Ryan Day Cites Desire for Continuity, Emphasis on Secondary Improvement in Promoting Matt Barnes, Parker Fleming to Replace Greg Mattison

By Dan Hope on February 3, 2021 at 12:35 pm
Matt Barnes and Ryan Day

After considering the possibility of bringing in a coach from outside the program to replace retiring co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, Ryan Day ultimately decided the best option was to promote from within.

Just as he did one year earlier when he promoted Corey Dennis to replace Mike Yurcich as quarterbacks coach, Day cited a desire for continuity – and to hire coaches who he expects to stick around for a long time – when explaining why he chose to promote Parker Fleming to special teams coordinator, while making Matt Barnes secondary coach, on Wednesday.

“How do we keep continuity on that side of the ball, and how do we continue to just build what we’ve been working on here for a couple years and put the right people into place. I think when you bring in somebody new, that brings in a different dynamic, and certainly looked at some of those things. But I thought this did two things, though: One, it kept continuity, but two, it put a little bit more attention on the back end. And coming off of that last game, coming off of this season, I think that’s something we had to do,” Day said.

After Ohio State gave up more than 300 passing yards per game this past season and a whopping 52 points to Alabama in the national championship game, many Ohio State fans were clamoring for Day to bring a new coordinator to revamp the defense. Instead, Day opted to make Kerry Coombs the sole defensive coordinator while moving Barnes from special teams to working primarily with the secondary.

Coombs will continue to spend much of his time with the defensive backs, too, and Day believes that having two coaches who are primarily focused on the back end of the defense – with Al Washington taking over the entire linebackers group now that Mattison is gone – will allow them to fix the problems that plagued the Buckeyes in 2020 and improve in 2021.

“I think Al Washington did an excellent job with the linebackers, so his role is going to increase this season. And with he and (defensive line coach Larry Johnson), I thought they did an excellent job last year really with the front and the backers,” Day said. “So now they’re gonna lose that presence with Greg in there, but now, Matt comes in full-time and spends more time with the back end.”

Since Coombs is now the sole defensive coordinator, making Barnes the secondary coach will also free up Coombs to spend more time working with the front of the defense, though Day says Coombs will still have a major influence on the back end.

“I think for Kerry, he understands that he’s not the secondary coach, he’s the defensive coordinator,” Day said. “Now his background and how they do things is critically important to make sure that he and Matt are on the same page and that it’s being done the way Kerry wants it done, and there’s gonna be a lot of back and forth there. But I think this is gonna allow him to, like I said, take a little bit of a step back, take a little bit of a wider approach on this thing, get with the linebackers, get with the guys up front and as the coordinator. And Matt’s such a great teacher and he’s really good at what he does.”

“It put a little bit more attention on the back end. And coming off of that last game, coming off of this season, I think that’s something we had to do.”– Ryan Day on moving Matt Barnes to secondary coach

Day could have chosen to bring in a new co-defensive coordinator who could have perhaps brought some new schematic ideas to Ohio State, or he could have chosen to bring in a new secondary coach while keeping Barnes on special teams. He didn’t feel there was any other coach out there, though, who would do the job better than he believes the returning defensive coaches can.

“We have really good minds in there,” Day said. “I thought we needed more attention on the back end. So then you say to yourself, well, do you go get a secondary coach somewhere throughout the country that knows our scheme, that understands what we want to get done and fits? And then all of a sudden, the list gets smaller and smaller and smaller, and then I watch the way that Matt Barnes works, I think he's really good. I think he's really, really good. If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't just do it. But I think to bring in somebody that has a different set of thoughts on coverages and beliefs and all those things, that's a different dynamic. I think Matt Barnes will do this job better than anybody else in the country for what we need. And if I didn't think that, we wouldn't do it.”

Day also said “promoting from within is something that I believe strongly in,” and he believes Fleming – who has already worked with Ohio State’s special teams for the last three years as a quality control coach – is the right man to replace Barnes as special teams coordinator.

“He’s very bright. He’s really sharp,” Day said of Fleming. “I think he’s done a good job of connecting with the players, not being able to be on the field, but just being in the building has been excellent. And again, I think it’s really important that we have a lot of guys who have been two, three, four years in this program and in this style of special teams, and Parker believes in what we do. He believes in our system. And so because of that, I think it’s gonna be great.”

While Fleming will likely be paid substantially less than the $1.133 million Mattison made as co-defensive coordinator last year, Day said financial constraints were not a factor in the decision to promote Fleming rather than make an outside hire. Day said he is still exploring the possibility of bringing in a defensive coach from elsewhere to serve as an analyst, but he hasn’t made a final decision on that yet.

“Taking a hard look at that, and seeing if there are some people around who would be the right fit,” Day said. “I think the big thing for us is it has to be the right fit culturally. It has to be the right personality and bring the right things to the table. So certainly looking at all those things, and over the next couple weeks, have an opportunity to bring some guys in and possibly talk about those types of things.”

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