COLUMBUS — Mention the name Kerry Coombs and the reaction is invariably the same.
The new Ohio State defensive coordinator can’t be brought up without someone in the conversation shining a light on his unbridled enthusiasm.
It happened on Wednesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
“He was there first thing in the morning, 5:30,” longtime Ohio State strength coach Mickey Marotti said. “It’s awesome. We love him. He brings an energy level like, just, he’s in there at 5:30 a.m., lifting weights, drinking his coffee, you know being around the boys talking to everybody.
“Just an energizer bunny, you guys know what he is.”
What Coombs is has been well-documented over the years because of his success as a recruiter and developer of NFL talent. But the truth is that for any coach wanting to develop NFL talent, the best way to do that is to recruit the best players because they’re the ones most likely to become professionals.
Urban Meyer hired Coombs because of his reputation as a teacher and coach in Southwest Ohio. For almost 30 years, Coombs worked in Cincinnati as a high school coach, engaging players from all parts of the Queen City as a coach from Loveland to Lakota, from Greenhills to Colerain and then finally to the University of Cincinnati.
Coombs hasn’t changed through any of those stops, either. What has changed is the reception he’s receiving from high school coaches now that he’s not forced to coach against them.
“It’s funny, because his passion and demeanor actually rubbed a lot of people the wrong way [as a high school coach],” Craig James, a long-time assistant at Cincinnati Elder High School told Lettermen Row. “So when he gets the UC job, everyone joked that he’d now have to come into the schools of all the teams he beat and have to get on terms with them that would be beneficial for UC.
“That was never a problem. I think that guys started to see him as a man that really was that passionate about how he did things. We’ve always had a great relationship with him. He’s a guy that is genuinely a good person that wants nothing but the best for these kids that he recruits. That’s why kids gravitate to him and why he’s had the success he’s had with them.”
As the coaches in Cincinnati got to know Coombs, he went quickly from foe to friend.
“He was this over the top, ‘rah-rah’ guy,” James said. “And they ran through everybody, so it was tough to see past that if you weren’t wearing Colerain red and white. We gave him so much crap for it early on, but he has a great sense of humor too.
“People found out that he didn’t take himself as seriously as they thought he did.”
Familiarity can breed contempt, especially in sports. So Coombs’ style may have taken some time for Cincinnati coaches to warm to, but that was never the case around the country on the recruiting trail. He connected with players and coaches everywhere he went, including the state of Michigan.
That is an area where Coombs has become somewhat of an Urban legend — pardon the pun. His approach helped open doors for the Buckeyes on the recruiting trail in an area that had been otherwise closed to the program across the border in the home of their biggest rival.
“It was not easy at all,” said Curtis Blackwell, who founded the Sound Mind/Sound Body Sports Academy in Michigan prior to a stint as Michigan State’s football recruiting director under Mark Dantonio. “But Kerry overcame it and built a bond with the coaches in Michigan first.
“When Ohio State began recruiting the state of Michigan, Kerry Coombs made a huge splash here in the Metro Detroit area. [Coombs] was great at building relationships with all the top high school coaches in the community. He never left any stones unturned. Secondly and most importantly, the kids he recruited always knew they were a top priority.”
The legend of Kerry Coombs really took off in the winter of 2013. Damon Webb was the second-ranked prospect in Michigan’s 2014 recruiting class and a player who had offers from all over the country. He committed to the Buckeyes during a junior-day visit to Ohio State more than a year before he could sign a Letter of Intent, never wavering or changing his mind. A standout at Cass Tech, then Michigan’s premier high school football program, Webb picked the Buckeyes because of Coombs — despite the fact that his head coach, Thomas Wilcher, played for Michigan.
“Me and Coach Coombs just had a natural connection when he was recruiting me,” Webb, who also played for Coombs with the Tennessee Titans, told Lettermen Row this week. “He was literally up at Cass Tech every other week, and he built a great relationship with me and my parents. So just over time I began to trust him. The way he coached me at the Ohio State summer camp and Friday Night Lights really separated him from other schools.”
Coombs didn’t only recruit Michigan for Ohio State. He also made hay in the Southeast, including the Atlanta area where Kenyatta Watson was the recruiting coordinator at Georgia powerhouse Grayson High School. Watson, now at the USA Academy in Alabama with a son who plays at Texas, believes the Buckeyes have made the right decision in hiring Coombs again.
“He is a great coach and a developer of talent,” Watson told Lettermen Row. “His track record speaks for itself. He’s extremely detailed and super high energy. The biggest thing I love about him is that he genuinely cares. It’s a home-run hire for Ohio State. It’s his attention to detail. He would know everything about your kids and not forget anything. That’s so important in the recruiting process, plus, his energy makes guys really want to play hard for him.”
One player who has played for Coombs, and will play for him again, is Shaun Wade. The soon-to-be Buckeyes senior decided to return to Ohio State for a final season of football and the chance to once again suit up for Coombs was a major reason for that. His father, Randy, recalled the way Coombs worked as a recruiter.
“What made him special was that he broke down Shaun’s Hudl film and he showed us past defensive backs that that went to NFL,” Wade told Lettermen Row. “He’d show how they were as a freshman, body type and skillset and how they developed to a first-round draft pick with slides and videos. He is a ball of fire and a very good recruiter.
“Plus, he and his wife [Holly] are really caring people.”
There is so much talk on the recruiting front about who is real, who is true to themself and how being those things will lead to success. It’s not just lip service to say that’s Coombs’ way. It’s obvious from anyone who speaks about him.
“Coach Coombs always returned calls and texts to the area coaches — he was always available,” Blackwell said. “He was here in the city every chance he got. He spent more time in Detroit than the in-state schools did. He was at camps, coaching clinics and every permissible recruiting window. Plus he made himself and the staff available to us when we would travel to Columbus.
“You could always get tickets to the games no matter who they were playing. Coach Coombs crossed the T’s and dotted the I’s when it came to everything within reach to accommodate the Detroit coaches. If you do that over time, people begin to feel comfortable and that’s how trust was built.”
Ryan Day told his defensive backs, both those on the current Buckeyes roster and those he has been recruiting, that he’d make sure to find the best coach he could to replace Jeff Hafley. In Kerry Coombs, he has found a replacement that should continue the work Hafley did on and off the field.
“No coach ever outworked Kerry for a recruit,” Blackwell said. “When we [Detroit area high school coaches] heard he was coming back, everyone said: ‘Uh oh … he’s back!'”
Reliable. Dependable. Caring. Energetic. That is who Kerry Coombs is. That’s why he’s so revered not just in Ohio but by every coach and player he’s had a chance to work alongside.
And that’s a very good thing for Ohio State. But it could be very bad for the rest of the Big Ten.