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After a subpar defensive season and failing to beat Michigan, win the Big Ten, or make the CFP, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day knew that he had to make some changes. He had done some shuffling during the season, adjusting the duties and roles of defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and defensive backs coach Matt Barnes. But by season’s end, it was evident that those moves weren’t a long-term solution.
So, meet new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles. Knowles was one of the top coordinators in in college football and had done a miraculous job at Oklahoma State in the Big 12, a conference sorely lacking in defense. His hiring was announced prior to the Rose Bowl.
Whenever one coach is added though, another must go, and Matt Barnes announced after the Rose Bowl he was going to become the defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis.
That announcement was not too surprising. However, the next two moves on the defensive staff were somewhat unexpected.
Most knew that Kerry Coombs wouldn’t return as the defensive coordinator, but given his recruiting prowess and ability to develop first round cornerbacks, it seemed like he would have the option to stay in a reduced capacity. Apparently, Coombs had other ideas. Last week in a heartfelt message to Buckeye Nation, he announced his departure.
Coombs did spend time with the Tennessee Titans between stints at OSU, so it’s possible he could return to the NFL. He could also join Luke Fickell’s staff at Cincinnati in some capacity. Between his ties to the city, his recruiting and coaching ability, and his history with Fickell, Coombs seems like a natural fit.
The second unexpected departure from the OSU staff is linebackers coach Al Washington. Washington has a long history with Day, dating back to their time together at Boston College in the early 2000s when Washington was a player and Day a graduate assistant. It was considered a huge coup for OSU when Day peeled Washington away from the Michigan staff, as he was considered one of the top recruiters in the country. However, Washington is now headed to South Bend to reunite with newly-minted head coach Marcus Freeman, whom he coached with at Cincinnati.
Knowing that defensive coordinator Jim Knowles would take care of the linebacker room, Day went out to find a pair of defensive back coaches. First, he hired Tim Walton from the Jacksonville Jaguars. Walton started his career as a GA at Bowling Green in 1995 and stayed in the college game — stopping at Memphis, Syracuse, Miami and LSU — until 2009 when he joined the Detroit Lions. Walton has been in the NFL ever since, so some worry that his recruiting prowess may have waned. However, Pro Bowl Corner Jalen Ramsay then gave him a ringing endorsement, which should go a long way with prospective players and their parents. Plus, Walton is also returning to his alma mater, and it’s always easier to sell a school when you’re an alum.
To round out the rest of the defensive backfield staff, Day poached Perry Eliano from the Cincinnati Bearcats. Eliano has been a respected member of Fickell’s staff for the past few seasons and played a major role in developing the best pair of corners in the nation. Coby Bryant won the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back, and his running mate, Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner was a first Team All American who is projected to be a first round draft pick.
The lone holdover from the previous season is defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
This offseason will be a critical time for the Buckeye defense as they try to blend personalities and schemes through the winter and spring. It’s not easy replacing even one member of a unit, so changing out nearly an entire defensive staff will be difficult for all involved. It’s not like replacing parts on a car. Every defensive player will have to learn new techniques and responsibilities, and the coaches will have to learn each other. Cohesion can take time, and hopefully in the next few months, they can achieve it.
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Perfect timing Bobby. Sitting here, pondering whether to attempt to dig out from under this wintry blanket to go to work or not, I was running out of articles. Then my fellow Buckeye buys me 5 for minutes with a fresh new article.
I think these are all good changes. Heaven knows we needed wholesale changes on D. Glad to see LJ is staying on. I hate seeing KC go. His energy and recruiting will be missed.