Day acted boldly and now expectations are even higher at Ohio State

By Jim Naveau - [email protected]

There’s no doubt Ryan Day is decisive. He showed that when he demoted defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs two games into last season.

He showed that again by hiring defensive coordinator Jim Knowles away from Oklahoma State 10 days after Ohio State’s loss to Michigan and then by replacing three other coaches, including long-time offensive line coach Greg Studrawa, after that.

Every defensive coach but defensive line coach Larry Johnson from last season is gone. Coombs, linebackers coach Al Washington and defensive backs coach Matt Barnes are out, replaced by Knowles, Perry Eliano and Tim Walton. Former UCLA offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Justin Frye has replaced Studrawa.

Replacing four coaches is the biggest turnover at Ohio State since John Cooper hired four new assistants in 1994.

Day’s seven coaching changes heading into his fourth season as OSU’s head coach is more than any of his immediate predecessors made going into their fourth year.

Cooper made five changes in that time span. Earle Bruce and Jim Tressel made four and Urban Meyer had three departures by year four.

Day’s decisiveness works both ways. He didn’t hesitate to stick with what was working at Ohio State. He retained five assistants from the previous year’s staff in his first season in 2019, which is more than Cooper (3), Tressel (3), Meyer (2) and Bruce (2) did.

Four of those five assistants – Kevin Wilson, Tony Alford, Brian Hartline and Johnson – are still at Ohio State.

Two relatively recent Ohio State hires seem to indicate the right coordinator or right position coach can make a big difference.

After an under-performing defensive backfield was one of the biggest reasons OSU lost to Michigan State in the 2013 Big Ten championship game and then to Clemson in the Orange Bowl, Meyer hired Chris Ash as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Ash taught a more aggressive style of defense and Ohio State went from being ranked No. 112 nationally in pass defense to No. 29 in 2014 and No. 16 in 2015. To be fair, it also upgraded the talent level by getting Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Gareon Conley on the field instead of watching from the sideline.

Jeff Hafley produced a similar turnaround in 2019 when Meyer hired him as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach.

Ohio State gave up big play after big play in 2018 and ranked No. 86 nationally in pass defense. In Hafley’s only year in Columbus, it ranked No. 2 nationally. Like Ash in 2014 and 2015, Hafley had some very talented players to work with in Damon Arnette, Jeff Okudah, Jordan Fuller and Shaun Wade.

The hope is that Day’s new assistants work out as well as Hafley and Ash did. But sometimes even coaches who make the best hiring decisions can also swing and miss.

When Earle Bruce was OSU’s coach from 1979 to 1987 he hired Pete Carroll, Nick Saban and Jim Tressel as assistant coaches and Urban Meyer as a graduate assistant. Carroll, Saban, Tressel and Meyer have won 13 NCAA Division I national championships combined. But Bruce also fired Saban after his second year on the Buckeyes’ staff.

By Jim Naveau

[email protected]

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