COLUMBUS, Ohio ― Since there evidently was no way to hoard two of the best cornerbacks coaches in the country at the same time, Ohio State will have to settle for letting them take turns.
Before Kerry Coombs was cranking out first-round picks like clockwork for the Buckeyes, it was Taver Johnson who was molding All-Big Ten defensive backs and helping turn them into draft picks. Now with the former off to the NFL himself, the latter has tagged back in to complete the program’s coaching staff with Johnson returning to ensure that the pipeline keeps on flowing in the secondary. Ohio State made his hiring official Tuesday morning.
Coach Urban Meyer obviously can’t complain much about letting Johnson slip away once, since it eventually led him to Coombs. But he wasn’t going to let it happen twice, and even with Coombs now on the staff of the Tennessee Titans, it’s hard to view Ohio State as anything other than a successful survivor of the coaching carousel this offseason.
Johnson is another native of the Buckeye State. He brings previous experience at Ohio State, an entry on his résumé that comes with five NFL draft picks and a pair of All-Americans in Malcolm Jenkins and Chimdi Chekwa. And if Johnson weren’t a respected recruiter, Meyer wouldn’t have wasted any time trying to bring him back to Ohio State.
Nothing ever is guaranteed in college football. But everything points to Johnson’s return being another wildly productive hire for the Buckeyes, certainly one that should help ease any concerns over the loss of Coombs.
“The one thing, Kerry was an expert at corner play,” Meyer said last week. “He had five first-round draft picks, [something] I would imagine never had been done before in the history of football.
“What he has done, those are big shoes to fill. [Alex] Grinch will be very involved in that, as will [Greg] Schiano.”
Now Johnson can be added to the mix, and the real intrigue is figuring out exactly how they all will work together.
Each coach has a background in the secondary, and even with the staff having expanded and Johnson coming in as coach No. 10, there isn’t room for all of them to work with the cornerbacks and safeties. Meyer previously indicated that he wanted to replace Coombs with another cornerbacks coach, and Johnson obviously fits that bill. Grinch has built his career in part by helping mold safeties, and that figures to be his positional responsibility when everything is sorted out.
That leaves Schiano to either slide down and perhaps help Billy Davis with the linebackers, or maybe he’ll take on more of a big-picture role as the “head coach” of the defense now that Ohio State will have five coaches who can work on each side of the ball. That’s probably the only real intrigue at this point with Johnson’s addition, since Ohio State already knows what he can do with the program.
“How we work it out, that’s not really important,” Schiano said. “Wherever I can help players, that’s where I’ll help. That’s coach’s decision, and we’ll talk about the best way to put the puzzle together, but ultimately that’s a head-coaching decision as he looks at his staff.
“We’re going to have great coaches at Ohio State. That’s one of the best things about being here.”
Of course, there also are a bunch of great players on campus, including a heavy concentration of them who happen to play cornerback.
As if returning to a home state or a familiar program weren’t enough of a draw, Johnson also is inheriting a depth chart that features a pair of veterans with starting experience in Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette at the top, along with touted sophomore Jeffrey Okudah and a handful of some of the nation’s most coveted recruits right behind them.
Given how Coombs helped raise the standard of that unit over the last few years and the rich, almost absurd legacy of draft picks he leaves behind, there will be some pressure for Johnson when he steps back into the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
But somebody had to replace him at Ohio State once, too. Now Johnson is just ready to tag back in for another turn.