Schmedding, Auburn -- $500,000
14. Ross Els, Michigan State -- $475,000+
15. Andy Buh, Illinois -- $450,000
16. Brian Odom, Oklahoma -- $435,000
16. Jamar Cain, Oklahoma -- $435,000^
18. Bobby April, Wisconsin -- $425,000+
18. Bob Bostad, Wisconsin -- $425,000
18. Bert Watts, Auburn -- $425,000+
21. Don Pellum, UCLA -- $400,000
21. Tyson Veidt, Iowa State -- $400,000+
23. Kelly Poppinga, Virginia -- $390,000+
23. Tyler Santucci, Texas A&M -- $390,000
+ - co/defensive coordinator, assistant head coach, special teams coordinator, recruiting coordinator
^ - Cain coaches Oklahoma's outside linebackers and defensive ends
-- Michael Scherer will earn $175,000 on a 1-year deal to coach Arkansas's linebackers.
-- The 10th assistant rule has allowed head coaches the luxury of a "walk around" defensive coordinator -- a guy without specific positional responsibilities. Derek Mason will make $1.5 million as Auburn's "walk around" defensive coordinator, while Todd Grantham earns $1.8 million doing the same at Florida. Adam Fuller ($800,000) is also a "walk around" coordinator at Florida State, as are Steve Wilks ($800,000) at Missouri, Tim Banks ($1.3 million) at Tennessee, Scottie Hazelton ($950,000) at Michigan State, Kerry Coombs ($1.4 million) at Ohio State, Ryan Walters ($850,000) at Illinois, Erik Chinander ($800,000) at Nebraska, Jon Heacock ($900,000) at Iowa State, Jerry Azzinaro ($700,000) at UCLA, and Antonio Pierce ($700,000) at Arizona State.
-- George Helow didn't get that big a raise in leaving Maryland for Michigan. He earned $325,000 at Maryland and will make $350,000 for the same job on Jim Harbaugh's staff.
-- Brad Lambert will earn $125,000 less to coach Purdue's linebackers and co-coordinate Jeff Brohm's defense than Bob Diaco did.
-- Jack Tyler, promoted from director of player development to Virginia Tech's linebackers coach, will make $135,000 in 2021.
-- Bob Gregory's salary at Washington gets an asterisk. Jimmy Lake promoted Gregory to his defensive coordinator following Pete Kwiatkowski's departure to Texas, but we don't have any information on a raise -- yet. Kwitakowski made $1 million ($1,000,008, to be precise) coordinating Washington's defense in 2020.