Ohio State has hired the architect of one of college football’s top defenses as its new defensive coordinator.
Jim Knowles, who was a finalist for this year’s Broyles Award after leading an Oklahoma State defense that ranks third in the nation in yards allowed per game (278.4) and eighth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed per game (16.8) this season, is leaving the Cowboys to become the new leader of the Buckeyes’ defense.
Knowles will officially become Ohio State’s defensive coordinator on Jan. 2. Ohio State’s current staff of assistant coaches will continue to coach the team through the Rose Bowl.
“I have offered a position on the Ohio State football staff to Oklahoma State University defensive coordinator Jim Knowles and he has accepted it. Starting Jan. 2, Knowles will be the Buckeyes’ new defensive coordinator,” Ryan Day said Tuesday in a statement. “What is most important at this time is that we put our players in the best position possible to finish this season with a win in the Rose Bowl. To that end, we will continue our planning and preparation for the game with our current staff of 10 assistant coaches.”
At least one member of Ohio State’s current coaching staff will need to leave to open up a spot for Knowles, but it is not yet clear who will be leaving the staff or how the defensive coaching staff will be built around him. While Kerry Coombs will no longer be the defensive coordinator, it’s possible he could remain on staff in a reduced capacity.
Knowles, who has been Oklahoma State’s defensive coordinator since 2018, could be exactly what the doctor ordered for an Ohio State defense that’s been ailing since Jeff Hafley left the program after the 2019 season. Oklahoma State’s defense steadily improved over the course of his tenure to become one of college football’s top units for the 2021 season at a school that isn’t known for elite defensive play.
Oklahoma State’s 2021 defense ranks fourth in the nation in yards allowed per play (4.42), sixth in the nation in yards allowed per rushing attempt (2.74), 14th nationally in yards allowed per passing attempt (6.26) and second in opposing third-down conversion percentage (25.8%), an area in which Ohio State has consistently struggled this season. The Cowboys also lead the nation in both tackles for loss (113) and sacks (54).
A native of Philadelphia, Knowles brings more than three decades of coaching experience to Ohio State. Knowles began his coaching career at Cornell, his alma mater, where he was an assistant coach from 1988-96 before returning as head coach from 2004-09. In between, Knowles had stints as the defensive line coach and defensive coordinator at Western Michigan from 1997-2002 and as a the linebackers coach at Ole Miss in 2003. Knowles was the defensive coordinator at Duke from 2010-17 before heading to Stillwater in 2018.
Knowles has experience coaching at every level of the defense – he's been a defensive line coach, a linebackers coach and a safeties coach – and is known for being an aggressive defensive play caller. While his 4-2-5 defense at Oklahoma State was similar from a personnel standpoint to the one Ohio State ran in 2021, his defense used a wider variety of looks and was much more consistently successful this season while playing with mostly three-star recruits compared to Ohio State’s four- and five-star talent.
Oklahoma State’s defense has not allowed more than three touchdowns in any game during the 2021 season. Oklahoma, the Big 12’s top offense this season, put up 441 yards against the Cowboys in their regular season finale, but no other opponent has gained more than 374 yards, while six opponents were held under 300 yards.