Kerry Coombs has always stuck out. He sprints down the sideline as his team races down the field to cover kickoffs. He joins his team in practice drills, running around the field and throwing passes to players. In nearly every picture, his mouth is agape as he screams at his team.
Now, Ohio State must attempt to replace Coombs’ ferocious excitement.
Coombs, the cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator, will leave Columbus to take a position on Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel’s staff, according to a report by Yahoo’s Pete Thamel. He coached with Vrabel in 2012 and 2013 when Vrabel worked as Ohio State’s defensive line coach on head coach Urban Meyer’s inaugural staff.
Coombs’ intense coaching style has earned results during his six seasons as one of head coach Urban Meyer’s assistants. One of the program’s most irreplaceable assistants, Coombs oversaw the improvement of Ohio State’s cornerbacks as they grew into one of the nation’s top position groups.
The Buckeyes ranked 26th and 67th in passing yards allowed per attempt in 2012 and 2013, respectively. Since then, Ohio State ranked eighth in 2014 and 2015, first in 2016 and 12th in 2017. The team ranked top-five in interceptions for two seasons under Coombs. Prior to last season, he was promoted to assistant defensive coordinator and earned a $70,500 raise, which increased his base salary to $500,000 per year.
The on-field success of the defensive backs translated into interest from some of the nation’s top prospects.
The Buckeyes received commitments from five-star cornerback prospects Shaun Wade and Jeffrey Okudah, as well as Kendall Sheffield, a former five-star recruit, before playing a year of football at the junior college level. The trio is expected to join redshirt sophomore Damon Arnette as the top options to start at cornerback next season.
That recruiting success has followed the ascendancy of top recruits to the NFL. Since Ohio State hired Coombs as cornerbacks coach in 2012, every starting cornerback has made the NFL.
The Buckeyes have had 10 players selected by NFL teams in the first round of the draft since 2012. Four of those players — Eli Apple, Bradley Roby, Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley — were cornerbacks under Coombs. With Denzel Ward projected as a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Coombs will have molded five cornerbacks into first-round picks in the past five years.
The Buckeyes also will lose their top recruiter of the Cincinnati area. Prior to Ohio State hiring him in 2012, Coombs spent five seasons coaching the Bearcats. Before then, he was the head coach of a local powerhouse, Colerain High School.
That translated into Ohio State reeling in commitments from some of the top prospects in Cincinnati, a historically difficult area for the program to recruit. The Buckeyes landed several four-star prospects from the city — cornerback Amir Riep, defensive tackle Jerron Cage, tight end Jake Hausmann, athlete Sam Hubbard— since Coombs arrived, as well as five-star linebacker Justin Hilliard and wideout Jalin Marshall.
Without Coombs, Ohio State lacks an assistant coach with extensive ties to Cincinnati. The team also will lose its most consistently upbeat, fiery assistant who, despite being one of the older coaches on the staff, brought energy to the program.
Ohio State cannot afford to make a questionable hire when replacing Coombs.
Last offseason, Meyer upgraded from offensive coordinators Tim Beck and Ed Warinner to Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day, but downgraded from co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell to Bill Davis. Meyer added former Washington State defensive coordinator Alex Grinch to the staff in an undisclosed role. Grinch might end up in Coombs role, but his main experience comes as a safeties coach, which is defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s responsibility.
Coombs’ replacement will probably not have his Cincinnati ties or relentless enthusiasm, but will be expected to replicate his success against premier quarterbacks and continue his pipeline of cornerbacks into the NFL. Needless to say, that won’t come easy.