CHICAGO – In his first 16 seasons as a head coach, Urban Meyer never had to replace a coach this close to the season. In fact, he never even officially fired a coach during any of those seasons.
Going into his 17th season, however, both of those things happened Monday, when Meyer and Ohio State announced the firing of wide receivers coach Zach Smith, following a report on Monday morning that a domestic violence protection order had been filed against Smith.
Now, Meyer is faced with replacing one of his full-time assistant coaches less than six weeks before the season begins against Oregon State on Sept. 1 – and just a week-and-a-half before fall camp begins on Aug. 3.
"I've been very fortunate. We've had very little (turnover)," Meyer said of his coaching career. "We've had turnover where people have gone on to become head coaches, or like (former Ohio State cornerbacks coach) Kerry Coombs decided to go to the NFL, but this is a unique situation."
That leaves Ohio State in an unusual and unexpected situation, in which the Buckeyes must quickly make a new hire and acclimate that person to the staff while locking in on their preparations for the upcoming season.
In all likelihood, Ohio State’s new wide receivers coach – at least for the 2018 season – will be someone who already works for the team. It’s too close to the season for the Buckeyes to conduct a full-scale coaching search or poach a coach from another school, and Lettermen Row’s Austin Ward has reported that they plan to name Brian Hartline – who is currently a quality control coach for Ohio State – as their interim wide receivers coach, though Meyer said that decision had not been made as of Tuesday.
"That decision will be made later in the week," Meyer said. "Any speculation up to that point is certainly that. I have not even addressed my staff."
But even with an internal promotion – with graduate assistants Corey Dennis and Keenan Bailey also potentially being options – the Buckeyes will still have to adjust, both on the field and on the recruiting trail, to having a sudden change on their coaching staff, and likely doing so with a new coach who has never been a full-time assistant coach before.
Meyer is confident the Buckeyes will be able to overcome that, though, because of the collective strength of his coaching staff.
"This is the best group of young coaches I've had on both sides of the ball," Meyer said. "And they're very involved with our preparation, game plan and development of our players."
With the expansion of Football Bowl Subdivision coaching staffs from nine to 10 this year, the Buckeyes still have seven returning assistant coaches from last season – offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ryan Day, offensive coordinator and tight ends Kevin Wilson, defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, running backs coach Tony Alford, offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, defensive line coach Larry Johnson and linebackers coach Bill Davis – plus two new but experienced coaches who were around this spring in co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Alex Grinch and cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson.
Ohio State also has several quality control coaches and graduate assistants – including the aforementioned Hartline, Dennis and Bailey – who, as Meyer said, play a key role in helping the Buckeyes prepare even when they are fully staffed.
Meyer made it clear on Tuesday morning that while he knew he had to address Smith’s firing, he also wanted to move forward as quickly as possible and continue to focus on the season ahead. And he still feels good about the direction his team is headed going into the start of preseason practices next Friday.
"Very talented team, very good people, guys have worked hard," Meyer said. "The difference between today's calendar as in years past, I see them all the time. I've been at the last four workouts, I believe, so I know what we're getting. Even the young players, a lot of times you have no idea what you're getting until you watch them go, but the incoming freshmen, we have a good feel, obviously not the contact part but the athleticism. Very good team."