Kerry Coombs reached somewhat of a rockstar persona at Ohio State before leaving Columbus following the 2017 season to join Mike Vrabel’s staff with the Tennessee Titans in the NFL.
Well known for his endless energy and passion for the game, Coombs was an ace on the recruiting trail, and the secondary units he coached on the field were churning out high draft picks at a rate the Ohio State program had never before seen in that unit.
Following the departure of co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley, Ohio State head coach Ryan Day vowed to hire the best coach in America to replace him, and to do so, he went right back to the well with Coombs.
On Wednesday, Coombs met with the media for the first time since his hiring as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator was announced, that trademark passion and energy as vibrant as the day he left.
Given the success of the Titans last season, Coombs was asked about the timing of his decision to leave and come back to Ohio State. His response was matter-of-fact and painted the picture of just how much his time at Ohio State meant to him.
“I love Ohio State,” Coombs said. “I can’t understate that. And I missed it. I missed the development of the player … I love recruiting, I love going into high schools and talking with high school coaches, meeting players when they’re 16, 17, and 18 years old and seeing that transition from a boy to a man.”
Upon his return to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for the first time, Coombs said, “It felt like home. I’m back in the same office. It’s home and I’m really, really excited to be back here.”
Coombs will carry the title of defensive coordinator and will make the final decisions on defense, although Greg Mattison will still serve as co-defensive coordinator. In his previous tenure in Columbus, Coombs preferred his corners to play predominantly press-man coverage. Under co-defensive coordinators Hafley and Mattison last season, Ohio State played mostly with just a single high safety on the field.
Coombs said the single high safety will continue to be the base look for the defense, although fans can expect to see a wide variety of coverages, as was the case at Tennessee where he said they were the only team in the NFL that truly played every coverage possible. He said there isn’t a need for any changes, as evidenced by the product Ohio State put on the field last season, and won’t make changes just for the sake of making them.
“There’s no reason for us to make massive changes to what they’re doing defensively,” Coombs said. “What they’re doing here — what we’re doing here now — is great.
“I will tell you that I am … infinitely better than I was two years ago,” Coombs said, adding he was surprised by how much better of a coach he became by going to the NFL. Coombs listed several reasons why he was able to grow so much as a coach, beginning with just how deep a defensive playbook exists in the league, particularly under Vrabel and Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
“The volume of defense in the NFL is incredible,” Coombs said, going on to say he now has a “library” of defensive football that is “as big as all outdoors.”
The second thing he learned was a different style of leading players, thanks to Vrabel’s unique approach.
“I have coached for, and with, some great leaders in my career,” Coombs said. “Mike’s style is distinctly different than Urban (Meyer)’s style, it’s distinctly different than Brian Kelly’s style. He has his own way of leading a team, and, man, did I learn some great things from Mike.”
Coomb’s said the third thing he picked up in the NFL was something he wasn’t anticipating, which was the different way of coaching that is required when dealing with professional athletes.
“When I coached high school football, I had a particular style,” Coombs said. “When I came to Ohio State, I had another style not drastically different than the high school style. To be honest, (that style) was pretty much, ‘Hey, go do that.’ And they’d go do that … When you get to the NFL and you say, ‘Hey, go do that,’ the players say, ‘Yeah, coach, that’s great but tell me why?’ When you have to contemplate every drill, every coverage, everything you do and you have to have a ‘why’ behind it, it makes you a much better coach.”
In addition to learning a different way of coaching players, Coombs said his time in the NFL should give him credibility with the ones he’s now coaching, and especially recruits, whose top objective is to make it to the league.
“I can tell a recruit, ‘I know what you look like now, I know what they look like at Ohio State, I know what they look like in the NFL, and I know how to get you in each place,’” he said.
Coombs wasted no time finding success on the recruiting trail, locking down the commitment of Muskegon, Michigan standout Cameron Martinez, whose commitment was wavering following Hafley’s departure.
Now with an advanced approach thanks to his NFL experience, Martinez figures to be the first of many more wins for Coombs, who is back and better than ever.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.