Kerry Coombs Has Thrived as Special Teams Coordinator for Ohio State

By Nicholas Jervey on February 2, 2014 at 6:00a

When Ohio State hired Chris Ash last month, the intent was to address flaws in the pass defense. Everett Withers’ departure left a hole on the coaching staff, and after Clemson bubble screened the Buckeyes to death in the Orange Bowl cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs was under fire as well.

Ash left a defensive coordinator position at Arkansas to come here; surely he wouldn't accept being a co-defensive coordinator and having only partial control over the secondary. A few days later, Gene Smith clarified the situation: Ash would coach the entire secondary while Coombs would be both cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator, a position he was promoted to in 2013.

Coombs then did something unusual as a special teams coordinator: He worked wonders.

Though he is well-regarded as a cornerbacks coach, Kerry Coombs might not have been Urban Meyer’s first choice for the position. Taver Johnson was on Luke Fickell's staff, but he left for Arkansas in 2012. Meyer ended up hiring Bill Sheridan, who reneged in favor of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers less than a month later. With those two gone, Meyer called Coombs.

Meyer promised that he would build a dream team of assistants, and Coombs was not one of the initial choices. Would giving Coombs control of special teams be a good idea?

He'll pin you inside the five, mate.
Johnston blossomed under Coombs.

The 2013 Buckeyes answered that question emphatically. In one year the Buckeyes went from being the nation's 82nd best special teams unit to fifth in the country.

Coombs was no slouch as a coach before coming to Ohio State: he coached for 16 years at Ohio powerhouse Colerain High School, then he took over the defensive backs coach position at the University of Cincinnati from 2007-2008 and served as associate head coach/defensive backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2009-2011. In hindsight, his coaching prowess was well-matched for special teams as well.

Some aspects of special teams are beyond a coach's control. Coaches can't give a returner Ted Ginn's speed or give a kicker Sebastian Janikowski's leg (without mad surgery, that is). What a coach can do is teach: show the punt return team how to seal off gunners, instruct the offensive line how to prevent the defense from blocking long field goals, or demonstrate to line up for onside kicks. In these teachable areas, Ohio State was leaps and bounds better in 2013 than the year before. 

Cameron Johnston was a pleasant surprise as a freshman punter with an uncanny ability to stick punts inside the twenty yard line. As good as he was, he was aided by the punt coverage, which always seeming to force fair catches or blow up the returner after a few yards. In his senior season, kicker Drew Basil made the most of his reduced workload with 9 of 10 field goals and 77 extra points.

For once, Ohio State had a solid kickoff return average. Though nobody took any kickoffs for touchdowns, Dontre Wilson showed the quickness that had everyone drooling over him in the summer. On kickoffs, that funky-looking compressed field coverage worked just fine thanks to the 'piranhas' staying in their lanes and tackling with fervor. 

Most exciting of all the special teams was the punt block crew. For all the complaints about Bradley Roby regressing on defense, his punt blocks were sheer artistry.

The Buckeyes came through time and time again to block or alter punts because of a commitment to putting the best athletes on the punt block crew and bringing pressure. Urban Meyer is responsible for the great athletes; guess who teaches them how to bring pressure?

The only area in which Ohio State regressed was punt return efficiency; chalk that up to Philly Brown's confounding regression under pressure.

All this, and we haven't even gotten to the personality trait most know Coombs for, his bombast. Kerry Coombs, if you hadn't heard, is a motivator. Some of his recruiting pitches are worth preserving for the record books:

There is another benefit to Coombs being the special teams coach: relieving Urban Meyer of pressure. Various pundits have half-jokingly called special teams Meyer's baby, and being able to delegate to staff as he’s done with special teams would be a huge relief. 

As for how much to credit the athletes' speed or Coombs' teaching, let there be no mistake: the teaching is far more important. The passion is important because most of special teams is finding somebody to hit and delay and energy contributes to the force of the collision.

Chris Ash will do as he pleases with the safeties and impart wisdom on the secondary, implementing his philosophy to the fullest extent. Kerry Coombs' role with the team has changed: he no longer works with the cornerbacks alone. Now he has the chance to leave his mark on the special teams as well, and it's a change for the better.


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TMac's picture

I think Coombs and special teams are a perfect match!!
Ironically in this coming year we would have a much clearer picture of which coach to go off on, but we won't need to!    '14, the Return of the Silver Bullets!

ONE Not Done!

TMac's picture

BTW, I got here through a twitter link, the story isn't on the front page.......

ONE Not Done!

Nicholas Jervey's picture

It's been on the main page for a while. I'm not sure what the the technical issues could be.

Ceci n'est pas une signature.

BuckeyeJAK's picture

Cam Johnson is an underrated game changer a serious weapon.
Chris Ash needs to kick in the secondary and get people to play up to their potential .

Mark May is a mental midget

Chise47's picture

I think what would be much more important than,"...kick (ing) in the secondary....", teach the look & lean technique that is so valuable in pbu's.
Look back for the ball while leaning into the reciever will create many more pass break ups!!!
Take it from an old Al Bundy glory days re-living DB !!!!

Crimson's picture

I like this Al Bundy better.
Did I ever tell you about the time I scored 4 touchdowns in a single game?

+1 HS
D-Day0043's picture

Can I get a whoa Bundy?

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

HandsOfSweed's picture

"Where the beer gives you gas and the Bundy's kick the nudie bar."
Whoa, Bundy, indeed.

Crimson's picture

Hooters, hooters, yum, yum, yum. Hooters, hooters on a girl that's dumb.

RedStorm45's picture

Who's Cam Johnson?

hetuck's picture

Hope Jamarco remembers that speech. I look forward to him doing for the rest of the special teams what he did for kick offs. 

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

buckeyedude's picture

I like Coombs as a Buckeye. But I think most would agree something needed to be done.



mb5599's picture

Love Coombs as the special teams coach.  His enthusiasim and energy are what you expect from your special teams coach.  Someone that is borderline insane.  Our special teams was a strength of the team last year, but I remember being extremely nervous when we punted or kicked off.  I was always waiting for the return man to take it to the house.  I always wanted Basil to kick it out of the end zone.  I know Urban likes to pin the opposing team back inside its 20, but if someone misses an assignment, it can quickly change the game.

Big B

+1 HS
Run_Fido_Run's picture

I disagree. If the opponent's average starting position under the Meyer approach is, say, the 21 yd line, that's simply better "in the grand scheme" than yielding the 25 yd line. 
Sure, there will be a higher risk for the big "momentum changing" KO return TD. And then, of course, that big play will be seared into our memories. But what we tend not to notice, because it's happening in small segments, incrementally, without the flair of a big play, is the drip, drip, drip of letting the opponent start at the 25 yd line instead of the 21 yd line. With those extra four yards, on a few additional drives that otherwise wouldn't have yielded points, the opponent is able to get into FG range, or punt the Buckeyes closer back to their own goal line, etc. Over the course of a season, multiply those 4 yds by x-number of returns and the damage really adds up.    

Whoa Nellie's picture

Also agree with UFM's approach to kick offs.
There's also the possibility of the big momentum changing fumble by the returner during these high speed collisions.
As long as the kicker can reliably place the ball in one corner, cutting down the field, big returns should be rare.

“Don’t fear criticism. The stands are full of critics. They play no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing. Down on the field are the doers, they make mistakes because they attempt many things.”

stanton6's picture

Cameron Johnston looks like a linebacker, not a punter.... I feel pretty good about him being the last line of defense on a punt.


NoVA Buckeye's picture

I've seen him in person, and yeah he looks like a linebacker... a D-III linebacker. He's much shorter in person than you'd think.

The offseason begins when your season ends. Even then there are no days off.

ScarletGray43157's picture

Yeah, in the pic on this post those forearms look like a lumberjack.  

In old Ohio there's a team that's known throughout the land...

D-Day0043's picture

This is exactly what I hoped they would do. I definitely think having him split responsibilities was a bad idea in the first place. I think he did a very solid job with special teams. Now we just need a returner that can take it to the house and a kicker that can put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs.

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CC's picture

Urban said they didn't want to kick it out of the end zone every time as they can do better than the 25 on coverage.

I'm not sure I agree regarding risk vs. Reward but I respect his opinion.

D-Day0043's picture

There is a time for kicking it short, and it worked numerous times, but when going against a dangerous return man such as Watkins, we struggled kicking it deep in the end zone. I attribute that to leg strength, because I think they wanted touch backs.
Johnston is a freaking stud on punts. We only had two miscues on punts all year. The touchdown and the botched 4th down conversion.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

rampageripster's picture

Trust me, Basil could easily kick it out the end zone every try if he wanted to, but that's not the scheme

Cause I couldn't go for three

Hockey Buck's picture

Special Teams were a disaster in our last 3 games if one remembers, so a welcome change.

Hovenaut's picture

Good moves. Not to discredit Coombs, just never understood the division in coaching corners and safeties separately. Happy to read the unit will be under the guidance of one coach - happier that it's Chris Ash.

Chise47's picture

Coach Coombs is a very valuable asset in an area where no-one in this comment section has mentioned. Yes, he brings unrivaled enthusiasm that the kids show in how much the ST's improved so drastically. I love that & thank the coach for it.
What people are over looking is Coombs connection to SW Ohio & the recruiting. For more years than I care to remember, we have watched great Ohio talent from SW Ohio go to other states because of no deeply embedded in roads there.
Yes, UFM did a year @ St. X, but there is no debate that coach Coombs is borderline Legendary in SW Ohio High school football.

ScarletNGrey01's picture

Coach Coombs is a "special" guy so this makes total sense hardy har har.
All kidding aside, great move I think, Coach Coombs can focus on special teams, an important but sometimes overlooked unit, and you keep a very inspirational, motivational, high energy guy on your staff.

The will to win is not as important as the will to prepare to win. -- Woody Hayes

Royball's picture

He's at it again:
Also featuring a little cameo by Raekwon

4-6 seconds of relentless effort

cuttyrock's picture

I love that now we have just one db coach with one style. I'm happy.

FLAMikey's picture

Given the public reaction to Gene Smith's raise/promotion, the PR dept. must have suggested that he make this announcement. :)

Rizzoni's picture

If Kerry Coombs won't be involved with the defense, then we have only three coaches working with the defense. Is there any precedence of having such a low number? I checked Alabama, Auburn, and FSU; all these coaching staffs have four (or more, if you count head coach) coaches on the defensive side.

bull1214's picture

i believe coombs is still "assisting" with the db's but ash's voice is the one they'll be taking direction from. im all for it.
i do have one question for those who know, not guess ,because i could make a guess, but actually know. at the college level, which coach works with the lb'ers on coverage technique more, the lb'er coach or db coach or is this a point where they have to work closely together?

RedStorm45's picture

As long as he can teach our PR how to catch a ball, then good.