In Ohio State’s search for a new cornerbacks coach, Taver Johnson offered a qualification that almost no other candidate could have: A proven ability to do the exact job he is being hired for.
While there were surely other candidates who were capable of being a successful cornerbacks coach at Ohio State, Johnson has already proven he can be.
Johnson, who was officially hired Tuesday as Kerry Coombs’ replacement on Ohio State’s coaching staff, was previously the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks coach from 2007 to 2011, a tenure in which he developed multiple cornerbacks who went on to become All-Americans, including 2008 Jim Thorpe Award winner Malcolm Jenkins and 2010 All-America selection Chimdi Chekwa.
While past success is no guarantor of future success, Johnson’s existing track record with the Buckeyes gives reason to be confident that he can continue the tradition of developing elite cornerbacks that Coombs has since taken to another level.
It would be a stretch to say that Johnson’s previous five years as Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach were as impressive as Coombs’ subsequent six, in which he developed at least four cornerbacks (five if Denzel Ward is a top-32 pick this year) – all but one of whom he recruited himself – who would go on to be first-round NFL draft picks.
Compared to the recent work of some other coaches who could have been candidates, Johnson’s work over the past six years at Arkansas, Purdue and Temple doesn’t jump off the page, either.
There’s something to be said, though, for the experience of having already done something – and done it well – rather than projecting how a less experienced candidate, perhaps one who has never coached in a program of Ohio State’s stature, would rise to the occasion.
In addition to Jenkins and Chekwa’s individual successes, the overall play of Johnson’s cornerbacks played a key role in Ohio State’s passing defenses being among the best in the country during most of his first five years with the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s defense ranked in the top 25 nationally in passing yards allowed per game every year from 2007 to 2011 and in the top 13 nationally in opposing passer rating every year from 2007 to 2010.
|Year||Passing Yards Allowed Per Game (Football Bowl Subdivision Rank)||Opponents' Passer Rating (FBS Rank)|
|2007||150.2 (1st)||98.7 (4th)|
|2008||183.5 (25th)||105.2 (13th)|
|2009||171.5 (3rd)||95.8 (5th)|
|2010||165.5 (8th)||98.6 (4th)|
|2011||182.0 (14th)||126.8 (53rd)|
Johnson, in tandem with Paul Haynes – Ohio State’s safeties coach during Johnson’s tenure – was named as a finalist for Football Scoop’s defensive backs coach of the year award in both 2009 and 2010.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was impressed enough by Johnson’s previous work with the Buckeyes that he initially retained Johnson for his coaching staff when he arrived prior to the 2012 season, at which point he replaced all but three of Ohio State’s other assistant coaches.
While Coombs left Johnson with big shoes to fill, Coombs might have never become Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach had Johnson not decided to leave Ohio State to become the assistant head coach and linebackers coach at Arkansas in 2012.
It remains to be determined how exactly Ohio State will balance Johnson’s role with the roles of fellow new assistant coach Alex Grinch and returning defensive coordinator and safeties coach Greg Schiano – it is presumable that Grinch will be a co-defensive coordinator, having been the defensive coordinator at Washington State, and also likely to work the defensive backs in some capacity – but Johnson could also take over Coombs’ roles as assistant defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator, in addition to cornerbacks coach, should the Buckeyes choose to deploy him in those roles.
Johnson was the defensive coordinator at Temple last year, and was previously the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio) in 2005 and 2006, while he was the special teams coordinator for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns in 2004.
Having also worked as a linebackers coach, safeties coach, defensive line coach and even as a strength and conditioning coach, Johnson has a wide variety of experience that the Buckeyes could draw from as he fills out their coaching staff.
Most importantly, though, the Buckeyes will draw on his experience coaching cornerbacks, a job where Johnson will certainly have important work in front of him right off the bat in 2018. While redshirt juniors Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette are both talented cornerbacks who played regularly last season, both of them still must continue to develop from a technique standpoint if they are to be the Buckeyes’ next early-round draft picks at the position. Johnson will play a crucial role in the development of sophomores Jeffrey Okudah, Amir Riep and Marcus Williamson, redshirt freshman Shaun Wade and true freshmen Sevyn Banks and Tyreke Johnson as he works to get them ready to play this season.
Along with developing the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks, Ohio State will also be counting on Johnson – as it counts on all of its assistant coaches – to make an impact on the recruiting trail, which is another area where his experience could help him. As a native of Cincinnati who played and coached at Wittenberg University, later coached at Miami and was a Cleveland-area recruiter in his first stint at Ohio State – landing commitments from players like Doran Grant, Marcus Hall and Tyvis Powell along the way – Johnson has connections all over the state that should help him make an immediate impact as the Buckeyes look to build another highly rated recruiting class for 2019.
Only time will tell whether Johnson can make the same kind of impact on Urban Meyer’s staff as Coombs did – or even the same kind of impact that he made in his first tenure with the Buckeyes – but with his experience combined with the addition of Grinch and return of Schiano, Ohio State’s defensive backs should continue to get some of the top coaching in the country, and the Buckeyes should continue to attract some of the top defensive back recruits in the country.