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Copyright 2017 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


COLUMBUS — Two pictures hang above Mark Pantoni's desk: The greatest recruiting photograph ever taken, and a shot of AT&T Stadium the night Ohio State won the 2014 national championship.

One photo turned into the other.

If there were a nameplate on Pantoni's desk, it would read "Ohio State Football General Manager." He's the general manager who made those two photos above his desk possible; the general manager who signed the best recruiting class in team history in 2017; and the general manager who is responsible for the 2018 recruiting class that currently ranks No. 1 in the country.

OSU coach Urban Meyer has said recruiting is the "lifeblood of this program" a million times. He'll say it again the next time there's a microphone in his face. But now Ohio State is putting money where Meyer's mouth is by investing what will be millions of dollars the next few years.

The recruiting photo above Pantoni's desk is of him standing with Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple and Darron Lee during a recruiting visit. They all went on to be first-round NFL draft picks after being integral parts of the title run, the other picture.

Pantoni sits under those two framed photos every day but rarely feels nostalgic. It's nice they're there — "testimony," he says — but he never forgets that those pictures need to be created again with new faces. This program needs to get to the point where those pictures become routine, not framed.

Otherwise, Pantoni is not doing his job.

"That's the standard now," he said. "Be the best. Nothing else."

Meyer has the reputation as one of most demanding coaches in college football, but even Meyer understands there are limits to what one person can do. So Ohio State invested in its recruiting department.

What was once a two-man recruiting staff of Pantoni and Greg Gillum in 2012 is now a 10-person staff. This has turned into an NFL-like operation.

Great recruiting leads to winning, and Pantoni is pulling the strings. This GM can't draft players or sign free agents, but Pantoni can recruit. Now he has help.

The most recent addition came last week when Andre Robinson was hired as an assistant director of new and creative media.

The nine others, including Pantoni, earn salaries that add up to a combined $617,213.98, according to state records.

That number doesn't include Robinson's salary because he was just hired, but Ohio State has made a tremendous investment in recruiting support staff. That number also doesn't include the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on recruiting travel, whether on coaches' trips or official visits made by prospects.

"We're having tremendous recruiting success," Meyer said, "but we aren't doing it without that staff."

Seven years ago when Jim Tressel was the coach and Meyer was at Florida, the recruiting coordinator position was just assigned to one of the nine assistants. For Tressel, it used to be tight ends coach John Peterson.

Now you have GM Pantoni — who has his fingers in everything from prospect communication to coaches' travel to visit itineraries to film breakdown — and an entire team dedicated to film breakdown, videos, graphics, marketing and social media.

Ohio State never had a meeting to discuss this expansion, but Meyer basically reassigned every available staff position he could to recruiting, and redefined staff roles. The recruiting department quadrupled in people and payouts.

Athletic Director Gene Smith didn't even hesitate to pay up.

"You can have the greatest head coach and the greatest coordinator, but you know the old saying: 'Great players make great coaches,'" Smith said.

"Understanding what was happening nationally, understanding just the way it's changing and the way young people pay attention, it was critical for us to have those people. ... I think it's important for us to look at where we are, see the future and put in place the infrastructure to support it."

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June 25, 2017


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