Chris Ash, His No-Nonsense Approach, and Ohio State's Culture Shift on Defense

By Patrick Maks on July 22, 2014 at 8:15a

It was the final hour of the last Ohio State summer camp for scores of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed high schoolers looking to glean anything and everything from a coaching staff that’s revered across the nation.

Inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the camp’s most talented skill players gathered for drills in front of the likes of head coach Urban Meyer, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash.

By this time, the campers grew restless in the humid June air and on the sideline in between reps. They hovered along the boundary in a disorganized mess, much to the chagrin of Ash, who found himself repeatedly asking them to form a single-file line while waiting for their turn in the rotation.

Enough was enough. He barked at them again. 

He told them he didn't care if they liked it or not.

He dared them to get mad, to whine, to moan.

"We’re doing it my way,” he said. 

In the moment, Ash’s way meant a much-needed dose of discipline for a bunch of teenagers. 

For Ohio State, Ash’s way means far more.

The most obvious, of course, is a schematic deviation from what doomed the Buckeyes and their horrendous pass defense last season. Ash is a disciple of the Cover 4 (quarters coverage) defense and likes to press and be aggressive when applicable.

He’s charged with helping mend a unit that got embarrassed in back-to-back losses against Michigan State and Clemson.

“I’m not concerned about what’s happened here in the past. I really don’t care,” he said in February.

“I’m more concerned about the direction we’re going to go and how we get the players aligned with what our vision is going to be. I really don’t care what’s happened in the past.”

But the past is why Ash, who replaced former Buckeye assistant and current James Madison head coach Everett Withers, is here in the first place.

Because Ash’s way means more than a defense that's undergoing an overhaul. It parallels a shift in culture Meyer so desperately wants to see out of a defense that finished 112th in defending the pass a year ago.

“I don't want a team that's scared to make mistakes. I don't want a team that's thinking. I want a team that goes four to six seconds,” Meyer said in reference to his concept of giving “4-to-6 seconds of relentless effort” on any given play.

That’s something that goes a lot deeper than Xs and Os.

"It doesn’t matter what we do schematically, we’re gonna have a philosophy, we’re gonna have a system – an identity about what we’re doing," Ash said in March.

Ash looks and plays the part of the no-nonsense college football coach. He’s intense, tough, loud and uncompromising – all the qualities that Meyer seems to find endearing.  

More importantly for Ohio State, Chris Ash gets what Chris Ash wants. 

Whether it’s ordering a group of high schoolers to make a simple single-file line at summer camp or convincing his own squad to buy into a new defensive philosophy, he commands respect.

“Just because I showed up,” Ash said, “it doesn’t mean the Ohio State defense is going to be miraculously better overnight.”

But he’s helped the Buckeyes take the first step toward climbing out of a hole of mediocrity.

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