Ryan Day's OSU Coaching Hires Make Sense, Carry Risk

Bruce Hooley

In the hot-take world of sports analysis, where myriad shows masquerading as, "embrace debate," are mere contrived arguments for arguments sake to make the black go away until the games start at 7 p.m., it's anathema that two things can be true at once.

But they can, and they are, at least in the case of how Ohio State coach Ryan Day filled the two vacancies on his coaching staff.

Day hired Corey Dennis to be his quarterbacks coach and Kerry Coombs to be his defensive coordinator, and everyone in Buckeye Nation is happy with the hires because Day banked more than enough good will with his first season to receive a blanket endorsement of everything he does.

Dennis replaces Mike Yurcich, who came from Oklahoma State and now returns to the Big 12 after one season to take over as the offensive coordinator at Texas.

Coombs replaces Jeff Hafley, who came from the San Francisco 49ers and left after one season to become the head coach at Boston College.

Both hires make perfect sense and could be great fits that propel Ohio State to continued dominance of the Big Ten and perhaps the national championship that eluded the Buckeyes this season.

That is true, or at least hard to dispute, because:

  • Dennis has been at OSU for five seasons in lesser roles and knows exactly how Day wants things done at the most important position on the roster,
  • Coombs spent four previous years in Columbus and endeared himself to most everyone by developing a bevy of first-round defensive backs and infusing everything he touched with his special brand of (a) infectious enthusiasm, (b) unbridled passion, (c) over-the-top craziness, (d) full-throated theatrics or (e) all of the above.

But it is also true that Day has hired two guys who've never done the jobs they've been hired to do, and both coaches best do well or they'll be consequences from an unforgiving fan base with a zero-tolerance policy for anything short of a College Football Playoff berth.

Jobs on the Ohio State football staff don't come with training wheels or anonymity.

Ask George Chaump, Fred Zechman, Denny Fryzel, Bill Young, Joe Hollis, Jim Bollman, Nick Siciliano, Luke Fickell, Tim Beck, Ed Warinner, Bill Davis, Greg Schiano or any number of other OSU assistants dating back to Woody Hayes and tracking through the Earle Bruce, John Cooper, Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer eras who all served their own sentence in the crosshairs of a fan base that blamed them for all things under their direction, whether real or imagined.

Right now, Dennis is the young up-and-comer whose hiring makes perfect sense to the armchair experts because he's been the guy who did the grunt work in the quarterback room while Day coached J.T. Barrett, Dwayne Haskins and Justin Fields.

But if Fields goes backward next season, even a little bit, it won't take long for Dennis to become the unqualified, inexperienced, guy-we-never-would-have-hired-if-he-weren't-Urban's-son-in-law.

After all, the rare grousing that comes up when the Meyer era gets discussed among the die-hards is that he might have won one or two additional national championships if he hadn't hired his best man (Davis) to coach linebackers or his best friend (Schiano) to coordinate the defense.

Coombs is a firebrand with an unimpeachable resume of first-round draft picks developed on his watch at OSU. But he wouldn't be the first guy who couldn't duplicate his success as a position coach when calling a defense.

How will he mix with holdover assistant Greg Mattison, a guy with his own sterling resume and a fist-full of championship rings from Notre Dame, Michigan, Florida and the Baltimore Ravens?

Mattison was co-coordinator last year with Jeff Hafley, who coached exemplary seasons out of Jeff Okudah, Shaun Wade, Damon Arnette and Jordan Fuller, no doubt in part because of the foundation Coombs laid when he was at OSU through the 2017 season.

But Hafley was the young guy with the NFL credibility riding a rocket ship to a bigger job elsewhere, with only a brief refueling stop in Columbus. Everyone knew that when he arrived, with the oft-voiced hope being that OSU could hold onto him two years.

Instead, he left after one, and now the Buckeyes will be on their third coordinator in three seasons in 2020.

That's because Coombs received the full coordinator title, and presumably full control, to leave the Tennessee Titans and return to Ohio State.

Will that sit well with Mattison?

Will it work well with the players, particularly given that OSU loses seven defensive starters from 2019?

The Buckeyes always recruit well, and so the expectation is they've reloaded and won't experience even a hit of slippage.

That demand isn't true just of the players who move into vacated spots, but the two coaches, as well.

For the latest on Ohio State follow Sports Illustrated Buckeye Maven on Facebook and @BuckeyeMaven on Twitter