Across The Field: Q&A with San Francisco 49ers Beat Writer Cam Inman on What Jeff Hafley Brings to Ohio State

By Dan Hope on January 18, 2019 at 8:35 am
Jeff Hafley
Stan Szeto – USA TODAY Sports

As Ryan Day revamps Ohio State's coaching staff entering his first season as head coach, Eleven Warriors is checking in with media members who covered the Buckeyes' new assistant coaches to get their insight on what those coaches could bring to Columbus.

Among all of Ohio State's new assistant coaches, perhaps none of them will play an important role for the Buckeyes in 2019 then Jeff Hafley, who is not only taking on the role of co-defensive coordinator on Ohio State's new coaching staff, but will also be in charge of leading the Buckeyes' secondary.

To get a better idea of why Day thought Hafley – who he worked alongside during his lone season as the 49ers' quarterbacks coach in 2016 – was the right man for the job, and what Hafley might bring to Columbus, we caught up with Cam Inman, the 49ers beat writer for the Bay Area News Group.

Hafley provides his insight on what Hafley brought to the 49ers, why he might have chosen to make the move to the collegiate level and also gives his thoughts on Day's one-year stint in San Francisco in the question-and-answer below.

Q: How would you evaluate Jeff Hafley's three seasons as the 49ers' defensive backs coach? Did his position group perform up to expectations?

Inman: Jeff had to coach up a lot of young DBs and do so amid constant change because of injuries. Statistically, the 49ers had a poor pass defense, and while some of that was because of their inexperienced and oft-confused secondary, they also lacked a pass-rush, and finding a edge-rushing sack artist is their top priority this offseason. I'm not sure Hafley would have kept his 49ers gig because of how porous the secondary was in the clutch, but that is a league-wide issue with today's pass-friendly rules. Richard Sherman brought veteran leadership and was a pseudo-assistant to Hafley but produced no interceptions. The 49ers set a NFL record with only two interceptions this season, none by a cornerback.

Q: What is Hafley's personality like? What were your takeaways from interviewing him and/or observing him in practices and games?

Inman: I can't vouch for him personally because I didn't get time to really know him all too well, so I will tell you what my eyes saw. He is a very energetic, optimistic, positive coach. He does not call out players to make himself look better. He really should fit in well with Ohio State and enhance the Buckeyes' legacy of producing NFL-ready defensive backs. 

Q: Several 49ers defensive backs, including Richard Sherman and Tyvis Powell, have sung his praises as a coach. What do you think he did that resonated with his players?

Inman: His positive nature is needed at a position that is set to fail with today's offensive-friendly rules. He had to groom so many young players over the past three years with the 49ers and he did so without using a heavy-handed approach.

Q: From your perspective, why do you think Hafley might have decided that he should leave the 49ers and return to the college ranks?

Inman: I was in favor of him staying with the 49ers but this is a wise career move. He's gone from two bad NFL teams – the Browns and 49ers – to a college program known for producing top-level NFL players, especially defensive backs. Once a couple prospects break into the NFL, he should return, or I could see his positive attitude and leadership carrying him into a loftier role if that is his ambition.

Q: Hafley isn't the only member of Ohio State's coaching staff who came to Columbus from the 49ers; Ryan Day was the 49ers' quarterbacks coach in 2016. Did you see that Day had the potential to be a future head coach during his season with the 49ers, and are you surprised at all by how fast his rise has been?

Inman: I'm rarely surprised anymore by coaching moves. The current trend in the NFL and college is to find a rising, offensive-minded coach. Chip Kelly really spoke highly of Day when he brought him to the 49ers, where Day had to work with Colin Kaepernick amid the 2016 national anthem controversy. Day seemed to transition well at OSU and he seems like a capable replacement to Urban, and time will tell. And as long as he beats that other ex-49ers coach in Ann Arbor, Day will have a bright future in Columbus.

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