The first time Tony Alford met with Columbus media as the running backs coach at Ohio State, he made a few things very clear: He's his own man with his own style, and life is made a lot easier at a new job when you have someone like Ezekiel Elliott running the ball for you.
"I don't know — is it pretty easy to drive a Lexus? From driving a Volkswagen?" Alford asked a reporter April 2 following a question regarding the difficulty of deciding to make a job switch. "In all seriousness, though, it certainly helps. It helps to come in and have great players around and some guys that really understand how to work but I've been very fortunate in my career."
Alford officially joined the Buckeye coaching staff Feb. 10, heading to Columbus after six years in South Bend, Ind., and Notre Dame to fill the vacant spot left by Stan Drayton.
|1993||Fort Collins HS||Assistant Coach|
|1994||Lake Wales HS||Assistant Coach|
|1995||Mount Union||Running Backs|
|1996||Kent State||Running Backs|
|1997-00||Iowa State||Running Backs|
|2002-06||Iowa State||Asst. HC/RBs|
|2009||Notre Dame||Running Backs|
|2010-11||Notre Dame||Wide Receivers|
|2012-13||Notre Dame||RBs/Slot WRs|
|2014||Notre Dame||RBs/Recruiting Coordinator|
|2015||Ohio State||RBs/Asst. HC for Offense|
"I’m not Stan Drayton, I know Stan and we’re friends, but I’m Tony Alford and I’m going to be the best Tony Alford I can be," Alford said that day, speaking to how his predecessor bolted to the Chicago Bears right after Signing Day. "That’s going to have to be good enough."
Alford's yet to coach an actual game at Ohio State, but so far his boss likes what he's seen from both him and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck, two new additions to his staff for 2015.
"Very good, very good. I’m more worried about player relationship and developing a unit than I am so much about impacting a scheme," Urban Meyer said Saturday. "I think they both have, but they’re doing very well. Great additions."
Alford compared his first few months at Ohio State to "drinking out of a fire hose," in the sense that he was given a whole bunch of information in a very minute amount of time. When you step into a room full of people fresh off winning the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship, though, there's not much more you can expect.
"The players know the playbook. They know what's going on, too. I'm not trying to come in here and act like I know everything, because I don't, obviously," Alford said. "But it's been good. It's been a good transition."
"Stan left some big shoe prints, no doubt. My job here is just to come here and do the best I can for this football program."– Tony Alford
Elliott and the other running backs see plenty of similarities between Alford and Drayton — "They’re very passionate and they demand hard work," the Heisman favorite said this spring — but in a room overflowing with talented guys and some who haven't been huge contributors, Alford has to make his impact felt.
"You will get what you earn, whether that's carries or special teams," Alford said at Ohio State Media Day Aug. 16. "You will get what you earn, there's nothing given here and our guys know that."
Meyer pushes the special teams envelope onto his players furiously. If you want time at your respective position, you need to be more than willing to do some special teams dirty work. The head coach has said often that's why running backs like Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball haven't received many carries in the Scarlet and Gray.
Dunn is currently penciled in as the backup behind Elliott, Meyer said, but a strong push from Ball, the constant presence of Curtis Samuel (who was backup in 2014) and rise of talented freshman Mike Weber before his knee injury keeps competition fierce.
"If you can't block, you can't play," Alford said. "You have to be more of a complete player now within this offense now and if you're not going to do that, you're not going to play."
Elliott's known for his prowess as a blocker all the way from Meyer down to the offensive linemen. He sticks his nose in wherever he needs to in order to help a play be more successful. Alford loves that, Meyer loves that, which is why they saw a potential connection when the latter was on the hunt for Drayton's replacement. Plus, Meyer joined the Colorado State coaching staff as wide receivers coach in 1990 — Alford's senior year with the Rams.
"Stan left some big shoe prints, no doubt," Alford said. "My job here is just to come here and do the best I can for this football program."
He's on his way to doing that, with his hard-nosed approach and one of the best tailbacks in the nation toting the ball in front of a deep running back contingent.
"It's not reinventing the wheel. You're talking about a team that's had great success through the years," Alford said. "So I'm just kind of coming in here and trying to fit in where I can."