For the third time since he became Ohio State’s head coach, Ryan Day has gone to the NFL ranks to hire a new secondary coach.
In 2019, Day hired Jeff Hafley away from the San Francisco 49ers to become Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach. After Hafley left to become Boston College’s head coach, Day hired Kerry Coombs away from the Tennessee Titans to become Ohio State’s defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach. Now, Day has replaced Coombs – after already hiring Jim Knowles as the Buckeyes’ new defensive coordinator – by hiring Walton away from the Jacksonville Jaguars to become Ohio State’s new secondary/cornerbacks coach.
While it’s been more than a decade since Walton has coached at the collegiate level, he brings an impressive résumé to Ohio State, as he comes with more than 25 years of coaching experience including more than a decade of coaching on NFL defenses. And he certainly knows what it’s like to be an Ohio State cornerback, given that he was once one himself.
Let’s take a closer look at Walton’s background and why he was an appealing candidate to lead the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks as part of their defensive coaching staff overhaul.
He’s a Buckeye
Ohio State fans who have been clamoring for more former Buckeyes to join the coaching staff are getting their wish with Walton. Much like wide receivers coach and newly promoted passing game coordinator Brian Hartline, Walton will be coaching the position he once played for Ohio State.
Walton was a cornerback for Ohio State from 1990-93, winning a Big Ten championship when the Buckeyes split the conference title with Wisconsin during his senior year. He was a two-year starter for the Buckeyes and recorded 159 total tackles, 10 interceptions, 11 pass breakups and nine tackles for loss over the course of his career.
He becomes the second member of Ohio State’s current coaching staff who actually played for the Buckeyes, joining Hartline. He becomes the third member of the Buckeyes’ 2022 staff who played in the Big Ten, as associate head coach for offense and offensive line coach Justin Frye was an offensive lineman at Indiana.
Decades of defensive coaching experience
Walton’s first full-time coaching job actually came as an offensive coach, as he was the running backs coach at Bowling Green from 1996-98. Since then, however, Walton has been coaching on defense – and specifically defensive backs – for over two decades.
Walton became Bowling Green’s defensive backs coach in 1999, then went on to coach defensive backs at Memphis (2000-01), Syracuse (2002), LSU (2003) and Miami, where he was the defensive backs coach from 2004-06 before being promoted to defensive coordinator in 2007. Walton returned to Memphis as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator in 2008 before beginning his NFL coaching career as the Detroit Lions’ defensive backs coach from 2009-12.
He had a one-year stint as the defensive coordinator of the then-St. Louis Rams in 2013, then became the New York Giants’ cornerbacks coach from 2015-17. He became the Jaguars’ cornerbacks coach in 2019 and remained in that role through this past season.
He’s been a national championship assistant
Out of the four new coaches who have been hired by Ohio State so far this offseason, Walton is the only one who’s actually won a national championship. He achieved that during his one year at LSU, where he was a member of Nick Saban’s staff as the Tigers won the BCS national championship game. LSU led the nation in total defense that year, and his roster of defensive backs included Corey Webster, who was a first-team All-American cornerback under Walton’s tutelage.
While Ohio State is expecting all of its new hires to help the Buckeyes win a national title, Walton could draw that from experience of knowing what it actually takes to accomplish that, as the only other coach who remains on staff that has been on a national championship coaching staff is defensive line coach Larry Johnson, the lone remaining holdover from the 2014 national championship staff.
Miami’s defense ranked ninth nationally in passing yards allowed per game in 2004 and led the nation in passing yards allowed per game in 2005, his first two seasons with the Hurricanes. Miami ranked seventh in the nation in total yards allowed in 2006. The Hurricanes’ defense took a step back in his lone year as their coordinator, however, when they ranked 33rd in total defense and 52nd in scoring defense with 26 points allowed per game.
He’s coached Pro Bowl CBs
In addition to coaching multiple first-team All-American cornerbacks at the collegiate level – Webster in 2003 and Miami’s Kelly Jennings in 2005 – Walton has also coached multiple Pro Bowl cornerbacks at the NFL level.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (2016) and Janoris Jenkins (2017) were both Pro Bowlers during his years with the Giants. And while he only briefly coached Jalen Ramsey during his Pro Bowl season in 2019, when Ramsey was traded from the Jaguars to the Rams, Ramsey was highly complimentary of Walton in an interview with ESPN following the trade.
“Coach Walton, he’s probably one of the best DB coaches if not the best DB coach I’ve ever had in my life,” Ramsey said. “He was really good. He was not only a good coach, coached us super hard, made sure we was on our technique but he was a good person, too.
“He cared about us off the field. Cared about battles we may have been fighting off the field. He was always there for us, man. It meant a lot that he was always trying to understand. A lot of times you get in situations where people in authority or people in a position, they don’t even care to try to understand you as a person, you as a player, anything. But he was really thorough in everything, to make sure he knew us individually as a player and as a person.”
He’s worked with former Ohio State coaches
Chances are good that Day spoke with his predecessor and former boss about Walton before hiring him, as Walton was a member of Urban Meyer’s staff during his brief stint as Jaguars head coach this past year. While Walton was originally hired by previous Jaguars head coach Doug Marrone, he was retained by Meyer when Meyer became the Jaguars’ head coach in 2021.
Walton also worked directly alongside former Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash, who was the Jaguars’ safeties coach last season. Ash told the Columbus Dispatch on Thursday that Walton was “great with the players” in Jacksonville.
“Lots of energy and a very good motivator,” Ash said. “Very good teacher. Lots of NFL experience. Always talked about the Buckeyes and how much he loved his experience there.”
Another connection from Walton’s coaching past that may have played a part in his hiring: Cedric Saunders, who played with Walton at Ohio State, was the Detroit Lions’ vice president of football operations when Walton worked for the Lions, and Saunders’ son Cayden is now a walk-on running back for the Buckeyes.