Three Storylines: The Coaching Staff

Surprisingly, after 24 wins in two years, Urban Meyer’s coaching staff remains largely the same. Tom Herman, Kerry Coombs and Luke Fickell–all three heavily rumored to be entertaining head coaching offers–return to the sidelines under Meyer, looking to snag the first College Football Playoff Championship. To fill the holes left by Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans – LB coach) and Everett Withers (James Madison University – head coach,) Meyer brought in a heavy hitter and an up-and-comer. What their impact will be remains to be seen, but we’re feeling optimistic.

Can Chris Ash become the defensive Tom Herman?

When Urban Meyer and Tom Herman showed in 2012, they took a team that had averaged 24.5 points and 318 yards per game the year before and turned it into an offensive machine, churning out an average of 37.2 points and 424 yards. Last year they kicked it up a notch, finishing with 45.5 points and 512 yards per game.

The sacrifice for all that output seems to have been on the other side of the ball, particularly in the passing game. The traditionally stout Silver Bullet defense turned into a predictably exploitable sieve, culminating in 268 passing yards given up per game in 2013. You remember.

Enter Chris Ash, managing to escape the hot-sauce-soaked clutches of Bret Bielema the way no chicken wing or Busch Light ever could. Ash had some success as DB coach and defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, but is still largely unproven.

Not unproven however is Urban Meyer’s eye for coaching talent, so if he thinks Ash can help right this ship, I believe him. Critics may point to last year’s dismal showing at Arkansas, when Ash and the Hogs turned in the #73 pass defense. I’m not going to make excuses for that; I’ll just point out that it’s still 39 spots higher than Ohio State finished. Yeah.

What does Larry Johnson Sr. bring to the table?

Johnson was a mind-blowing hire, and to this day I’m not sure how Meyer convinced him to leave Penn State–literally the only other college he has ever worked for, and where his two sons played football. As well as taking over the D-Line from Vrabel, he also snagged Withers’ Assistant Head Coach title.

I’ll admit that I initially thought this was a primarily recruiting-oriented hire, but after taking a look at Johnson’s accomplishments, that may have been naive of me. His D-Lines at Penn State were top-notch and he produced more conference defensive Players of the Year (5) than any other position coach since 1996.

He seems to be in sync with Meyer when it comes to overall philosophy, focusing on personal relationships with players and placing a high value on fast, relentless play. I have no doubt he’ll be able to pick up where Vrabel left off and then some.

Can Urban Meyer bounce back from the disappointing end of last season?

Meyer hasn’t had many disappointments in his coaching career, from his successful spread experiments at Bowling Green to his world-shocking run at Utah to those jaw-dropping Florida teams. His worst season ever was the 8-5 stumble in his last year with the Gators–a year he was begged to coach by Florida’s AD. That season still ended with a bowl win over… somebody… who can remember these things?

And to call 12-2 a disappointment is kind of absurd, but the back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson in the biggest games of the year were, frankly, disappointing. So, how does Meyer respond?

If history is any indication, pretty well. Meyer’s teams have never trended downward two consecutive seasons. Of course, Ohio State is only the second team he’s gone to Year Three with, but still, BGSU and Utah both improved greatly while he was there.

At Florida he went from 9 wins in 2005 to 13 and a national title in 2006. After another 9-win campaign in 2007, he tore off two consecutive 13-win years and won another championship, before finishing with that 8-win snoozer.

Meyer is a master motivator, and I have no doubt that he is using those two final games as fodder for Buckeye fire this season. Armed with that, a sideline full of play-makers, and one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled, watch out for the Urban Meyer Redemption Tour in 2014.


  1. To me Chris Ash could be the best hire of Urban’s career at OSU. I love Coach Coombs dont get me wrong on this I think he is a great recruiter and motivator. I don’t know if he is a good DB coach. Where most people want to blame Fickell for every defensive issue Coombs DBs especially the safties were awful. Let’s hope he is able to fix what I consider Coombs shortcomings and having both of them on staff is the perfect storm.

    • I read somewhere that Coombs and Withers never really clicked, and didn’t even meet together very often off the field. Being out of sync that badly could explain some things.

      But like you said, Coombs seems to be in over his head at times, but he makes up for that in enthusiasm and excitement. But I think he’s somewhat “on the hot seat” this season, for whatever that means.

      • I agree he can’t be reassigned again and needs to show improvement. I also think Withers was a detriment to the team with his schemes. Really hoping for vast improvements.

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