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Football: Jeff Hafley has chance to become “special coach” for Ryan Day

Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Jeff Hafley speaks to the media for the first time on National Signing Day on Feb. 6. Credit: Colin Gay | Sports Editor

When Jeff Hafley left his first press conference as Ohio State co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach, he left with a bang.

Hafley was asked if he will want his corners to turn around to look for the ball, an issue seen by Buckeyes’ cornerbacks on multiple big plays throughout the past season.

Instead of brushing off the question, Hafley attacked it with an energy unseen in any other coach who spoke on National Signing Day.

“Alright, so here’s the deal on that one, and if I ever see any of you guys tweet — do you think that we as [defensive back] coaches sit there and say, ‘Don’t look back for the ball?’” Hafley said. “My wife used to come up to me after games and be like, ‘Hey, why don’t our guys turn back and look for the ball?’ I’m like, ‘Do you want to see my individual tape?’ All we do is practice turning and looking for the ball.”

He wasn’t finished.

After being an Ohio State coach for less than a month, Hafley promised to “practice to teach,” work on getting players to turn and look in the right situations and have the media members come to practices and see for themselves.

“This is awesome that you asked this because now no one can tweet this out or say this. We are going to work on turning and looking and trying to intercept the football when we’re in man,” Hafley said. “I promise you, come and watch individual. We’ll turn and look for the ball. I don’t know if you’re allowed to or not. Don’t trick me. I don’t know all the rules.”

In 14 minutes, Hafley provided an energy with his answers that could be needed for an Ohio State secondary that allowed the 44th-most passing yards a season ago.

Head coach Ryan Day knows this. For him, Hafley was a hire that needed to be made for his coaching staff consisting of five new faces — Hafley, co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, linebackers coach Al Washington, special teams coordinator Matt Barnes and passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich.

“When I had an opportunity to get Jeff, that was a no-brainer to me,” Day said. “He’s really knowledgeable, understands how everything fits in the back end. I think he’s a special coach.”

Hafley brings NFL experience from the past seven years, including three years with the San Francisco 49ers, when their pass defense finished as high as No. 11 in 2017.

He returns to college from his time at the professional level with the same game plan: play the players that deserve the time.

“The best guys are going to play, and I mean that. I’ve started free agents over first-round draft picks,” Hafley said. “If I see a guy outworking another guy, I mean, the whole room is going to see that. The whole defense is going to see it. So if that guy shows that he’s better, we’re going to get the best guys on the field, and I want guys to feel that way.”

The season remains more than six months away, and time will tell if Hafley’s enthusiasm behind the lectern will translate to players like sophomore cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, redshirt junior cornerback Damon Arnette, junior safety Jordan Fuller and sophomore safety Brendon White.

But for Day and the Ohio State coaching staff, Hafley is already a key acquisition, and one that has a chance to turn around a flawed secondary from a season ago.

“When I worked with Jeff, I saw a coach who was really good at what he did, understanding first off how to connect with the back-end guys,” Day said. “I think you’ll find as things move on, you get a chance to spend time with Jeff, he’s really bright.”

 

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