Skull Session: Mark Pantoni is “Killing It” for Ohio State, Tim Walton is “The Best Secondary Coach in America” and Ryan Day Explains How the Buckeyes Landed Caleb Downs

By Chase Brown on February 9, 2024 at 5:00 am
Mark Pantoni

Welcome to the skull Session.

C.J. Stroud is the 2023 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

The Buckeyes have now had six rookies of the year in the past eight years: Joey Bosa (2016), Marshon Lattimore (2017), Nick Bosa (2019), Chase Young (2020), Garrett Wilson (2022) and Stroud.

Is that good?

Oh, and Randy Gradishar is a Pro Football Hall of Famer and Cameron Heyward is the Walter Payton Man of the Year?

Is that good?

Have a good Friday.

 “HE’S KILLING IT RIGHT NOW.” Mark Pantoni has been critical to the Buckeyes' success this offseason. When asked about 2024 four-star defensive end Dominic Kirks on Wednesday, Day paused to thank Pantoni and his staff for their efforts in helping Ohio State build a championship roster now and for the future.

"I have to recognize Mark Pantoni and the work he does. He's really adapted. His job has changed so much in the past couple of years. He's killing it right now. He and his staff deserve a huge shout out here because of some of the work that has been done over the past couple of months."

Pantoni has killed it for Ohio State. He will continue to kill it for Ohio State – and so will his staff. Day did not provide the names of Pantoni’s staff when he praised them, so I looked them up. Here’s what each staff member accomplishes for Pantoni and how their behind-the-scenes efforts impact the Buckeyes:

  • Ed Terwilliger is Ohio State’s director of high school relations and will enter his 10th season with the Buckeyes in 2023. Before his time at Ohio State, Terwilliger was an accomplished high school football coach, leading Olentangy High School to 138 wins across 24 seasons. He was also an officer in the Ohio High School Coaches Association for 16 years.
  • Nick Murphy is the Buckeyes’ assistant director for recruiting strategy. He arrived at Ohio State in 2022 after stops at UCF (2018), Minnesota (2020) and Charlotte (2019 and 2021), where he held roles as an offensive assistant, graduate assistant, director of on-campus recruiting and director of player personnel.
  • Erin Dunston is the Buckeyes’ director of on-campus recruiting. Dunston came to Ohio State in 2021 after stops at LSU (2015-17), Purdue (2018-19) and Kansas (2019-21). She coordinates official and unofficial visits for recruits, as well as special events and game-day recruiting activities.
  • Billy Homer is Ohio State’s college scouting coordinator and monitors the transfer portal for the Buckeyes. Before Homer arrived at Ohio State in 2022, he worked for the San Francisco 49ers (2009-13), the Edmonton Eskimos (2018-19) and Florida (2019-21).
  • Ryan Mayhew and Parker Wereb* are football recruiting assistants for Ohio State. Both became full-time staff members in 2023 – Mayhew after a year with the Washington Commanders’ equipment staff and Wereb after a year as a student assistant for the Buckeyes. Their role includes film evaluation of high school recruits and assistance with on-campus prospect visits.

*FUN FACT: I have known Parker since I was 6 years old. We went to elementary, middle and high school together, and we played football, basketball and baseball together. He was the best man at my wedding. He is an all-around good dude, and he deserves tremendous praise for his hard work.

Cheers to Pantoni, Terwilliger, Murhpy, Dunston, Homer, Mayhew and Wereb. Ohio State’s success with the 2024 class, both in high school recruiting and the transfer portal, was due to their hard work and determination. They represent the Buckeyes well!

 “THE BEST SECONDARY COACH IN AMERICA.” Since Tim Walton started his tenure as Ohio State’s secondary coach, he has reinstated BIA for the Buckeyes with his development of Denzel Burke, Davison Igbinosun, Jordan Hancock, Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor, among others.

Walton’s additions of Caleb Downs (an Alabama transfer), Aaron Scott Jr., and Bryce West in the 2024 class — and the commitments of Na’eem Offord (No. 1 cornerback), Devin Sanchez (No. 2 cornerback) and Blake Woodby (No. 10 cornerback) in the 2025 class — will ensure BIA sticks around.


On Wednesday, Ryan Day was asked to share the reasons he hired Walton after the 2021 season and how the former Ohio State cornerback has impacted the program as he approaches year three.

"I can't say enough great things about Tim Walton. His background of developing secondary play in the NFL speaks for itself. The players he's worked with and the testimony from those players — they speak glowingly of what he's done to help them. The next thing was that Tim played here. He's a Buckeye. He wanted to help Ohio State win a championship. That was a big part of it. When you get around him more, you realize he's talented. He's good in a lot of areas. When you evaluate coaches, you look at, 'How talented they are on the field as a technician? How are they schematically? How are they at relating to players? How are they in recruiting?' Tim does a lot of those things.

"Our guys have embraced his mentality. Our secondary is super competitive. They want to compete in all that they do. You watch them in drills, and they go at each other. That reflects Tim's mentality. We have an opportunity to have an excellent secondary this year. A big part of that is what Tim is doing, and then you see the recruiting he's doing. All of those things add up to Tim being the best secondary coach in America."

While all that Day mentioned was great, he could have boiled his praise down into one sentence... “Tim Walton is goated.” In our latest episode of The Eleven Warriors Show, Jason Priestas and Chris Lauderback discussed that fact and more:

What do you think Walton was listening to when that photo was taken?

Comment wrong answers only.

 “THAT WAS A CRAZY 24 HOURS.” Remember how I said Ryan Day needed a bottle of Dasani after his 125 minutes of media appearances on Wednesday? Well, as it turns out, the Ohio State head coach added another 23 minutes to that enormous total with an interview for THE Podcast.

Day discussed several topics with Jeremy Birmingham, but the one that stuck out to me was about Caleb Downs, as Day shared how the Buckeyes landed the former Alabama safety from the transfer portal.

"We knew we had to move quick. We saw his coach (Travaris Robinson) went to Georgia, so that played into it. But myself, Tim (Walton), Jim (Knowles) and Matt Guierrieri all got on a plane and said we would be down there in the (next) morning. I think it was a nine o'clock meeting at the house. Man, it went for about four hours. Jim Knowles will tell you it was like an interview. Caleb interviewed our staff. I talked to him for a while. Ultimately, it came down to watching our film and going through, 'How do you call this? What do you do here?' We made sure Tim, Matt and Jim were all on the same page. When you're dealing with Caleb and his dad, Gary — a great family — but they're football people. They want to make sure everything is squared away.

"We recruited him the year before. We talked about where we think the defense was headed and what it would look like. You saw that progress. What we said was going to happen was happening. We expect to take the next step this year. That gave us some credibility there. I also think he like the guys on the team. Jordan Hancock, Malik Hartford and Sonny Styles, he had a previous relationship there, and there was some comfort level there. Tim is somebody who knew Gary growing up, so there was a relationship there as well. All of those things combined led him to come here. But, yes, that was a crazy 24 hours there, for sure."

Ohio State had one of the best defenses in America last season. And yet, Day and Knowles expect the unit “to take the next step this year.”

How will that happen?

You return almost all of your starters from 2023. Then, you add Downs.

Downs led Alabama with 107 tackles last season. He also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery, two interceptions and four pass breakups. After the season, he was named the Shaun Alexander Freshman of the Year and a second-team AP All-American.

“To say we are all excited to have him as part of the program is an understatement,” Day said in his press conference. “His talent is exceptional. He’s already created an unbelievable amount of discipline in his life. He’s created the skills to play the safety position at a high level. ... He’s very, very talented. ... It’s gonna be fun.”

It will, indeed. It will, indeed.

 YEESH! The Lantern's Sam Becker wrote about Chris Holtmann on Thursday. In a rare opinion piece from Ohio State's independent student newspaper, Becker called for a change of leadership for the Ohio State men's basketball team.

In a standard Skull Session section, I will feature excerpts from an article related to Ohio State sports (and sometimes other miscellaneous topics). However, with Becker’s permission – and the permission of Lauryn Luderman and Jayla Vanhorn, The Lantern’s sports editors – I will include Becker’s entire column titled “Opinion: It’s Time for Holtmann to Go” because it needs to be read in full:

It's time to have a discussion.

Chris Holtmann has been the head coach of the Ohio State men's basketball team since 2017. He has taken the program to moderate heights and disheartening lows.

Now, the Schottenstein Center is the home to a corpse of a program.

And if the team is a decomposing corpse, Ohio State men's basketball games this season have been a funeral with no attendance.

Ohio State athletics is one the brink of modernization, with new athletic director Ross Bjork in town to shepherd this new era. In the process of ushering in the name, image and likeness-centric era of athletics, Ohio State and Holtmann need to part ways.

To preface, calling for someone's job never be said lightly.

However, Ohio State fans have been calling for Holtmann's firing since 2020, when the team went 2-5 in January — a theme that's persisted in his tenure.

Cooler heads prevailed, and the Buckeyes turned it around later on. Holtmann was given a mulligan, because the 2-5 record in January 2020 was essentially chalked up as a fluke. But was it?

January is the month that Big Ten conference play truly begins. It's also a time when Buckeye teams under Holtmann have floundered, repeatedly. Holtmann's teams are a combined 18-29 in January since 2019. It's also important to keep in mind that before January, the team under Holtmann had been a true top-25 program. The 2019-20 team was 11-1, the 2021-22 team was 9-2, the 2022-23 team was 10-3 and, this year, the Buckeyes went an impressive 12-2 before the mark of the new calender year.

The team has even beaten legitimate out-of-conference opponents like No. 1 Duke (2021) and No. 6 Kentucky (2019) before its typical disintegration in January. So what does this repeated January collapse mean for Holtmann and the program?

It means these teams have been talented enough to compete with some of the top basketball powers in the nation. But as the season wears on, the team has gotten worn out — every single year. The physical play of the Big Ten takes a toll on most teams in the league, but Ohio State has always looked particularly unprepared.

Under Holtmann, the men's basketball team has consistently given fans hope that this would be the year to break the curse. Beating good out-of-conference teams has only served as a glimpse of "what could have been" because the Ohio State squads after December passes is a far cry from the one seen in previous months.

The talent is there, and we have seen flashes of greatness, which have ultimately died out due to the fatigue of a long season. This can only be attributed to one thing: coaching.

This is a fractured program and a change in leadership is needed. What's worse? Holtmann is a genuinely good guy, respected by coaches and players alike. In fact, he is a phenomenal recruiter, and players would likely hate to see him go, some may even transfer. However, actions speak louder than words. The players say they are brought into the culture, and Holtmann is the best man for the job. Their play suggests otherwise. This is a program that wilts, even at its best, when the pressure is turned on.

Holtmann has coached two teams that particularly stand out as successful: the 2017-18 and the 2020-21 teams.

In 2017-18, it was Holtmann's first year as head coach, and the team essentially breezed through the Big Ten courtesy of the play of veteran holdovers from the Thad Matta era. They lost to a buzzsaw Gonzaga team in the second round, but no one was displeased with the direction of the program.

If 2017-18 was the beginning, it might be fitting to call the 2020-21 season the end of the Holtmann era. 

The team made the NCAA Tournament as the No. 2 seed, but with Holtmann's recruits this time. However, the cracks in the system were exposed once the Buckeyes met No. 15 seed Oral Roberts in the first round. With the entire country watching, the Holtmann-coached Buckeyes were handed one of the most embarrassing losses in Ohio State athletics history.

The program, and Holtmann for that matter, have never been the same since. The 2021-22 team played a bland, rudderless style, lucking into a first round win against an equally incompetent Loyola-Chicago team before being handled by Villanova. 

In the 2022-23 season and this current one, the Buckeyes are likely to miss March Madness and possibly even the National Invitational Tournament, while becoming basement-dwellers of the Big Ten. The team has also set attendance records — in the wrong way — for each of the past two years.

There is no doubt that Holtmann is a beloved coach to his players, but this is Ohio State.

The paper tiger of a team that has taken the court for the Buckeyes in the Holtmann era is unacceptable and beneath expectations. This is a program that was competing for national championships under Matta. Right now, it is an inarguable fact that Ohio State is purely a "football school." But it was not always like that, and it should not be that way.

In the new age of college athletics, the message is loud and clear: adapt or get left behind. With athletic director Gene Smith on his way out, Bjork has an immediate opportunity to make a statement on what the standard is at Ohio State, and he can do it by parting ways with Holtmann.

Becker did the research, stated the facts and shared his opinion – one I know many Skull Session readers share.

I give him credit for a well-written article!

 SONG OF THE DAY. “Beggar's Son” - Matt Maeson.

 CUT TO THE CHASE. “Moana 2” is coming to theaters for a Thanksgiving release... Usher says it’s been a challenge to squeeze 30-year career into 13-minute Super Bowl halftime show... The Oscars will add Academy Award for casting directors in 2026... Are we living in “Black Mirror?” Apple Vision Pros may make it feel that way... False spring is here, again: Warm weather in much of US isn't here to stay.

View 50 Comments