There's No 'I' in Defensive Juggernaut

By Kyle Rowland on April 24, 2014 at 8:30a

Marrying coaching philosophies and ideologies is easier than it sounds. When egos get involved, conflicts are inevitable. Ohio State’s 2013 defensive staff had differing opinions, especially in the secondary, which ultimately contributed to the unit’s alarming play.

New coaches signal a clean slate. There’s a buzz surrounding the entire defense, with the improved backfield earning high marks. Luke Fickell, a lifelong Buckeye; Kerry Coombs, an original member of Urban Meyer’s Ohio State staff; Chris Ash, a protégé of the despised Bret Bielema; and Larry Johnson, a Penn Stater to the core, are charged with correcting Ohio State’s defensive deficiencies.

So far, so good.

“It’s completely meshed together very well,” head coach Urban Meyer said during spring drills.

After finishing 46th in total defense and a woeful 112th in pass defense, a new voice was needed, and it arrived in the form of Chris Ash. Questions will continued to be asked of the defense into the summer and fall – with plenty of answers forthcoming – but it’s already taking shape as a whole. And the Fickell-Ash enterprise, partnership or whatever else you want to name it offered promising returns.  

Ash is revamping much of the secondary with an eye on putting wide receivers in uncomfortable situations. In recent seasons, receivers were able to dictate most of the play sequence. Why Ash? Because he’s molded together pass defenses with three-star recruits into All-American units.

“It’s been a great transition,” Fickell said. “I know that we haven’t had the real stresses of a season, but I tell you, we’ve battled through a lot of things in the last month or so,” Fickell said. “It’s been a great growing experience for me. That’s one thing coach Meyer likes to do – get you out of your comfort zone. Having some new guys has made me do that and it’s made me broaden things that we do.”

Johnson’s not reinventing the wheel at defensive line. It’s already one of the deepest and most productive units on the team. His main goal is to establish even more depth. On the recruiting trail, Johnson is expected to deliver on his reputation as one of the nation’s finest recruiters.  

The game plan will be a collaborative effort, with Fickell calling plays on Saturdays. Doing your 1/11th has become a mantra of sorts for Ohio State, and one could say the defensive staff is tasked with doing its 1/4th.  

“It’s not any different for coaches,” Fickell said. “It doesn’t matter with titles or anything like that. The thing that I think we’ve done a good job of is we’ve been in there battling through things that we’ll be on the same page.”

Chemistry comes with time and building on relationships, according to Ash. If it becomes contagious with the coaching staff, chances are it will be ingrained into the team. Eventually, the defensive coordinator drifts into the background because players can make calls and breakdown offensive formations on the field.  

“If the defensive staff is aligned the right way, you’re preparing the right way and everybody has ownership on what you’re doing, calling plays on game day isn’t really that difficult, to be honest with you,” Ash said.

He admitted he wouldn’t have left Arkansas if he didn’t think it was possible to have a cordial working relationship with Fickell. Despite the rebuilding project in Fayetteville, Ash had a desirable job. He was calling plays, coordinating the secondary and piling up respect within the coaching profession.

The decision to leave was no different than a high school recruit. Ash believed reaching college football’s pinnacle – winning a national championship – would be more attainable at Ohio State. Winning takes a flawless cocktail of talent, coaching and luck. It’s all made easier when players and coaches are in sync.

“You don’t have to be best friends or anything,” Ash said. “But you’ve got to be on the same page, you’ve got to have a great working relationship.”

When Coombs was asked about Ash’s immersion into the staff, the energetic coach smiled and said he loved his sidekick. Coombs then explained how exposure to different coaches and fresh ideas can spur growth. Sound communication has contributed to the Buckeyes’ improvements.

“One of the things I told Coach Meyer about when [Everett Withers] left is we need to start meeting together, we need to start spending more time together as a cohesive unit,” Coombs said. “So Chris and I are able to do that and spend time together, and that’s worked out really well. He’s got good energy, he’s got good passion.”

Devoid of egos, this coaching marriage could be an endless honeymoon.


Comments Show All Comments

ajbosu1's picture

Great article. A nasty D will take the pressure off of an inexperienced O line and allow them to mature. 

Love the trajectory of the program. 

+2 HS
yrro's picture

I think something that was overlooked with all the talk of nepotism and complacency under Tressel regarding the coaching staff (and believe me, I know there was)... I think you could really see how important continuity was. Everyone on each side of the ball had worked together for years, and on defense especially there was a very clear idea of what they were doing and what their identity was.

+1 HS
Jeremypreemo81's picture

I cannot wait to see the revamped Defensive unit that takes the field this year.  I expect big things.  The havoc caused by our D-line should create a lot of opportunities for our secondary.

+1 HS
chirobuck's picture

112th.......yikes, with talent we have we should be able to knock the "1" off the front of that number this year


^ best post ever ^

+2 HS
southbay's picture

Both 1s in the not too distant future, perhaps?

+2 HS
d5k's picture

2th isn't a word

+6 HS
Buckeye1004's picture

Sure it is!  2th: pronounced tooth - "He hit him so hard he knocked his 2th out"

+5 HS
cinserious's picture

Haha! When my youngest brother was two, we taught him to pronounce his birthday: Febuwewy tooth!

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

+1 HS
southbay's picture

1th isn't either, but maybe the secondary will have some teeth this year...

Oneida54's picture

If and when someone throws for 400 yds or tOSU gives up 35 points ..we will see how things work..last year the defense seemed to spiral down ...!  Talk is cheap..SHOW ME! In the fall...I.m not falling for the SPIN being spouted Now!

+9 HS
warriard1002's picture

I totally agree blind hope is all good but i need results

+2 HS
Killer nuts's picture

I'll bet we give up fewer passing yards in week 1 this year than we averaged giving up last year. I also suspect we'll be a top 20 pass defense after week 1

+4 HS
Ethos's picture

this I doubt.  Do not overlook Navy's game.  If it were any other team i may agree, but those fuckers are a pain in the ass.

"I spent 90 percent of my money on women and drink. The rest I wasted." - George Best

+1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Don't be a Negative Ned, Oneida.



Bradyhokescholesterol's picture

It's been a difficult transition going from watching Ohio State on Saturdays expecting a stellar defense and conservative offense to show up to where we are now; i.e. the exact opposite. Hopefully the offense and defense begin to mirror one another this season. 

+1 HS
Barnsey69's picture

I also will wait for the results on the field before I get a full on chubb here, but it's nice to see that they have made changes on the side-line that will (hopefully) help the staff be more cohesive. Pretty sure there were tensions there building all year that culminated with the (alleged) confrontation between Meyer/Vrabel, as well as the departure of Withers. 

Thank the Maker that I was born in Ohio, cradle of coaches, US Presidents, confederate-stomping Generals, and home of The Ohio State University Football Buckeyes- 2014 UNDISPUTED National Champions!

whobdis's picture

Reading between the lines with what Coombs had to say and Luke's review after the first season('needs to work with EVERYONE') tells me there may have been a lack of continuity amougnst the D coaches. Watching Luke his first season he was always talking to Vrabel on the sidelines and I thought that may have been what Urban was talking about. But it may be deeper than that. Luke may be a control freak (like many coaches) and has isssues working outside his 'circle of trust'. He said it's been a learning experience for him..let's hope it shows.

+1 HS
iamcbs's picture

I'm in 1000% agreement with Oneida54, every Spring we hear the same talk about how this year it's going to be different. We heard it last Spring and we saw the results. It's just like every year we hear how the TE is going to be an integral part of the offense and then they aren't. It's great that in April everyone says they're on the same page and everything is great. We'll see in 124 days at M&T Bank Stadium!!

I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep, I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion~Alexander the Great

+1 HS
TossTrap's picture

I believe the defense will carry this team on it's back.

Improved linebacker play will force teams to pass more. More pressure on  the QB from fresh talented D-line and tighter coverage in the secondary will force lots of incompletions and jump balls. Short field for the younger offense. Much better overall team even with the loss of Carlos.

First and goal at the five and Arch is getting the ball.

Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

Does this mean the safeties and cornerbacks are also in the same meeting room going over film and schemes?

m4's picture

Fickell Will Call Plays On Defense, Meyer Says

Posted: Dec 14, 2011 7:51 AM CST
By Matt Barnes

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Former OSU Head Coach Luke Fickell will call the plays on defense for Ohio State's next season, says new Head Coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer told a Columbus radio station on Tuesday that Fickell either will be defensive coordinator or co-defensive coordinator but definitely will be the one calling the plays.

During the interview, Meyer praised Fickell as not just a great person and ambassador for the Buckeyes but also as a great coach.

Meyer also said interim North Carolina head coach Everett Withers is under consideration for a position on his staff but that nothing is official.

Withers spent three years as the defensive coordinator at UNC until being elevated to the interim job prior to the 2011 season.

Multiple sources, though, are reporting that Withers in fact will be a member of the staff but his official role is unclear.

Meyer contacted former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops about a position just days after his hire at OSU.

Last week, Meyer lured Tom Herman from Iowa State to fill the role of offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

Current OSU assistants Stan Drayton and Taver Johnson are expected to be retained by Meyer   

OSU069's picture

NOOOOO!!! We're doomed!!

+1 HS
m4's picture

I posted the above clip for those that did not believe coach Fickell was calling the defense in 2012 and 2013. Coach Meyer has not said who will call the defense in 2014.

+1 HS
OSU069's picture

Oh ok. Sorry about that. I thought that was for this year. 

+1 HS
FitzBuck's picture

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

m4's picture

The difference in my post and yours is mine actually have quotes from coach Meyer saying Luke Fickell will call the defense. Your post has some guy assuming Withers and Coombs was calling the coverage just because coach Withers coached the safeties and coach Coombs coached the corners, when you think about it does that make sense to you to have more than one guy calling the plays? Coach Meyer said coach fickell was the play caller on defense loud and clear read the post; he did not say anything about coach Withers was calling the coverage and coach Fickell was calling blitzes. I believe what coach Meyer has actually said over some guy making assumptions. The post that you posted did actually have some quotes by coach Meyer saying "its too many things; not just one Meyer said. It's not the man coverage. It's not the zone coverage. It's all of the above. Then, it's the pass rush, the timing to call the blitzes and making sure the blitzes match the coverage" All that falls on the architect none other than the play caller, coach Fickell.

FitzBuck's picture

Fitzbuck | Toledo - Ohio's right armpit | "A troll by any other name is still a troll".

-1 HS
d5k's picture

Devoid of egos, this coaching marriage could be an endless honeymoon.

This feels like unintentional comedy.  If they didn't have egos they wouldn't be coaches, especially at Ohio State.  I like that they are checking it at the door as they say.

+2 HS
NuttyBuckeye's picture

I am certain that our defense WILL BE improved over last year, and I have a gut feeling we will be much more improved than most of the nay-sayers think.  Folks, we cannot get worse - that was damn-near rock-bottom for any Ohio State defense.  I would go out on a limb and say we will finish in the top 40-45 in total defense this year, maybe even top 25.


Happy days are here again!  (as the song goes)

What's round on the ends and high in the middle? Tell me if you know!

DC-town's picture

Good catch m4-

it was kind of brushed over in this article that Fickell will be calling plays...Has that been confirmed?  I saw the article m4 posted, but have a hard time believing ash isn't making the calls on gameday

'Piss excellence' -RB

m4's picture


that article I posted is old. I posted it to prove to those that were saying coach Fickell was not calling the defensive plays in 2012 and 2013. Coach Meyer has not said who is going to call the defense in 2014.

Tampabuckeye85's picture

Omg the 2th definition killed me. I started laughing so hard and people just looked at me like I was nuts. On the other hand I'm excited to see what this season holds. I really believe the offensive line with be serviceable at worst and if the defense is even 30% better than last season we can play for the title. Being realistic both of those things are very possible with offense line and defense.

cw823's picture

It is unfair to compare this year's defense to last year's, when there was so little talent on the defensive side of the ball.  Roby was the #1 corner in the country until about three games into the schedule, then he faded away.  Shazier and Bosa were bright spots, but what else was there?

There is more talent on that side of the ball, and I expect that to be a big contributor to what I expect will be a much improved defense.  I just worry that the defense needs another year, and we may not have another year on the offensive side of the ball.

-1 HS
buckeyedude's picture

Even a 6th grade school girl could see that the OSU defense sucked last year(mostly thanks to the secondary). If this team really wants to make a run for the national championship, it has to start with the Silver Bullets. I am VERY encouraged at the vibe coming from the coaches.