Alex Grinch, Taver Johnson Continue Urban Meyer's Trend of Hiring Assistant Coaches With Coordinator Experience

By Dan Hope on February 14, 2018 at 8:35 am
Alex Grinch and Taver Johnson

Alex Grinch: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports, Taver Johnson: Ohio State Athletics

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When it became apparent Monday that Taver Johnson would be returning to Ohio State as cornerbacks coach, much of the national reaction to the Buckeyes’ newest hire focused on the fact that the Buckeyes have hired two defensive coordinators away from other schools in the past two months.

After Ohio State hired Alex Grinch away from his post as Washington State’s defensive coordinator in January, and Johnson away from his post at Temple (where he had recently been named assistant head coach of defense after serving as defensive coordinator last year) on Tuesday, speculation will only rise that Ohio State is preparing for the sooner-than-later departure of defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, even with Schiano’s decision to stay in Columbus for another year.

That might be true, as Grinch appears likely to eventually be Schiano’s successor as defensive coordinator, while Johnson could also potentially be in line for additional responsibilities as co-defensive coordinator and/or special teams coordinator.

Urban Meyer’s history at Ohio State, though, suggests that the Buckeyes hiring former coordinators for non-coordinator positions shouldn’t necessarily be read into as anything more than the qualifications Meyer looks for in hiring assistant coaches.

Of the 10 assistant coaches on Ohio State’s newly completed staff for the 2018 season, seven had either previously been coordinators in the Football Bowl Subdivision or in the NFL, including offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day (Temple and Boston College), offensive line coach Greg Studrawa (Bowling Green and LSU) and linebackers coach Bill Davis (San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles).

Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, of course, were both coordinators and head coaches before they came to Ohio State. Wilson was offensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio), Northwestern and Oklahoma before becoming the head coach at Indiana, while Schiano was defensive coordinator at Miami (Florida) before becoming the head coach at Rutgers and of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The only coaches on Meyer’s staff who have not been offensive or defensive coordinators are running backs coach Tony Alford and defensive line coach Larry Johnson, who had already established themselves among college football’s top position coaches before coming to Ohio State, and wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who is the lone remaining member of Meyer’s original coaching staff from 2012.

That original staff didn’t load up as much on coaches who had been coordinators; offensive coordinator Tom Herman, co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers had all been coordinators at other schools, while defensive coordinator Luke Fickell had been the interim head coach at Ohio State in 2011, but none of the other five position coaches had been coordinators.

Since then, however, Meyer has almost exclusively hired former coordinators to fill Ohio State’s staff vacancies, with Alford and Johnson being the only exceptions. Chris Ash had been the defensive coordinator at Arkansas and Wisconsin before he was hired as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2014. Tim Beck had been the offensive coordinator at Nebraska before he was hired as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015. Since 2016, all seven new assistant coaches hired by Meyer – Schiano and Studrawa in 2016, Davis, Day and Wilson in 2017 and now Grinch and Johnson this year – have been former coordinators.

Urban Meyer's Assistant Coaches at Ohio State
Name First Year Initial Role FBS/NFL Coordinator Experience?
TOM HERMAN 2012 OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/QUARTERBACKS COACH YES
ED WARINNER 2012 OFFENSIVE LINE COACH/CO-OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR YES
LUKE FICKELL 2012 CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/LINEBACKERS COACH YES
EVERETT WITHERS 2012 CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SAFETIES COACH YES
KERRY COOMBS 2012 CORNERBACKS COACH NO
STAN DRAYTON 2012 RUNNING BACKS COACH NO
TIM HINTON 2012 TIGHT ENDS/FULLBACKS COACH NO
ZACH SMITH 2012 WIDE RECEIVERS COACH NO
MIKE VRABEL 2012 DEFENSIVE LINE COACH NO
CHRIS ASH 2014 CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SAFETIES COACH YES
LARRY JOHNSON 2014 DEFENSIVE LINE COACH NO
TIM BECK 2015 CO-OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/QUARTERBACKS COACH YES
TONY ALFORD 2015 RUNNING BACKS COACH NO
GREG SCHIANO 2016 DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SAFETIES COACH YES
GREG STUDRAWA 2016 OFFENSIVE LINE COACH YES
KEVIN WILSON 2017 OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/TIGHT ENDS COACH YES
RYAN DAY 2017 CO-OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/QUARTERBACKS COACH YES
BILL DAVIS 2017 LINEBACKERS COACH YES
ALEX GRINCH 2018 TBD YES
TAVER JOHNSON 2018 CORNERBACKS COACH YES

It’s no surprise that Meyer is able to attract coaches who have been coordinators, even for positions that carry no guarantee of ever being a coordinator, given that Ohio State is one of the premier college football programs in the country (and can afford to pay more for position coaches than many schools pay coordinators).

Meyer has been consistent in having at least two coaches who are either coordinators or co-coordinators on each side of the ball, which has increased the emphasis on hiring assistant coaches with coordinating experience and made it easier to pull top-notch assistants away from coordinating jobs at other schools.

Additionally, Meyer and his assistant coaches regularly talk about the Ohio State coaching staff’s collaborative efforts – where every assistant coach, whether a coordinator or not, has a voice in the room and plays a role in developing each week’s game plan – which also makes former coordinators more qualified for each assistant coaching job and enables them to take on leadership roles regardless of their titles.

"The one thing that I've tried to make clear, too, is there's not a dictator here," Meyer said last week during his National Signing Day press conference. "And there's not some guru going to come in here and say it's his offense. That will never happen here. Same thing on defense. We're not going to hire some guy that, hey, this is so-and-so's defense. It's not. It's Ohio State's defense, and every coach in there has an ownership in that."

Meyer, like any good head coach, is always planning ahead for the future, so there’s certainly an element of long-term planning involved in hiring assistant coaches who already have the credentials to potentially be Ohio State’s future coordinators.

What shouldn’t be assumed, though, is that hiring Grinch and Johnson away from defensive coordinator posts now is an indicator that Schiano’s days are numbered, a direct reaction to giving up 55 points against Iowa or anything out of the ordinary. Because while Grinch and Johnson could certainly be in the mix to succeed Schiano if he leaves, and the Buckeyes will certainly look for them to make a significant impact on their defense this year, hiring a coach with qualifications for a position above the one he is being hired for is nothing new for Meyer and Ohio State.

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