Meet The Coaches: Defensive Edition

This is another Guest Post from MotSaG reader and blogger hopeful Matthew “Porter” Coffman. We are allowing all those interested in blogging with us to submit an “audition” article or two to get used to the format and as a way for the rest of you MotSaG’ers to get to know them. This is Matt’s first submission.

Good day, BuckeyeNation! As the 2012 college football campaign draws closer with fall camp in progress, I know you are all chomping at the bit like I am, ready for Urban Meyer to lead the Buckeyes out of the tunnel for the noon kickoff on September 1, 2012 when the Buckeyes take on the Miami Redhawks. If nothing more, the opener should provide the opportunity of plenty of youth to see action.
Before the Buckeyes make their first stamp on the 2012 season, let’s take a closer look at the men who will be leading our beloved Buckeyes on and off the field.

Urban Meyer
His name is synonymous with winning. With two BCS championships, a career .814 winning percentage, three National Coach of the Year honors, and being named the Coach of the Decade in 2009 by both Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, I think Buckeye fans can all agree that Gene Smith finally got something right.

When asked to describe his type of football team at the Introduction press conference, Urban Meyer answered “I think go hard. I mean, like relentless. I want a bunch of coaches that coach like their hair’s on fire, and I want a football team that goes four to six seconds of relentless effort. You do that, you have a chance to win in every game you play.” I have a feeling we might hear this over the brand new speaker system in the Shoe. If hearing Meyer doesn’t raise your pulse, I don’t know what will – check out the circle drill before the spring game.

As every Buckeye fan is familiar with the man leading the Urban Assault and he will undoubtedly dominate the headlines for as long as we have him, onto the other members of the staff, beginning with the defensive side of the ball.

Everett Withers
The lone outsider without Ohio connections on the staff is Everett Withers. Together with his duties as Assistant Head Coach and Co-Defensive Coordinator, Withers will use his 24 years of combined coaching experience between the college and professional ranks to focus on improving the play of the Buckeye safeties.

In meshing his defensive philosophies with Coach Luke Fickell, Withers stated that their philosophies “are very similar. He’s [Luke’s] done a lot of things out of the 4-3, but with the ability to get to the 3-4. Those are a lot of the things I like to do.”

He continued

It’s important when you’re playing in the secondary, when that ball’s in the air, boy, you get opportunities to make interceptions and you change the game. I think you have to emphasize it in practice, you have to emphasize route concepts and splits and receivers. Once you get to that point, then a secondary can be aggressive and go play the ball. Again, if you stop the run and you make people one dimensional, you’ll get more opportunities to go attack the ball in the air. That’s always been my philosophy.
The philosophy is in place here, as far as being good on defense and stopping the run and creating turnovers, and being good in the red [zone] and on third down. But my approach is I want our kids to be knowledgeable about what we’re doing with the defensive scheme. I want them to be able to communicate well. My philosophy with the secondary is, “Try to be the best in the country.” It’s always been my approach going into every season with every group, to try to be the best. How can we get there? How can we take that journey to get there? A lot of the good secondary play is about communication and putting yourself in position before the ball is snapped. That’s going to be an emphasis of mine.

Though the Buckeyes had the same number of interceptions over the last four years as Withers’ squads at UNC, Withers also brings with him deep-seated relationships in recruiting the Carolinas and East Coast (See Jamal Marcus, true freshman, who Meyer has praised both at the time of his commitment and most recently in camp). Withers’ will almost certainly see a bump in productivity from the secondary in interceptions and other game-changing plays in the coming years from the Silver Bullets, especially with UFM bringing SEC type talent in droves on the defensive front.

Luke Fickell
Heading the defensive coaching staff with Coach Withers and calling the defense is fan favorite Luke Fickell. Through the uncertainty caused by the unexpected departure of Coach Tress and Pryor, Fickell took the thankless job of leading the Buckeyes through the tumultuous 2011 football season.

Regardless of the differing levels of disappointment Buckeye fans experienced last season, we are all happy that Fickell was retained on the coaching staff as he showed courage and grit when he took over the Buckeyes last season. Over his years on Tressel’s staff, Fickell’s role increased and the Silver Bullets consistently fielded one of the top defenses in the country.

In addition to his duties calling the defense, Fickell will be coaching a relatively raw group of linebackers, including Ryan Shazier who plays like his hair on fire in the second level and on special teams. Shazier has added some bulk in the offseason and is poised for a breakout year if he can stay healthy, as are fifth year senior Etienne Sabino and Curtis Grant. While Shazier and Sabino provide the speed to provide flexibility on the outside, the unit as a whole suffers from relative inexperience, providing the opportunity for true freshman to gain invaluable experience and immediate playing time.

Kerry Coombs
Joining Withers in the secondary will be a new fan favorite for years to come, Kerry Coombs. Although Coombs is relatively new to the college game with five years of experience at Cincinnati, he has deep roots and much success coaching high school football in Southwestern Ohio, amassing a head coaching record of 167-48. Despite Coombs’ tenure with UC being short, Cincy led the NCAA in INTs his very first year.

While Coombs’s effect on the team is still unwritten, Urban opined “I have watched (Coombs) coach in high school and at the University of Cincinnati and I have great respect for the way he works. He is a strong recruiter. He knows defense and special teams. And he is an excellent teacher.”

Coombs will be leading a talented, but thin group (notice a theme?). The unit is top heavy in talent with Bradley Roby securing the top spot as a shutdown corner and Senior Travis Howard trying to hold onto his starting spot over Sophomore Doran Grant. After the top three, things get murky with many thinking Armani Reeves may be able to contribute immediately, but if the three studs stay healthy, this unit should be a strength for the silver bullets this fall.

And, if you haven’t witnessed Coombs’ infectious energy, take a look as he coaches up Doran Grant at the open practice this past spring. He’s going to be a lot of fun to watch on the sidelines and I’m hoping for a Coombs/Meyer chest bump at some point this year.

Mike Vrabel
Returning for his second year on the staff is former All-American, All Pro, Super Bowl Champion, Fickell Bro — Mike Vrabel. After coaching the linebackers last year since Fickell assumed head coaching responsibilities, Vrabel will move down to coaching the defensive lineman, the position from which he wreaked havoc when he donned the scarlet and gray. Vrabel is the current record holder for career sacks and single season and career TFLs. He may, however, be coaching the successor to his previous marks as he will be coaching an already stacked group of defensive linemen with one of the most loaded DL classes in recent memory.

Vrabel’s holdover as a member of the 2012 coaching staff was not a foregone conclusion as Meyer tested his ability to recruit as Meyer sent him on a two week mission to prove his abilities on the recruiting front. In stating the importance of recruiting Meyer said, “we are, at the end of the day, going to be judged by the talent level and how good you are at bringing quality student-athletes to Ohio State.” Meyer has said that if “he’s [Vrabel’s] not the best, he’s one of the best recruiters I have on staff.” In his short time with the Scarlet and Gray, Vrabel played a major role in landing the early prize of the 2012 recruiting class, Noah Spence, along with high school teammates Camren Williams and Armani Reeves, and 2013 commit Michael Hill.

Combined with his outstanding ability to recruit, Vrabel has been lauded for his ability to teach the game. Vrabel’s recruiting savvy and teaching ability will undoubtedly be crucial to keeping the defensive line of the Silver Bullets at the top of the Big Ten for years to come. It should be fun to watch the development of the next Fickell/Vrabel and Simon/Hankins brotherhood.

Check back for our blog later this week about the offensive side of the ball and the replacement of Walrusball.


  1. Great post! Can’t wait to hear more from this blogger.

  2. @Monika – totally agree, this is a great post. We should be seeing his follow up with the offensive coaches soon.

    Matt – great post!

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