Although Ohio State appears likely to lose one of the most significant members of its coaching staff, the Buckeyes should have flexibility in how they choose to replace him if he leaves.
According to a report from Football Scoop’s Zach Barnett on Monday, Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano is expected to leave the Buckeyes to join the coaching staff of the New England Patriots.
While that report has been met with some conflicting information – Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman reported Monday that Schiano has yet to decide whether to take a job in New England, and many have expected the Patriots to promote linebackers coach Brian Flores to defensive coordinator – it’s also been expected that Schiano will move on from Ohio State sooner than later, with his eyes now toward the NFL, after agreeing to become Tennessee’s head coach in November before public backlash led the university to back out of its deal with Schiano at the last minute.
Even if Schiano does leave, though, Ohio State’s defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the 2018 season might already be on staff. Former Washington State defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch, who Ohio State hired to its coaching staff in January on a two-year deal worth $800,000 for 2018, is presumably in line to be Schiano’s heir apparent as the Buckeyes’ defensive play caller.
The question that creates, however, is how Ohio State could choose to utilize the vacancy that Schiano’s departure could leave on the coaching staff.
Ohio State already has one vacancy on its coaching staff, following the departure of Kerry Coombs, which will presumably be used – assuming Grinch ends up taking over the safeties – to find Coombs’ replacement at cornerbacks coach. While it is not yet known whether Ohio State has interviewed any candidates for that job, speculative candidates – some of whose résumés were discussed in greater detail here – include Anthony Campanile (currently at Boston College), Renaldo Hill (Pittsburgh) and Aazaar Abdul-Rahim (Maryland).
Because of the expansion of the coaching staffs to 10 full-time assistants from nine this year, however, there’s no clearly defined role in terms of position coaching responsibility with which the Buckeyes would necessarily need Schiano’s replacement to be able to fill.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer always places an emphasis on ability to recruit when hiring assistant coaches, so that should certainly be a priority in filling both the current vacancy and potentially impending vacancy. But that nonetheless gives Ohio State the ability to potentially go in a variety of directions, both in terms of what its new assistant coach’s responsibilities would be and who could be candidates for that position, in replacing Schiano if he departs.
Option No. 1: Another Defensive Assistant Coach, Perhaps A Linebackers Coach
While Grinch likely replacing Schiano leaves Ohio State without a direct need for another defensive position coach aside from a cornerbacks coach, hiring another assistant coach for that side of the ball still might be the most likely and logical scenario.
Replacing Coombs and Schiano with a pair of defensive assistants keeps the numbers even, as it would give the Buckeyes five assistant coaches on both offense and defense. Consider that Meyer is an offensive-minded coach, and that the two departing coaches were the defensive coordinator and assistant defensive coordinator, and there’s increased reason for the Buckeyes to bring in another defensive coach, particularly to help with game planning.
If the right coach is out there – that being a defensive assistant coach with an impressive resume in both on-field coaching and recruiting – the Buckeyes will find a place for him that works.
Still, there’s a question of what exactly that coach’s role might be in terms of on-field coaching, given that the Buckeyes will likely already have a new defensive coordinator and two new defensive backs coaches.
It’s not uncommon for teams to have both a defensive ends coach and a defensive tackles coach, but the Buckeyes might not want to take any responsibility off of superstar defensive line coach Larry Johnson’s plate. It could make sense, though, for the Buckeyes to split up linebacker coaching duties after Bill Davis’ unit had its share of struggles in his first season on the job.
One name that comes to mind as an intriguing candidate for that potential role would be former Buckeye linebacker Marcus Freeman, who is currently the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Cincinnati. The addition of Freeman would give the Buckeyes a former Ohio State player on their full-time coaching staff – something they have not had since Luke Fickell’s departure to Cincinnati last year – and could also give them an assistant defensive coordinator for Grinch. Freeman’s Cincinnati defense didn’t have a great season in his first year on the job, but his Buckeye roots could certainly make an impact on the recruiting trail.
Beyond looking at other assistant coaches from around the country, it’s also possible the Buckeyes could promote someone from within the program – quality control coaches Bob Fraser and Matt Thurin both have experience working with linebackers, while graduate assistant Randall Joyner was a linebacker at SMU – into a full-time role on their staff.
Option No. 2: Special Teams Coordinator
Coombs, in addition to his roles as cornerbacks coach and assistant defensive coordinator, was also the Buckeyes’ special teams coordinator for the last five years, and the Buckeyes still have to fill that role. Ohio State could give its new cornerbacks coach that responsibility, too, or assign that responsibility to one of its coaches already on staff, but it’s also possible the Buckeyes could use their remaining vacancy to hire a standalone special teams coordinator who focuses primarily on that phase of the game.
While Meyer is known to take on a big role in coaching special teams himself, which is one reason why the Buckeyes’ haven’t had a coach who primarily focuses on special teams during his Ohio State tenure, it could make sense for Meyer to look for some more help in that area, especially after the Buckeyes had struggles on kickoffs and underwhelmed in the return game this past season.
The ideal solution, given Option No. 1, might be bringing in a coach who can make his mark on special teams but also has the experience needed to assist in defensive coaching and game planning. A candidate who could make sense for that role would be Dean Hood, a longtime friend of Meyer who hosts an annual youth football camp with Meyer in Ashtabula, and is currently the special teams coordinator and outside linebackers coach at Kentucky. Hood would also bring some of the head coaching experience (Eastern Kentucky) and defensive coordinating experience (Wake Forest) that Ohio State will lose if Schiano departs.
A candidate for an internal promotion to special teams coordinator would be quality control coach Adam Scheier, who was previously the special teams coordinator at both Wake Forest and Bowling Green.
Option No. 3: Wide Receivers Coach
Current Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith is one of the top recruiters in the country – he’s one of only three assistant coaches who finished inside the top 15 of 247Sports’ recruiter rankings for the past three years – which is why he has been on Meyer’s staff for his entire tenure at Ohio State. However, should Ohio State want Smith to spend more time doing what he does best while also seeking improvement from the on-field play of its wide receivers, the Buckeyes could use their 10th coaching to add another receivers coach.
One way to do that could be by splitting receiver coaching duties into outside receivers and inside receivers/H-backs, while making Smith’s existing role as recruiting coordinator more of a full-time responsibility.
Considering that the Buckeyes already have as many offensive coaches as they need, it might make more sense for Ohio State to stick to hiring on the defensive side of the ball, in order to strike a better balance in game planning for each unit.
Going this route could be an option, though, if Ohio State sees a receivers coach on the market who it believes could truly enhance the position group’s play on the field – or if the Buckeyes believe quality control coach and former Ohio State wide receiver Brian Hartline, or graduate assistant and Urban Meyer son-in-law Corey Dennis, is ready for a promotion to the full-time staff.
Any Other Options?
Given that there’s no reason for the position coaching assignments of Ryan Day (quarterbacks), Tony Alford (running backs), Wilson (tight ends), Greg Studrawa (offensive line) or Johnson (defensive line) to change, it seems unlikely that the Buckeyes would hire a full-time coach to work specifically with any of those positions.
As aforementioned, though, the No. 1 criteria in hiring a potential Schiano replacement could be ability on the recruiting trail. So if the Buckeyes are able to attract an ace recruiter who just happens to specialize in coaching one of those positions, Ohio State is likely to find a way to make it work – even if that means getting creative with titles and responsibilities.
Regardless of which option the Buckeyes ultimately choose, the good news in potentially having to replace Schiano is that they should have a defensive coordinator-in-waiting in place to fulfill his most important duties. That doesn’t lessen the importance, though, of making another strong hire as Ohio State looks to maintain its place among college football’s elite.