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Jeff Hafley leaves Ohio State, Buckeyes face recruiting questions

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Jeff Hafley changed the Ohio State defense quickly, and now Ryan Day is forced to quickly replace him. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

Ohio State Football Recruiting

Jeff Hafley leaves Ohio State, Buckeyes face recruiting questions

COLUMBUS — Jeff Hafley made the most of his one season at Ohio State, and he is now the head coach at Boston College.

That’s great for a 40-year-old coach who has quickly proven that he deserves the chance to run his own program. But it’s certainly not ideal for Ryan Day and the Buckeyes who are left with a lot of questions to try to answer for a handful of recruits less than a week before the December early signing period is set to begin.

There are already some very important names to pay attention to in the pursuit to replace Hafley, and that’s pivotal for Ohio State as it hopes to provide some security to its 2020 defensive back class. It’s a group that has five commitments, including three players who have been planning a January enrollment with the Buckeyes.

What is biggest concern for Ohio State recruits?

This is really quite simple: There are just a few days before the December early signing period begins, and even if Ryan Day was the most proactive coach in America, he isn’t likely to be ready to name a replacement for Jeff Hafley before Wednesday. Even if he did, that guy couldn’t do any actual work for the Buckeyes while Hafley is still on staff coaching through the College Football Playoff.

Lejond Cavazos, Ryan Watts and Clark Phillips have each planned to enroll early at Ohio State. There’s simply no denying that Hafley was a major piece of their Buckeyes interest, especially for Watts, Phillips and Arizona safety Lathan Ransom. For Day and the Buckeyes, the race is now offiically on to quell any doubts about the ultimate destination for those players, because the January arrival is so important in the attempt to refill a secondary that seems likely to lose four starters in 2020 — and already lost Brendon White and Isaiah Pryor to transfers.

Replacing a top-notch assistant coach was old-hat for Urban Meyer, though there were mixed results at the end of his decorated career. It remains to be seen if Day has the type of cachet to quickly put a recruit’s concern to rest when it comes to finding a replacement assistant.

Who are Buckeyes most worried about with Jeff Hafley leaving?

The facts are that every single Ohio State defensive recruit is going to be impacted by the departure of Jeff Hafley. But his career has been built in the secondary, and that’s why the defensive backs committed to the Buckeyes are the biggest worry for Ryan Day and his staff.

All five of them have been expected to sign on Wednesday, and of the five Ohio State verbals in the defensive backfield, only Cameron Martinez, the 4-star athlete from Muskegon (Mich.) High School confirmed to Lettermen Row that he’s remaining locked in with Ohio State no matter what happens from this point on.

“I’ll be good,” Martinez told Lettermen Row late Friday night. “I’m loyal in my commitment. I only worry about what I can control, and I’m a Buckeye.”

That doesn’t mean that Martinez has no concerns — he does. But those worries appear to be less pressing than those of his fellow defensive back commitments. Ryan Watts didn’t wait too long before he made a vague comment on social media, and he told Lettermen Row the decision to leave Columbus didn’t jibe with what Hafley told him during an in-home visit the first-year Buckeyes assistant made just three days earlier.

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Ryan Watts and the rest of the Buckeyes defensive backs commitments will have some tough decisions to make before Wednesday. (Birm/Lettermen Row)

“[Hafley] made it seem like he was going to be there for sure at least another year and that he was going to wait for a bigger job,” Watts said. “It’s business, and I don’t blame him. It’s just bad timing.”

Of that, there’s no debate. Hafley’s departure comes at a terrible time for Ohio State and for the recruits he’s spent the last year getting to know. But it’s better than it happening four weeks from now after the early signing period was over.

There will be some tough decisions for Watts, Phillips, Ransom and even Cavazos. Nothing is guaranteed for the Buckeyes less than a week to go before the December signing period. Watts will no doubt take a second look at Oklahoma. Ransom will continue to listen to Notre Dame, LSU and Texas. And Cavazos will have to deal with another unexpected and difficult coaching change as he did a year ago when Urban Meyer retired.

Ryan Day has been in contact with the families of each of the defensive backs who are committed and will certainly be doing everything he can to calm any potential defections. But it’s impossible to gauge the potential reaction from players who were so excited to work with a coach of Hafley’s skill and style.

With the Buckeyes preparing for a College Football Playoff matchup with Clemson, Ryan Day now has his next major test.

Birm

Birm is Lettermen Row's Director of Recruiting and the site's primary Ohio State sports photographer. A Toledo, Ohio native, Jeremy has been in similar roles for elevenwarriors.com and Landof10.com and has been covering the Buckeyes for seven years.