In his first two seasons as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, Greg Schiano also served as the Buckeyes’ safeties coach.
In his third season as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator, however, Schiano has the opportunity to work with every defensive position group equally.
The expansion of Football Bowl Subdivision coaching staffs from nine full-time assistants to 10 this offseason allowed the Buckeyes to hire Alex Grinch as their new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, freeing up Schiano – who is also the Buckeyes’ associate head coach, and is now Ohio State’s highest-paid assistant coach ever with a 2018 salary of $1.5 million – to oversee the entire defense.
That could prove to be beneficial for Schiano and the Buckeyes defense when it comes time to call plays in actual games this fall, as Schiano will now be able to spend more time with the Buckeyes’ defensive linemen, linebackers and cornerbacks in addition to the safeties, which will give him more comprehensive knowledge of his entire defensive roster.
"It allows me to have a better understanding of where our guys, our comfort level with things, and different techniques," Schiano said. "And I think hopefully, it should have an effect on how you call it, because if you know guys aren’t real comfortable with technique, you wait until they get comfortable. Not that you couldn’t do that before, but when you actually see that with your own eyes sometimes, it helps."
While Schiano now has the freedom to move from one position group to another in practices and in meeting rooms, he doesn’t just float between them intermittently. Schiano says he plans out his schedule to ensure that he spends a certain amount of time helping all four position groups: Larry Johnson’s defensive line, Bill Davis’ linebackers, Taver Johnson’s cornerbacks and Grinch’s safeties.
"I detail the practice schedule," Schiano said. "I’m going to help Coach Davis during the first half of this period, and I’m going to go down and help Coach Taver Johnson and then maybe go with Coach Grinch for something, and with Coach (Larry) Johnson, I’ll take the ends and do some stuff with them. Almost all of it’s pre-scripted."
Fulfilling his new responsibilities as effectively as possible requires discipline, Schiano said, so as not to get overly caught up with what one position group is doing. This isn’t Schiano’s first time taking an oversight role over multiple positions, though, given that he was the head coach at Rutgers from 2001-2011 and the head coach of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 and 2013.
"I say like, 'I’m going to go sit in the linebacker room for 30 minutes.' The hard thing is you have to discipline yourself. If you want to do this and this, once you’re there, you don’t want to leave. Right? 'Cause you’re part of that meeting, so you just have to make sure (you stay on schedule), unless there’s an extenuating circumstance," Schiano said. "But I’ve done this before, awhile ago. I did it as a head coach, when I was involved with defense. So it’s nothing new."
Schiano already felt comfortable coordinating Ohio State’s entire defense even when he was also the safeties coach because he trusted his fellow position coaches, who he said did a great job communicating to him what they were comfortable with their players doing. That hasn’t changed this spring, as he says both Grinch and Taver Johnson, who replaced Kerry Coombs as cornerbacks coach, have been great additions to the staff.
"They’re both excellent coaches," Schiano said of Grinch and Taver Johnson. "We’re blessed to have them both here. They’ve both coordinated defenses. They both understand the big picture, and they both understand their position, and their specialists at their position. We’re really fortunate. When you look at, the staff is all defensive coordinators, sitting in a room together, so Coach Meyer’s done a great job of putting together what I think is an elite group of coaches. So it’s going to help us."
Grinch was previously the defensive coordinator at Washington State, while Taver Johnson was the defensive coordinator at Temple, before both decided to leave those posts to join Ohio State’s staff this winter. Davis has been the defensive coordinator for three NFL teams (San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles), while Larry Johnson is regarded as one of college football’s all-time great defensive line coaches. So Schiano has a group of position coaches working underneath him that bring a wealth of experience and trustworthiness to the staff.
All of that said, Schiano said it does help him coordinate the defense to have the opportunity to work personally with every position group, giving him an extra layer of insight into what all of his defensive players can and can’t do and how to help each of them improve.
"When you see it with your own eye and you kind of feel the mistake, you’re human," Schiano said. "It sits in there somewhere. And maybe it’s not that you won’t call it. But maybe you’ll make sure we get that corrected, so we can call it."