With co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley set to leave after just one season to become the head coach at Boston College, one might think Ryan Day’s priority in replacing Hafley would be finding a coach who would be inclined to stay at Ohio State for a long time.
Day indicated Monday, however, that his approach to hiring Hafley’s replacement will be the same as it was when he made the move to hire Hafley as part of his inaugural staff last offseason.
“We're going to get the best coach in America to go coach that position,” Day said. “You can either go hire somebody that’s going to be here for seven or eight years, or you can go hire the best in the country. And we're going to go hire the best in the country.
“I told the DB's last year at this time, we’re going to go get the best guy in the country. They didn't know who Jeff Hafley was, and now they love him and they're going to miss him. But I’m going to do the same thing again next year, go get the best there is.”
Hafley isn’t leaving quite yet. After his introductory press conference at Boston College on Monday morning, Hafley flew right back to Columbus – he was back in time for Ohio State’s practice on Monday afternoon – and will remain with the Buckeyes through the end of their season.
“Hopefully it's after the national championship,” Day said.
Day said Monday that he thought Hafley “handled it the right way,” keeping his focus on the Buckeyes through the Big Ten Championship Game before spending time this past week pursuing and ultimately landing the Boston College job. He recognizes that Hafley will have to strike a challenging balance between helping Ohio State prepare for its upcoming College Football Playoff game against Clemson while also preparing for his first head coaching job, but he’s confident Hafley will be up to the task.
“It's tough this time of year especially,” Day acknowledged. “But Jeff’s a pro. He understands how to compartmentalize things, and he'll do a great job of that.
“He’s going to have to dual role a little bit, but they have a guy on their staff who’s doing the same thing (Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott, who was named last week as the new head coach at USF), and that's kind of the way it goes.”
Once this season is over, though, the Buckeyes will proceed forward without Hafley, who played a leading role in Ohio State’s defensive turnaround this season and had also made an immediate impact for the Buckeyes on the recruiting trail.
While Day said Monday that Ohio State is “certainly going to miss” Hafley, he also expressed nothing but optimism that the Buckeyes will be able to continue on their current trajectory even without Hafley.
Although he couldn’t name them specifically due to NCAA rules, Day said he expects all five of Ohio State’s committed defensive backs for the recruiting class of 2020 – cornerbacks Clark Phillips, Lejond Cavazos and Ryan Watts and safeties Lathan Ransom and Cameron Martinez – to sign with the Buckeyes during the early signing period later this week.
He’s promised them that he will bring in another top-notch secondary coach to fill Hafley’s shoes, and he believes they understand that the Ohio State football program is bigger than one assistant coach.
“Ohio State’s been here a lot longer than Jeff Hafley and it's going to continue to be great, and Coach Hafley is a big part of the reason they came here, but it wasn't the only reason,” Day said. “Certainly they're disappointed that they're not going to get coached by Jeff, but they're excited to sign. They've been great. It's been really positive. They understand this is an unbelievable program that's on the rise. We have a great defensive system, and there's great opportunity in the back end next year. Guys are going to be coming in with an opportunity to play.
“So they're excited to be here, and they’re excited to find out who’s going to coach them, but they will in time. I promised them I'm going to give them the best situation possible to make sure they can reach all their dreams and goals. And that's the whole idea. They committed to me as the head coach and to Ohio State, and they understand that, and that's been the response.”
“You can either go hire somebody that’s going to be here for seven or eight years, or you can go hire the best in the country. And we're going to go hire the best in the country.”– Ryan Day on his philosophy to hiring a defensive backs coach
Ohio State’s new defensive backs coach – perhaps Kerry Coombs, perhaps someone else, since Day gave no specific indication of who he might actually hire on Monday – will have a challenging job in front of him next season. The Buckeyes could potentially lose their entire starting secondary from this season, as Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller are seniors, Jeff Okudah is likely to declare for the 2020 NFL draft and Shaun Wade will also have a decision to make about his future.
Wade said Monday that Hafley’s departure could influence his own decision on whether he should stay at Ohio State for another year or leave for the NFL, but he’s “not focused on that right now.”
For the defensive backs who will be back next season, like current sophomore cornerback Sevyn Banks – who was recruited by Coombs out of high school, was coached by Taver Johnson last year and Hafley this year – they’ll have to adapt to a position coach change for the third time in as many years, which Banks acknowledged isn’t easy.
“It’s pretty tough,” Banks said. “You just got to adapt to your environment. It’s going to happen. You just got to understand that.”
One thing that won’t change, regardless of who replaces Hafley on the staff, is the defensive scheme that the Buckeyes have used this year. Day said Monday that the Buckeyes will continue to run a base defense with four down linemen and a single-high safety that mixes Cover 1 and Cover 3 coverages, because that was his vision all along and that he has intentionally hired defensive coaches – and will continue to – that are in line with that vision.
“We're not all of a sudden going to change. Jeff came in to run this defense, he did a great job. But we're just going to fill that in and we're going to continue to do the same thing that we're doing on defense in the future,” Day said. “Do I think we'll evolve as time goes on? Sure. But that's the philosophy.”
As for Hafley, Day said he wishes him nothing but the best of luck at Boston College, where he was an assistant coach himself for three different stints totaling nine years and where he expects Hafley to be successful.
“He's going to do a great job at Boston College,” Day said. “He's going to a great place. Boston College is a great place.”
Ohio State's defensive backs, while disappointed to see Hafley leave, also expect him to be successful.
“I’m not happy about it, but this is a better opportunity for him,” Banks said. “Coach Hafley’s going to be a great coach, wherever he goes. Whatever he do. He’s going to be good.”