Keenan Bailey didn’t have to wait as long as he did to become a full-time college football position coach.
As he worked his way up through the ranks of Ohio State’s support staff from offensive intern to senior advisor to the head coach over the past seven years, Bailey received numerous offers to join coaching staffs elsewhere. But as Bailey considered all of those opportunities, he decided every time his heart was in Columbus.
More specifically, Bailey chose to stay at Ohio State every time because of the people within the Ohio State football program, from Ryan Day and Mickey Marotti and the rest of the Buckeyes’ coaches to the players he’s helped coach. Bailey said the chance to continue working with all of them made it easy to stay at Ohio State.
“The thing that my wife and I always talk about is people over places,” Bailey said during an interview with Eleven Warriors at Ohio State’s media day before the Peach Bowl. “So every time there's been an opportunity to come across a desk, it's easy to say, ‘Yeah, let's go.’ And a lot of people probably would have or told me I was wrong in not going. But if you look at every opportunity and value people over places, it's really been a no-brainer.
“There's no better people in the country (than there are at Ohio State),” Bailey added. “So it really has not been that hard of a decision to stay, if you look at it with the people over the places.”
Bailey was rewarded for his patience and loyalty to Ohio State last month when Day chose Bailey to succeed outgoing offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, who is now the head coach at Tulsa, as Ohio State’s tight ends coach.
“He's an excellent coach,” Day said in December. “He's a really sharp young man who's going to do unbelievable things in his career. And the relationships he's built over time with former players, current players, recruits and family has been excellent. And you know, Keenan’s turned down a lot of opportunities to go other places over the last couple of years, and he's stayed here and been a huge help. So he's got a very bright future ahead of him.”
While it’s not particularly common for a young coach like Bailey to stay in a support-staff role for seven years, his reward for paying his dues at Ohio State is becoming a full-time assistant coach at one of college football’s marquee programs at just 27 years old. Knowing the opportunity he has now, he’s certainly glad he chose the path he did.
“It's been a long one, but it's been a great one. I wouldn't trade it for anything,” Bailey said when asked about his journey to becoming OSU’s tight ends coach. “If you would have told me seven years ago, you gotta do these things and seven years later, you're gonna be coaching the tight ends at the best program in the country, I would have done it.
“And it's not like I've just been in the back working. I've been learning from the best, right? I get to go to work every day working for the best head coach in the country. Learning from guys like coach Wilson and coach Hartline and Justin Frye. And it's been an awesome journey. I can't wait to get going.”
Coaching tight ends isn’t necessarily the role Bailey would have envisioned he’d step into, as he’s spent much of his time at Ohio State helping Brian Hartline coach the wide receivers. But he spent the 2022 season helping coach the tight ends alongside Wilson, preparing him to be Wilson’s successor if Wilson landed a head coaching job.
“He's taught me a whole lot,” Bailey said of Wilson. “My background is more of a route-running coach, being with coach Hartline for three or four years, but coach Wilson really taught me about the blocking game and I think if you look over the years, his tight end room has been the most physical, dominant tight end unit in the conference and maybe in the country consistently. So I'm looking to build on that for sure.”
“If you would have told me seven years ago, you gotta do these things and seven years later, you're gonna be coaching the tight ends at the best program in the country, I would have done it.”– Keenan Bailey on his journey to becoming Ohio State’s tight ends coach
At the time of Eleven Warriors’ interview with Bailey, Cade Stover hadn’t yet decided whether he would return to Ohio State for the 2023 season. Bailey did know Ohio State would be losing Mitch Rossi, who used his final year of eligibility in 2022. But with Stover returning to lead a tight end room that also includes Gee Scott Jr., Joe Royer, Bennett Christian, Sam Hart and incoming freshman Jelani Thurman, Bailey is excited about the position group he’s inheriting and its potential for the future.
“We've got a whole lot of potential,” said Bailey, who was seated between Royer and Rossi at the time. “If you look across the room, we've got a lot of great guys. I mean, this kid sitting next to me (Royer) can be special. Cade, if Cade decides to come back, is the best leader I think on the team, can be the best tight end in the conference. Definitely it hurts losing our fullback/tight end guy (Rossi) to my left, but he at least taught these young guys how to go hard, right? So with that example, I think we've got a lot of hungry guys with a whole lot of potential.”