COLUMBUS — In mid-January, just days after Kerry Coombs returned to Ohio State as its new defensive coordinator, the program sent two assistant coaches to St. Louis for an important face-to-face meeting with 4-star cornerback Jakailin Johnson.
The coaches were Brian Hartline and Matt Barnes.
Hartline was the national recruiter of the year according to 247Sports.com in 2020 and is currently the second-ranked recruiting assistant in the Class of 2021. In fact, he’s one of five Buckeyes assistants who are ranked inside of the top 10 on that list right now. Coombs is fourth now, shooting quickly up the rankings in the two months he’s been back on a college campus.
Matt Barnes isn’t on that list. The special teams coordinator and assistant secondary coach is credited with just commitment in the last two cycles, and that was 2020 kicker Jake Seibert. But it’s likely that Coombs wouldn’t be on the 2021 list yet if Barnes hadn’t kept key relationships alive during an important transitional period from the departure of Jeff Hafley to the return of Coombs.
Coombs didn’t land the commitment of Jakailin Johnson and Andre Turrentine alone, even if he was the defensive coordinator who accepted them. That’s not a knock on the energetic coordinator, whose reputation is well-earned and well-known. It’s just a reminder that in recruiting there are things happening the public doesn’t get to see. One of those things was the way the 33-year-old Barnes bridged an important gap for Ohio State at a time when kids and their families had a lot of big questions that needed answering.
“Barnes was very important during the transition from Hafley to Coombs. He did an outstanding job of maintaining relationships with our commits during the transition,” Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni told Lettermen Row. “And he has been doing a great job with the 2021 class in his area and assisting Kerry with the defensive back prospects. He works very hard and has great chemistry with the staff.
“Being a younger coach and new father, he does a great job relating and connecting with prospects and their families.”
Barnes has been an integral part in the recruitment of three of the Buckeyes top remaining 2021 targets, too. He’s very involved in the efforts to land Jager Burton, Jantzen Dunn and Derrick Davis. He’s not a subplot in those stories, either. He’s the lead recruiter for Davis and Dunn, but only Dunn’s profile mentions him.
“He was the contact from Day One of Ryan Day’s staff,” Derrick Davis Sr. told Lettermen Row. “Even before Kerry Coombs, hell, he was the one who introduced us to Kerry, we were in Matt’s office. Everything goes through him.
“We have Kerry’s card, but everything goes through Matt Barnes. We know what Kerry Coombs brings, but Coach Barnes brings that too. People just don’t see it. We’ve been there quite a few times, and it’s always been with him.”
Barnes is unassuming and low-key, but he’s proven himself to Ryan Day regularly since being hired as the final member of Day’s first coaching staff. He works hard. He does what he’s asked to do and he builds relationships that last, all major keys for recruiting success.
“A lot of the model for how we want Jantzen to be recruited is because of how Matt Barnes recruited him,” Mitchell Dunn, the father of 4-star Jantzen Dunn told Lettermen Row. “It’s not about ‘loving him’ or making him think that he’s the only player available. It goes beyond the skills, it’s about appreciating the work ethic and the type of person J is. Coach Barnes looks at those things.
“He just does a great job of really making it clear what he wants out of a player and how hard it’s going to be if you want to be an elite player. He doesn’t hide behind Ohio State, he is transparent. There’s no fluff.”
Walking into a high school with an Ohio State logo on the chest usually perks the ears of recruits. But being just two years removed from coaching at Maryland, Barnes has seen the recruiting world from the top and the bottom of the ladder.
“He understands the way that smaller programs have to recruit,” offensive line target Jager Burton said. “He went through this process and he’s young, so he’s easy to identify with.”
The elder Davis, whose son is a top-100 prospect nationally, believes that’s a big plus.
“He’s been with the small Big Ten school, he’s been with the biggest. He’s got the ability to show you both sides and we like that,” Davis Sr. said. “His ability to communicate with us is rare. Sometimes it’s not like that in recruiting.”
In a building full of nationally known assistant coaches who have been in high-profile positions, Barnes can sometimes be overlooked. If asked about it, he’d probably say it’s not a big deal and at the end of the day, it’s probably not.
But for coaches looking to rise through the ranks, getting the credit that is owed, especially on the recruiting trail, is a big piece of the puzzle. Right now, Matt Barnes is definitely not getting the credit he’s earned.