Alex Grinch was asked the same question that every other member of the Ohio State coaching staff, except wide receivers coach Brian Hartline, was asked heading into the Rose Bowl:
What does the future look like for you at Ohio State?
Instead of answering in a way similar to that of offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, who expressed a desire to stay, the Ohio State safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator was firmly planted in the present.
“When you have such a high-profile game to prepare for against such a talented team, that kind of zooms your focus right back into what matters,” Grinch said. “There’s not a whole lot of looking forward on anybody’s part.”
It did not take long for Grinch to secure his future after the Rose Bowl, announcing he had been named as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma on Jan. 4, three days after the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl win against Washington.
The change continued for Ohio State on Monday.
Head coach Ryan Day named former Michigan defensive line coach Greg Mattison and former San Francisco 49ers defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley to the coaching staff as co-defensive coordinators.
Day also announced defensive coordinator Greg Schiano would not return to Ohio State in 2019, tweeting he would pursue options in the NFL.
When announcing the hiring of the two co-coordinators, Ohio State failed to mention the status of linebackers coach Bill Davis, stating Hafley, Mattison and newly appointed associate head coach and defensive line coach Larry Johnson are the only members of the defensive coaching staff. The hiring of Hafley implies cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson will not return to his previous role.
With the amount of change to the defensive coaching staff, there remains a quiet confidence for the Ohio State defense heading into preparation for the 2019 season. There is a unit-wide agreement that the expectation of the defense was not met during the 2018 season.
In 2018, the weak spot of the Ohio State defense was defending the run at the second level, with defenders not bringing runners down beyond the first 8-to-10 yards rushed.
But heading into the 2019 season, Ohio State will have that experience and what could turn into a strength. Junior captain Jordan Fuller announced Jan. 3 that he would return to the Buckeyes for his senior season.
Described by his former position coach as a calming individual on the back end of the defense that owns the complete confidence of the coaching staff, Fuller and sophomore safety Brendon White, likely a starter, will provide stability at the safety position the Buckeyes did not have heading into spring in 2018.
Even with stability at some positions, Ohio State remains confident that new players coming in will meet and exceed the expectation the players set before.
Sophomore cornerback Jeffrey Okudah described his position group as one that has “kind of grown up” and that should not be considered young anymore, even though he doesn’t know Kendall Sheffield’s and Damon Arnette’s plans for 2019.
During Rose Bowl practices, members of the coaching staff pointed to freshman cornerback Sevyn Banks as the future of the Ohio State secondary, referring to him as the next “big-time corner” if he continues to develop like he has been.
Defensive end Chase Young spoke highly of freshmen Tyreke Smith and Javontae Jean-Baptiste; he said assistant athletic director for football sports performance Mickey Marotti described the latter as similar to Justin Tuck in the pass rush, with the sophomore anticipating the coming of former five-star defensive end Zach Harrison.
“Next year, we are going to have a lot of young, hungry guys that’s waiting to play, that’s ready for their time and they going to have their time,” Young said. “I’m going to lead them and we [are] going to get it rockin’ next year.”
The coaching staff also brought up the progress of freshmen linebackers Dallas Gant and Teradja Mitchell, with redshirt sophomore linebacker Tuf Borland saying there are talented players in the middle who are green and do not have much game experience.
“The more we play together, the better we’ll be,” Borland said.
This could be the main idea for the rest of the defense, finding its new identity with a new defensive coaching staff.
But one thing will remain on the minds of the players returning, what cost Ohio State a chance at the College Football Playoff: the Iowa game in 2017 and the Purdue game in 2018, which Young could not get out of his mind.
The talent and performance expectation remain the same, planning to bring the defense back to where it felt it belonged in 2018 — the playoff.
“We can compete with the best of them,” Young said.