Al Washington has always known about Ohio State football. He is from Columbus and attended Bishop Watterson High School. And even though his coaching career had never brought him home, with past stints as the running backs coach at Boston College and the linebackers coach at Michigan, he always viewed Ohio State as the standard.
But it was standard he felt he would never have been apart of.
“It’s always it would be a nice deal, but a lot of things have to work out for that to happen,” Washington said. “To say it was a lifelong dream, I wouldn’t say it was, but it definitely, when it came up, I was like, wow, maybe it should have been a dream.”
Washington, the Buckeyes’ newest linebackers coach, is one of five new assistant coaches to join Ryan Day’s first staff as the head coach at Ohio State, joining co-defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley, passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich and special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach Matt Barnes.
For the defensive staff, Day knew what he wanted. He first wanted a veteran coach; one who knew the Big Ten. Day thought Mattison fit that mold very well.
They worked on the same staff, with Mattison serving as the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Florida from 2005-07 when Day was with the Gators as a graduate assistant in 2005.
Even without much time together in the same program, Day said he has kept in touch with his new co-defensive coordinator for a possible role in the future, something Mattison said he was excited to take.
“He’s a guy that right away you knew,” Mattison said. “You said, ‘This guy is good, now.’ And then you watched where he’s gone and what he’s done, and then from afar, you see what he did at the start of the season last year and where he’s gone with that. I just am excited.”
Mattison and Hafley will team up to coach a defense that finished with the seventh-best scoring defense in the Big Ten last season, allowing an average of 25.5 points per game.
To Day, Hafley was a no-brainer, pointing to his experience in the NFL, serving as a defensive backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers, the Cleveland Browns and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
With Mattison’s experience as a 69-year-old who has coached since 1971 — he self-proclaimed himself to be the “greatest young assistant coach you’ve ever seen” — and his rise in the ranks as a young up-and-coming assistant, Hafley said their combination is going to be something special.
“I think it’ll be a really good mesh of his knowledge, my knowledge, but he knows stuff about the back end, too, and I know stuff about the front end, too,” Hafley said. “So I think we’ll just continue to work it together.”
For Day, he had a harder task for the offense: finding his own replacement. Mike Yurcich, the former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator, proved to be his guy.
A Euclid, Ohio native, Yurcich said he and his family is humbled by the opportunity to coach for the Buckeyes. However, he, alongside freshman quarterback Justin Fields, are having to learn the Ohio State offense.
But this offense is not something he is scared to overcome.
“You can’t pretend. You can’t walk into a room and think you know everything,” Yurcich said. “’I’ll ask the uncomfortable stupid questions because I don’t care. I want the information to be processed, and I want us to have good football conversations, and I want us to develop the best we can in that room.”
Barnes has a seemingly taller task: take over the special teams room, which used to be the center of attention for former Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer.
But when Ohio State played Maryland last season, Day saw what his future assistant coach could do and the load that he carried with the Terrapins.
“He was in a tough spot there,” Day said. “He was doing special teams and the defense. I’ve never heard of that before for somebody at his age. I think he’s really knowledgeable, a good, young coach.
WIthout much time with the players on the roster, focusing the majority of its time on recruiting for the past two weeks, Day and his coaching staff now are forming what is the head coach’s first season at Ohio State.
Washington, who Day described as an energetic recruiter, said he will have to evaluate the body of work for the players in the linebackers room, giving them a chance to show what they can do on the field during spring practice.
“I wouldn’t say jobs are open, and I wouldn’t say jobs are — I wouldn’t say anything like that,” Washington said. “Just right now I’m just getting to know them.”
Day knew what he wanted in his first staff. He has already assembled a team he thinks will make an impact in his first season as head coach.
But, like Meyer before him, the reason why these assistant coaches have accepted roles with this program is not only for the talent, it’s the culture.
“I didn’t want to go to a place where the culture wasn’t right, where you weren’t around good people, and that’s what I talked to Ryan about, and I know Coach Meyer has done that, and I know Ryan will continue to do that,” Hafley said. “It’s the right type of player here. It’s the right type of head coach here, and it’s the right staff here.”