Among most of Ohio State’s new coaches, there’s a common thread that stands out: They’re young, and relatively inexperienced, compared to many of the coaches the Buckeyes have hired in the past.
That starts at the top, of course, with new head coach Ryan Day, who is just 39 years old and has never been a head coach before. He’s the youngest coach to become the full-time head coach of the Buckeyes since 38-year-old Woody Hayes was hired in 1951, and the first coach to become the Buckeyes’ full-time head coach without previous head coaching experience since Paul Bixler in 1946.
When speculation began that this past season could be Urban Meyer’s last season as Ohio State’s coach, one school of thought suggested that as one of the premier programs in college football, Ohio State should seek out a coach who already has a proven track record of success as a head coach, such as Iowa State’s Matt Campbell or Syracuse’s Dino Babers – each of whom were also considered by Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, according to a December report by Dave Briggs of the Toledo Blade, before he ultimately chose to promote Day from his previous role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Smith and Ohio State opted to overlook Day’s relative lack of experience because after seeing him at work in his two seasons as an assistant coach for the Buckeyes, they believed he is a rising star and the best man for the job.
“If I didn't have a Ryan Day, I'm going for a public search,” Smith said last month. “But the guy's a stud.”
Day has taken a similar approach in building his first staff of assistant coaches.
With the exception of 69-year-old co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who comes to Ohio State with 47 years of coaching experience (including 38 years in the Football Bowl Subdivision level of college football), none of the other five coaches Day has hired are older than 43 or have more than eight years of experience coaching at the FBS level.
Passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich is the oldest of those coaches at 43, but his previous position as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Oklahoma State – where he spent the past six years – was his first full-time coaching position at the Football Bowl Subdivision.
Jeff Hafley, Ohio State’s other new co-defensive coordinator and the Buckeyes’ new secondary coach, is – like Day – 39 years old. He comes to Ohio State with a solid resume, having spent the last seven years coaching in the NFL, but only has six years of FBS coaching experience, and none since 2011.
New linebackers coach Al Washington has eight years of experience at the FBS level and is already regarded as a top-notch recruiter, but only has two years of experience actually coaching linebackers and is just 34 years old.
New special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes is just 32 years old, and his past three seasons as a linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at Maryland were his first three seasons as a full-time assistant coach at the FBS level.
Wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was officially added to the coaching staff in December by Day after serving as the interim wide receivers coach last season, is also just 32 years old, and coming his first and only season to date as a full-time assistant coach.
Altogether, the average age of Ohio State’s brand new coaches – Yurcich, Hafley, Mattison, Washington and Barnes – is 5.4 years younger than the coaches they replace (Meyer, Greg Schiano, Alex Grinch, Bill Davis, Taver Johnson), even though Mattison is 15 years older than any of the outgoing coaches.
|Coach||Title||Age||Years Coaching (FBS)|
|RYAN DAY||HEAD COACH||39||17 (14)|
|GREG MATTISON||CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR||69||47 (38)|
|LARRY JOHNSON||DEFENSIVE LINE COACH/ASSOCIATE HEAD COACH||67||43 (23)|
|KEVIN WILSON||OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR/TIGHT ENDS COACH*||57||36 (33)|
|GREG STUDRAWA||OFFENSIVE LINE COACH*||54||29 (23)|
|TONY ALFORD||RUNNING BACKS COACH/ASSISTANT HEAD COACH*||50||26 (23)|
|MIKE YURCICH||PASSING GAME COORDINATOR/QUARTERBACKS COACH||43||20 (8)|
|JEFF HAFLEY||CO-DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR/SECONDARY COACH||39||18 (6)|
|AL WASHINGTON||LINEBACKERS COACH||34||12 (8)|
|MATT BARNES||SPECIAL TEAMS COORDINATOR/ASST. SECONDARY COACH||32||10 (6)|
|BRIAN HARTLINE||WIDE RECEIVERS COACH||32||1 (1)|
|*2018 titles; 2019 positions not yet confirmed|
Having a younger coaching staff should have its advantages, and it follows a rising trend in the sport.
It’s overly simplistic to suggest that younger coaches are better at connecting with players on the recruiting trail and on the field, because there are plenty of older coaches who still excel in both areas, from Alabama head coach Nick Saban to returning Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson, both 67.
That said, it has become increasingly popular at the highest levels of football for teams to hire younger coaches who are viewed as up-and-comers instead of older coaches with more proven track records.
Day’s hire has been compared to Oklahoma’s similar move in 2017 to promote Lincoln Riley, who was also his school’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and just 33 years old at the time, when Bob Stoops decided to retire before the season. And although it wasn’t as trendy a move at the time of his hiring, the coach who just won his second national championship last week was also hired under similar circumstances, as Dabo Swinney was just 39 and had never been a head coach before Clemson promoted him from his previous position as wide receivers coach in 2008.
The trend of hiring younger, less experienced coaches has also become all the rage in the NFL. Assuming the Cincinnati Bengals hire St. Louis Rams assistant Zac Taylor and the Miami Dolphins hire New England Patriots assistant Brian Flores after those coaches’ current teams’ seasons come to an end, as expected, six of the NFL’s eight new head coaches next season will be 44 or younger.
Age of NFL's new coaches (presuming Cincy and Miami complete contracts) ...— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 11, 2019
Bruce Arians, Bucs: 66
Vic Fangio, Broncos: 60
Freddie Kitchens, Browns: 44
Adam Gase, Jets: 40
Kliff Kingsbury, Cardinals: 39
Matt LaFleur, Packers: 39
Brian Flores, Dolphins: 37
Zac Taylor, Bengals: 35
In both the college and professional ranks, teams are trying to find the next rising star – like Clemson did with Swinney, Oklahoma did with Riley and the Los Angeles Rams did with Sean McVay, who is just 32 years old and has already led the Rams to an NFC Championship Game berth in his second season as a head coach – and Ohio State is doing the same, not only with its head coach, but also with many of its assistant coaches.
The Buckeyes’ current coaching staff still includes five assistant coaches with more than 25 years of experience – Mattison, Johnson, offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Kevin Wilson, running backs coach Tony Alford and offensive line coach Greg Studrawa – who should provide a veteran presence and experience (assuming there are no further staff changes) that complements the younger members of the coaching staff well.
Even so, there’s a clear youth movement in Ohio State’s new coaching staff.
The potential for Ohio State’s new coaching staff appears to be great, but it’s a staff with less proven history that you’d typically expect to see on the Buckeyes’ sideline.
Youth and inexperience, though, won’t cut it as an excuse for the Buckeyes’ new coaches, who will be expected to perform at the same level in 2019 as every Ohio State coaching staff is expected to perform at – which means fielding one of the best teams in college football and contending for a national championship.
“Oh, God, no. What's wrong with you?” Smith said last month when asked whether his expectations for Ohio State football would change at all with the new coaching staff. “Yes, I expect it to stay at that level.”