COLUMBUS — For the first time since his demotion of sorts in week four, Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs met with the media on Tuesday to discuss how he’s handling the changes as the Buckeyes prepare for their bye week this weekend.
The oft-criticized Coombs, who was hired as a first-time coordinator ahead of last season, was relieved of his defensive playcalling duties by head coach Ryan Day after a porous beginning to the season. Secondary coach Matt Barnes has since spearheaded the playcalling efforts on gamedays, and he has replaced Coombs on the sideline with Coombs being moved to the press box at his own request.
While the shakeup in responsibilities has surely been a hit to Coombs, don’t expect to hear him complaining about it. For a man who has been touted at every stop of his coaching career for his genuine quality of character, Coombs has handled the change with as much class and selflessness as has come to be expected of him.
“I would tell you that the handling of it is a work in progress,” Coombs said. “But I would also tell you this … handling it in a different fashion — picking up your ball and going home, kicking the can down the road, quitting, packing your stuff up, being a miserable human being — if I had done those things, that would make me a liar to every one of those young men that I have coached along the way that had tough times, that got replaced on a given Saturday, Friday night, or Sunday afternoon and I had to have a conversation with them and say, ‘Hey, hang in there, it’s going to be ok.’”
Coombs added, “If you want to look them in the eye and tell them, ‘Hey, you need to hang in there,’ if you’re not willing to stand up and do the same thing then you’re a liar to all those people along life’s journey … We talk about the brotherhood an awful lot around here. And if you believe it, and you live it — it’s easy to be a brother when it’s 66-17 on a Saturday afternoon — it’s hard to be a brother when you face adversity. If you’re here for the other men on this team, the other coaches, and the other players on this team, if that’s truly what you believe in, then you’re here with them come heck or high water. You’re hear fighting, struggling, and scrapping.
“I love those kids in that locker room and on this team. I love the men I work with, and I love Ohio State. And I’m going to be here. I’m going to be fighting, battling, and scratching and clawing for the remainder of the season to help us win every freaking Saturday. That’s what I’m going to do. So, whether or not I liked everything or how everything went, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s got to do with having a job to do.”
During Day’s weekly press conference, the head coach said he has “a lot of respect for how the defensive staff has handled the last month,” Coombs in particular.
“Because of that, they’ve all gelled together with one voice. They’ve come together and that defense is coming together,” Day said. “That doesn’t just happen. It takes special people who understand what this place is, what Ohio State means. And you don’t act that selflessly without really loving Ohio State, Buckeye nation, and these kids.”
For his resilience, Coombs was awarded the game ball in the locker room following Ohio State’s 66-17 win over Maryland last Saturday. Day, when asked about awarding him the game ball, alluded to Coombs’ selflessness and said, “When you see something like that, you have to call it out for what it is. And I think it’s a great lesson for all of our players.”
Coombs said he felt “undeserving” and even “embarrassed” to receive the game ball over many players who played well enough in the game to get the honor.
Despite the reshuffling, Coombs made it a point to say he’s never lost any confidence in his ability to lead a defense. Asked how he compartmentalizes his personal feelings with his responsibilities to the team, Coombs said he’s only ever focused on the task at hand each and every day, which makes the situation easier to approach.
“Hopefully, someday down the road, some young man who faces trouble or adversity can remember an example of a man who tried to lead with positive energy in the midst of adversity. If I can do that then I will have accomplished my goal,” Coomb said.
Reach Dillon Davis at 740-413-0904. Follow him on Twitter @DillonDavis56.