What To Know: New Ohio State Special Teams Coordinator Matt Barnes Brings “Energy,” Youth

By Colin Hass-Hill on January 10, 2019 at 10:16 pm
Matt Barnes
Credit: Maryland Athletics

Both of Ohio State's past two head coaches – Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel – had deep backgrounds in special teams and strong beliefs on the subject. So, neither had assistant coaches whose primary job was to coach special teams. 

Ryan Day, who doesn't have much if any of a special teams background, bucked that trend by hiring Matt Barnes as special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach.

Matt Barnes' Coaching Experience
Years Team Position
2009 Delaware Valley Defensive Line
2010 West Virginia Wesleyan Running Backs
2011 West Virginia Wesleyan Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
2012-14 Florida Defensive/Special Teams GA
2015 Michigan Defensive Analyst
2016-17 Maryland Linebackers
2018 Maryland Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers
2019 Ohio State Special Teams Coordinator/Asst. Secondary

Barnes, a 2008 graduate of Salisbury University, is one of the youngest and most inexperienced coaches on Day's inaugural staff, but that didn't stop the first-time head coach from hiring him.

“Matt is a young coach who has really done a great job at Maryland,” Day said in a press release. “He’s an energy guy who has considerable knowledge of the Big Ten Conference plus experience coaching in the Southeastern Conference. He’s going to work well with our staff and I’m pleased to have him on board.”

Just eight years ago, Barnes was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the Division II level for West Virginia Wesleyan. The team's quarterback, Adam Neugebauer, was named Division II quarterback of the year during Barnes' only year coaching the position.

Barnes opted to test himself at the Division I level in 2012, becoming a graduate assistant working with special teams and the defense at Florida. After three years in Gainesville, Florida, he headed north to become a defensive analysts for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Following Al Washington and Greg Mattison, Barnes is the third former Wolverines coach to join Day's staff.

D.J. Durkin, a friend of both Urban Meyer and Harbaugh, hired Barnes as linebackers coach in 2016. He spent two years coaching the position, then added special teams to his list of responsibilities last season.

With his hire, Barnes becomes Ohio State's first special teams coordinator who has not been primarily coaching a different position in years. Even when Taver Johnson and Kerry Coombs were special teams coordinators, their primary responsibilities were with the cornerbacks. Barnes' main focus will be on the Buckeyes' special teams unit, along with the defensive backs.

On The Field

Having been a coach for such a short period of time, there's not an overwhelming amount of data on Barnes' abilities as a special teams coordinator. However, he got the best of Ohio State earlier this season when Maryland recovered its own kickoff that bounced in front of Johnnie Dixon, the returner.

Barnes has spent just one season – in 2018 with the Terrapins – as a special teams coordinator. While leading the unit, Maryland averaged 23.9 yards per kick return, which ranked No. 18 in the country and No. 3 in the Big Ten. Both Ty Johnson and Tavion Jacobs averaged more than 25 yards per kickoff return, and each ran back kicks for touchdowns. Maryland also blocked two punts and was 39th in the nation in net punting with 38.8 yards.

Before coaching the Terrapins, Barnes had only ever coached special teams as a graduate assistant at Florida. He has never coached defensive backs, but was a defensive graduate assistant for the Gators and a defensive analyst for the Wolverines.

Most of Barnes' recent experience came as Maryland's linebackers coach for the past three seasons. He played a role in developing Tre Watson, an All-American, and Jermaine Carter and Shane Cockerille, who each earned all-conference honors. 

Barnes also called Maryland's defense plays last year as linebackers coach, Jeff Ermann of 247Sports reported.

On The Staff

With the hire of Barnes, Ohio State's defensive staff is complete. 

Only one staff member on the defensive side of the ball remains from a coaching staff that put together one of the worst defenses in recent program history last year. So, here's a look at the finalized defensive staff.

  • Co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison
  • Co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley
  • Defensive line coach and associate head coach Larry Johnson
  • Linebackers coach Al Washington
  • Special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes

Meet Ohio State's New Coaches

Unlike coaching staff's in the recent past, there's a decent amount of fluidity between the coaches. Only two of the five coaches – Johnson and Washington – are locked in with one position group.

Barnes will split coaching the secondary with Hafley, who has spent the past seven years in the NFL and much more experience with defensive backs. How they will divvy their time is unknown, but both will have to manage that since Barnes will also be working with the special teams units and Hafley has responsibilities as co-defensive coordinator.

Beyond assisting Hafley with the defensive backfield, Barnes' main duties will be with the special teams unit. Collaboration will exist, but it will be his unit to lead and mold.

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