Schuttin' from the hip: Ohio State's staff overhaul proves Ryan Day is serious about keeping Buckeyes at the top
Each week, Saturday Tradition managing editor Dustin Schutte offers his spin on what matters most in the B1G.
Ryan Day had a choice to make when Ohio State’s 2021 season ended. The first option was to shut his eyes tightly, cross his fingers and toes and hope the current defensive staff would be able to correct a plethora of flaws noticeable to even the casual fan. The second option was to start the search for a new group of assistants.
Option 2 was the chosen path, and it didn’t take long to get moving. Less than two weeks after Ohio State’s thrilling overtime win over Utah in the Rose Bowl Game, Day has overhauled the staff in Columbus.
Day has embraced the line made famous by Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin’.”
No time was wasted in bringing new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to Columbus. The Buckeyes made the splash hire in early December, securing their guy before anyone else had the chance to court him.
In that moment, one thing became evident: Day is serious about keeping Ohio State in the national spotlight.
In the high-flying Big 12, Knowles was the mastermind behind the conference’s top-ranked scoring defense, which allowed just 18.1 points per game. That average ranked ninth nationally, the highest finish for any Big 12 team since TCU closed the 2014 campaign with the country’s eighth-best scoring defense.
Oklahoma State was also the Big 12’s leader in run defense (87.6 ypg), total defense (297.9 ypg), sacks (56) and tackles for loss (117). The Cowboys ranked second in pass defense (210.2 ypg).
Those numbers are better than what Ohio State posted in any category during an 11-2 season.
Hiring Knowles away from Oklahoma State after such a successful 2021 campaign might be the biggest victory of the offseason. That move was enough to get folks in Columbus excited about the outlook for next season.
But it was far from the only change Day would make to the staff.
On Thursday, moves were being made as quickly as a triple-jump on a checkerboard. First, Day swiped cornerbacks coach Perry Eliano away from Cincinnati. Next, former Buckeye Tim Walton was reportedly hired away from the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars to join the Ohio State staff.
Eliano has been on the sidelines for 20 years and coached a Bearcats secondary that shut down opposing passing attacks, holding opponents to 169.2 yards per game. That mark was good enough for the No. 2 spot nationally.
Walton brings championship experience to Ohio State, winning a title on Nick Saban’s LSU staff in 2003. Though he’s been in the NFL since 2009, Walton was in the college ranks for 14 seasons.
Former Oklahoma State quality control coach Koy McFarland and graduate assistant Michael Hunter are expected to follow Knowles from Stillwater to Columbus, as well. At least four additions were reported in an 8-hour span.
Heading out the door are former defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs and linebackers coach Al Washington. Interim DC Matt Barnes — who took over for Coombs after things went awry three games into the year — took a job at Memphis.
Washington left Michigan to join the Ohio State staff in 2019. Coombs is somewhat of a legend in Columbus, coaching for six seasons under Urban Meyer and returning to the school in 2020.
The decisions couldn’t have been easy.
Day could’ve rolled the dice by keeping the status quo. After all, Washington was in charge of the linebacker room when it was the strength of the team in 2020 when the Buckeyes reached the national championship game. That group consisting of Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, Justin Hilliard and Baron Browning all developed under Washington.
Even though the past two seasons have been a struggle, Coombs has developed some of the best defensive backs to play at Ohio State. He coached stars like Von Bell, Eli Apple, Darron Lee, Gareon Conley, Denzel Ward and several others.
There would’ve been plenty of scowls in Buckeye Nation, but Day could’ve justified his decision. Rather than take that gamble, he wanted to fix the solution.
Day’s decision to reconfigure his defensive staff — and fill his sideline with proven experience — also proves he’s the right guy for the job in Columbus. Entering his fourth year as the leader of one of college football’s premier programs, he’s making the tough calls to keep Ohio State atop the mountain.
College football provides no guarantees. There’s no assurance the changes in Columbus will lead to immediate, or eventual, success. On paper, these new additions read as slam-dunk hires.
We won’t know until the season kicks off on Sept. 3 when Ohio State takes the field against Notre Dame.
What we can conclude, though, is Day’s willingness to fix the problem. He didn’t make a change to simply make a change, either. After a disastrous year defensively in 2021, Day wanted to assemble the best staff possible heading into 2022.
It shows how serious he is about bringing another national championship back to Ohio State.