One way or another, Corey Dennis was going to become a full-time college football quarterbacks coach in 2020.
Initially, that opportunity came at Colorado State, where Dennis was set to join Steve Addazio’s staff following the conclusion of Ohio State’s 2019 season. When Mike Yurcich chose to leave Ohio State to become the new offensive coordinator at Texas, however, Ryan Day offered Dennis the opportunity to become the Buckeyes’ new quarterbacks coach, and Dennis didn’t hesitate to accept that offer.
“It was a no-brainer,” Dennis said Wednesday in his first media availability since his promotion last month. “This is where I want to be. I want to be here. I've kind of always wanted to be here. This is an unbelievable place. So for me to sit here and not say that I'm ecstatic, it's crazy.”
Dennis has been at Ohio State since 2015, when he joined the Buckeyes’ coaching staff as an intern following his graduation from Georgia Tech. Over the past five years, Dennis worked his way up to a position as a senior quality control coach, and worked directly with the Buckeyes’ signal-callers as assistant quarterbacks coach for each of the past two seasons.
Still, there’s been some understandable skepticism about Day’s decision to promote Dennis. His initial opportunity to join the Buckeyes’ staff came about largely because he was engaged (and is now married) to Urban Meyer’s daughter Nicki, and the 27-year-old has never been a full-time assistant coach in charge of leading a position group before.
Ohio State typically hires assistant coaches who already have a proven track record elsewhere, so Dennis can be viewed as an unusual hire in that regard. But he has had five years at Ohio State, including three with Day, to demonstrate he is up to the task.
“Coach Day wouldn't have hired me if he didn't think that I was ready,” Dennis said. “I think I'm ready. Coach Day thinks I'm ready. I have a lot of coaches here, (offensive coordinator Kevin) Wilson, the guys believe in me. I've had players believe in me, and I think I'm ready to go.
“Working with Coach Day the last three years, you could say that I've interviewed for this job every day for the last three years. He's seen what I've done. He knows the way that I prepare. He knows the way that I do things.”
Dennis said he has “tried to be a sponge” for the past five years, soaking in as much knowledge as he can from Day, Meyer, Wilson and the rest of Ohio State’s coaching staff. In particular, Dennis believes working alongside Day and learning from his expertise of coaching quarterbacks has prepared him for his new role.
“Being able to be in that room with Coach Day for the last three years, that's something that's been unbelievable to me,” Dennis said. “Just being around him, seeing the way that he does things, seeing his teaching methods. In all honesty, Coach Day is the best quarterbacks coach in the country.”
Dennis’ father-in-law, of course, has also played a big part in helping him get to this point. He said he has learned so many things from Meyer that it would be tough to pick just one. He doesn’t believe Meyer has necessarily had a bigger influence on his climb up the coaching ladder to now being a full-time assistant coach, though, than he would have on anyone who worked for him at Ohio State or elsewhere.
“He's had an influence on a lot of young coaches who've come through this profession,” Dennis said. “I feel like there's been a lot of young coaches at Ohio State who've gone on and gotten jobs, and I think if you'd go ask those guys, they'd say, 'Sure, there's definitely been an impact from Coach Meyer on their profession.'”
“Coach Day wouldn't have hired me if he didn't think that I was ready.”– Corey Dennis on his promotion to quarterbacks coach
Dennis’ path to a full-time position on Ohio State’s coaching staff has been somewhat similar to that of wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, who was also a quality control coach at Ohio State and had never been a full-time assistant coach before he was promoted to replace Zach Smith in 2018. So Hartline has also been a valuable resource for Dennis as he looks to follow in his footsteps and achieve immediate success in his first job as a lead position coach.
“He is a young guy too and he's definitely had to go through the things of being a QC to a coach so definitely, he's somebody that I can lean on, just like Coach Wilson and Coach Day,” Dennis said. “He's a great asset for me.”
Day promoted Dennis with an eye toward maintaining continuity in the quarterback room, so Dennis doesn’t expect to make any major changes in how Ohio State coaches the position. What the Buckeyes have already been doing has clearly worked, as Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields have been third-place Heisman Trophy finishers in back-to-back years, so there’s no need for Dennis to do anything in a significantly different way.
Even so, Dennis doesn’t want to be exactly like Day – or Meyer, Wilson, Yurcich or anyone else – because he believes it’s important to be himself in order to be a successful coach.
“I still think that I'll be able to put my little spin on it, but still the same things get covered,” Dennis said. “This is still the same offense. There will still be the same continuity. There will still be things that Coach Day has done in the past, but I'll just be able to put a spin on them.”
When Dennis arrived at Ohio State in 2015, he didn’t know that he’d be the Buckeyes’ quarterbacks coach just five years later, but he’s certainly happy it’s worked out that way. The son of Steve Dennis, a former assistant coach at Auburn and Georgia, Dennis has had longtime aspirations of becoming a football coach himself, and now he’s getting that opportunity at one of the most prominent college football programs in the country.
“When we first got here, Coach Meyer, one of the things that they did was a five-year, 10-year plan,” Dennis said. “I definitely had a five-year plan and a 10-year plan. To say that I'd be sitting exactly in this seat, I don't know. But to be at this stage, at this level, this is what I worked for. This was my ultimate goal. This is something that I wanted.”