Buckeyes have built-in flexibility to fill final spot on coaching staff

Austin Ward8 months
Aritcle written by:Austin WardAustin Ward

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Matt Barnes by Birm-Lettermen Row
Ohio State assistant Matt Barnes will continue to be key on the defensive side of the ball. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The speculation, debate and conversations about Ohio State never end, and Lettermen Row is always ready to dive into the discussions. All week long, senior writer Austin Ward will field topics about the Buckeyes submitted by readers and break down anything that’s on the minds of the Best Damn Fans in the Land. Have a question that needs to be tackled, like the one today about Ohio State filling the last spot on its coaching staff? Send it in right here — and check back daily for the answers.

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Ryan Day only has one opening on his coaching staff, but he’s got seemingly limitless options to fill it.

Ohio State could look for another veteran on the defensive side of the ball to take over the same role Greg Mattison handled for the last two years, or it could search for a younger recruiter. The Buckeyes could look for a linebackers coach, or they could move a couple pieces around and put somebody else in the secondary. They could hire just about anybody in the country thanks to the salary room that’s available and the prestige of working for the four-time defending Big Ten champions, or they could again rely on an in-house promotion who has been developed by the program and already understands how it operates.

The only true certainty is that even if Day wasn’t prepared to tip his hand on Friday when he announced Mattison’s retirement, he’s been gearing up for this moment for a while. Don’t expect the process to drag out long — thanks in large part to the pieces that are already on hand.

“I think we have a really good group of guys there right now who are versatile, so we’re going to look at all options,” Day said on Friday. “Is there somebody else out there who can take Greg’s spot in that same exact role that he did? Or are we going to just move some things around and reassign some of the job descriptions? That’s all up on the table.

“We’re working on that now and looking at all different options. I’m not really set on what exactly that role needs to be. Just want to put the best group together and give our guys on defense the best chance to be successful.”

Ohio State-Buckeyes-Ohio State football-Parker Fleming-Ryan Day

Ohio State coach Ryan Day has talent in reserve with guys like Parker Fleming in the program. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

The Buckeyes accomplished plenty last season after again winning the Big Ten and stomping Clemson in the Sugar Bowl. But they clearly didn’t perform up to the program’s enormously high standards with a pass defense that slumped to No. 122 in the nation, a bitter pill that was at least washed down by the stingy dominance against the rush. So, not everything was broken for Ohio State, and there were also valid explanations for those issues that Day will almost certainly be keeping in mind as he weighs his options.

Kerry Coombs never really had the chance to teach and install the kind of versatile scheme he envisioned when he returned to Ohio State thanks to the pandemic cancelling nearly all of spring camp, altering training camp and removing all nonconference opportunities for growth. On top of that, the Buckeyes were shorthanded in the secondary virtually all season, which only made it more complicated to add wrinkles into the system. Whether those are viewed as excuses or not, they’re simply matters of fact — and there have been no signs that Day has lost any confidence in the returning assistants on defense.

That faith coupled with the versatility of a guy like Matt Barnes could wind up being the deciding factor for Day in the days ahead, and it certainly wouldn’t come as a surprise at this point if no outside hire is made at all. Multiple sources have indicated to Lettermen Row that the idea of giving Barnes a more prominent role on defense while promoting up-and-coming quality control coach Parker Fleming into a full-time spot has gained traction as a leading option.

Elevating Fleming would still potentially allow Day to find a veteran who could join the Buckeyes in an analyst role and provide some behind-the-scenes leadership and assistance with the pass defense, plus it would allow them to keep a respected grinder without losing his institutional knowledge. Day faced a similar situation last year when quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich left, and that process also ended with him electing to bump up Corey Dennis from a quality control spot to keep him in the fold.

So far, Ryan Day has proven to have both a keen eye for talent and a track record of making savvy hires for Ohio State — even if they don’t always come with a lot of previous name recognition.

Odds are, he already knows exactly how he’s going to do it again.

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