Ohio State’s new head coach got a lot of ink in the offseason.
That’s only natural, because Ryan Day was hired for one of the most prestigious college football coaching jobs in the nation. As if that weren’t enough, he’s replacing one of the most decorated coaches in the history of the game in Urban Meyer.
Day has added some pretty accomplished names to help him in his first full season in charge — of course he ran the operation during Meyer’s three-game suspension in 2018.
The six new assistants (including Brian Hartline, who was named full-time wide receivers coach after holding the role in an interim capacity in 2018) have a combined 70 years of experience as a full-time assistant either in Division I-A college football or the NFL.
And speaking of experience, let’s start with the man responsible for 40 of those 70 combined seasons.
Greg Mattison, Co-Defensive Coordinator
This was a real attention grabber. Mattison was an assistant for the past eight seasons, the past four coaching the defensive line, at archrival Michigan. With the Wolverines, he helped assemble one of the most ferocious defenses in the country over the past few years.
How good was Michigan’s defensive line under Mattison’s watch? That unit was ranked in the top 20 nationally in every category but one for the 2018 season, according to the S&P Defensive Line advanced metrics. Two of its players, Rashan Gary (No. 12 overall, Packers) and Chase Winovich (No. 77, Patriots) were taken in the first three rounds of the 2019 NFL Draft. In 2017 the Wolverines’ D-line was even better, ranking in the S&P top five nationally in seven categories.
Mattison has 40 years of experience as an assistant in either NFL or major college football. His level of experience should help even a proven force like Buckeyes defensive end Chase Young, a first-team preseason All-American according to Athlon’s.
Jeff Hafley, Co-Defensive Coordinator/DBs
Like Mattison, Hafley brings an NFL resume with him to Columbus. The 40-year-old spent the past three seasons as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive backs coach. Hafley also has been a DB assistant with the Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Ohio State is accustomed to churning out NFL talent in the defensive backfield more than perhaps any other position in recent years. Kendall Sheffield, Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley, Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Doran Grant have been drafted since 2014, giving the Buckeyes quite a collection of pro DBs.
Hafley knows what an NFL defensive back looks like and he should be able to turn even more Buckeyes into pros. But Hafley’s first job will be to improve a pass defense that ranked 86th in the nation last year. He needs to help OSU turn a collection of talented individuals into something more than the sum of its parts.
Mike Yurcich, Passing Game Coordinator/QBs
Yurcich inherits an interesting quarterback situation. The native Ohioan, coming off of six years as Oklahoma State’s offensive coordinator, will watch over former Georgia 5-star recruit Justin Fields and fellow SEC transfer Gunnar Hoak among others.
Yurcich was at the helm of one of the most productive offenses in the country in Stillwater. Even by pass-happy Big 12 standards, Oklahoma State was excellent at moving the ball, ranking in the top 10 in the nation in average yards through the air each of the past four seasons. His track record, plus the usual high expectations at this OSU, suggests that whoever starts for the Buckeyes will be expected to produce quickly. Hey, it worked for Dwayne Haskins.
Brian Hartline, WRs
Hartline is best known to Buckeyes fans for his exploits as a wide receiver in Scarlet and Gray. Hartline played for OSU from 2006-07 and was a member of the team which made back-to-back appearances in the national championship game. Hartline went on to play seven seasons in the NFL, recording 344 catches for 14 touchdowns. He played six years with the Dolphins before coming back to Ohio for his pro finale with the Browns in 2015. At 32, he is young enough to show OSU receivers first-hand what they need to learn.
Al Washington, LBs
Washington is, like Mattison, a veteran assistant. Also like Mattison, he made the unusual move from Ann Arbor to Columbus in the offseason to join the Buckeyes staff. He made the unusual move from running backs coach, the post he held at Boston College from 2013-15, to defensive line coach with the Eagles in 2016. OSU is his fourth school in four years, including BC, Cincinnati and Michigan. Last year was his first as linebackers coach in Division I-A but last year his Wolverines were a stout unit and sent Devin Bush to the NFL as the No. 10 overall draft pick to the Steelers.
Matt Barnes, Special Teams Coordinator/DBs Assistant
Barnes is the third new Buckeyes assistant who moved within the Big Ten East Division. He was the special teams coordinator at Maryland last season and added linebacker assistant coach duties in 2018. The Terrapins had a stout special teams unit under Barnes and he will be expected to bring more of the same to Columbus. Urban Meyer famously emphasized special teams throughout his career and had some of his most gifted and explosive players on those units. It will be interesting to see how much Day continues that philosophy; if he does, Barnes will have plenty of talent to work with.