During the Urban Meyer era and most of the Jim Tressel era at Ohio State, cornerbacks and safeties were coached by separate position coaches.
On the new Ohio State coaching staff led by Ryan Day, however, the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks and safeties have been brought together into the same meeting room, with new Ohio State secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley coaching all of them.
Assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes is also working regularly with both the cornerbacks and safeties, so Ohio State’s defensive backs now have two shared position coaches instead of having separate coaches by position.
That said, Barnes is also Ohio State’s new special teams coordinator, and because he isn’t the primary coach responsible for any of the Buckeyes’ other position groups, he’s able to dedicate a significant amount of time to working with the Buckeyes’ specialists, too.
Barnes’ office is now a meeting room for the specialists, and he’s spending time with each of them – led by kicker Blake Haubeil, punter Drue Chrisman and long snapper Liam McCullough – to make sure he does his part to help them succeed this fall.
“I sat down with him and talked with him for probably 30 or 40 minutes (when Barnes arrived at Ohio State), and the very first thing he asked me, he said, 'What are your goals?'” McCullough recalled during an interview at Ohio State’s team job fair on Friday. “What can I do to help you get to be the teammate that you want to be, the long snapper you want to be, the leader you want to be? So we had a heart-to-heart about that, and he said that my goals are his goals. Drue’s goals are his goals. Blake’s goals are his goals.”
McCullough said Barnes “has a ton of energy” and “brings an element of humor to the special teams room,” and he described Barnes as “a genius.”
“He knows his stuff,” McCullough said. “He knows our program, our scheme and our culture very well. And he connects great with the guys.”
Haubeil likes what he’s seen from the Buckeyes’ new special teams coordinator, as well.
“Got a chance to obviously meet him and get to know him this offseason, he’s been outstanding,” Haubeil said in an interview following Ohio State’s scholar-athlete dinner in April.
“He said that my goals are his goals. Drue’s goals are his goals. Blake’s goals are his goals.”– Liam McCullough on new Ohio State special teams coordinator Matt Barnes
While former Ohio State cornerbacks coaches Kerry Coombs and Taver Johnson were special teams coordinators in title, the Buckeyes’ special teams efforts for the past seven years were often led by Meyer. Even though he was the head coach, he took a hands-on approach to coaching the Buckeyes in the third phase of the game, particularly the punt and kickoff teams.
Day has become more involved in Ohio State’s special teams efforts since being named the Buckeyes’ new head coach in December, but the offense remains his primary area of focus. Both Day and Barnes have expressed that they expect collaborative effort from the staff in coaching special teams once again this year, but Barnes is the coach who will be primarily responsible for the unit’s performance.
Another coach who will continue to play an integral role in working specifically with the specialists is Parker Fleming, a quality control coach entering his second year on Ohio State’s staff. Because Barnes will be splitting his time between coaching defensive backs and coaching special teams, and his responsibilities as special teams coordinator include coaching everyone who participates on special teams units – not just specialists – Fleming will still effectively serve as the position coach for Haubeil, Chrisman, McCullough and the rest of the kickers, punters and long snappers.
“He works with us every day. He meets with us every day. He’s out there at practice working with us. And that guy is another guy who is just a genius,” McCullough said of Fleming.
Barnes has highlighted Fleming in each of his media availabilities since arriving at Ohio State, describing Fleming as “the best quality control coach in the country.”
“He’s been a major, major help to me, and helped me bridge the gap in where there were maybe some differences in the terminology from things that I was used to, to what had been done here,” Barnes said this spring. “He’s been integral in that meshing.”
McCullough said Fleming “likes to play devil’s advocate a lot,” and will make his players think about things in different ways. McCullough said those suggestions usually prove to be right even if McCullough initially believes his way of thinking is correct.
“Sometimes I’ll get in there and I’ll meet with him and he’ll say something or he’ll make me think about things or reflect on things where I’m like, ‘Damn, there’s no way. Nah, I think I got it. I think I know what I’m doing,’” McCullough said. “And then I’ll walk out of the room and I’ll be like, ‘Damn, he’s really right.’”
At this point in their careers, the trio of McCullough, Chrisman and Haubeil don’t need a ton of fundamental coaching. McCullough is entering his fourth season as the Buckeyes’ long snapper and Chrisman is entering his third season as the Buckeyes’ punter. Haubeil is entering his third year handling kickoffs for Ohio State and his second year kicking field goals.
Nonetheless, the guidance of Barnes and Fleming remains an important part of their development as a unit and in the development of the young specialists behind them who could eventually succeed them in their starting roles.