COLUMBUS — Al Washington inherited plenty of talent at Ohio State.
He also took over a mess two years ago when he was hired to coach the linebackers for the Buckeyes.
That unit wasn’t even remotely short on athleticism, versatility and depth when Washington officially took the reins. But Ohio State rarely looked like it knew what do with it all during one of the worst defensive seasons in school history in the season prior to his arrival, immediately thrusting him into one of the most important roles on the coaching staff.
The linebackers were unquestionably not living up to their potential back then. Just two years later, the Silver Bullets were flying again for one of the stoutest front-seven groups in the country, bottling up opposing rushing attacks, piling up tackles in the backfield and helping the program win two more Big Ten titles.
Washington doesn’t get all the credit for that since he’s not the one on the field. But his impact was undeniable, which is exactly why programs like Tennessee were trying to hire him away this week.
“Coach Washington has been amazing,” three-time Ohio State captain Tuf Borland said. “He deserves a lot of credit in what we’ve done. Day in, day out he’s always there for us. Just the way he approaches his business every day, with the energy, the passion — it’s truly contagious.
“I think it just shows in how we’ve kind of taken off in this last season. I give him a lot of credit.”
An experienced group of linebackers who can play multiple positions and have spent years developing in Ohio State’s world-class training program certainly helps, too. And with four seniors heading to the NFL this offseason, that might even make Year Three the most challenging yet for Washington with the Buckeyes.
But the rising star in the profession is committed to seeing that job through at Ohio State, confirming on Thursday that he was sticking around instead of taking the lucrative offer from Tennessee. What does that mean for the Buckeyes? Lettermen Row is breaking it down.
Buckeyes keep continuity, strengthen brand with Al Washington
Ryan Day has made it no secret how he wants to build his coaching staff. Establishing consistency, chemistry and continuity are critical to him as he leads the program, which is why he prefers to promote from within whenever possible and why he’ll do whatever is reasonably possible to keep full-time assistants from leaving.
It’s inevitable that quality assistants will eventually move on from Ohio State. If his coaches aren’t getting pursued, then clearly something is wrong and the program probably isn’t reaching its sky-high potential anyway. But it should resonate when guys like Al Washington or Kevin Wilson or Brian Hartline decide to stick around when there’s interest elsewhere — particularly when there might be more money dangled to lure them away from the Buckeyes. Even quality control coaches like Keenan Bailey have received multiple job offers over the last few years, and that loyalty to the program is a huge part of the success for the four-time defending Big Ten champions. Ohio State doesn’t expect the entire staff to stay together indefinitely, and there’s a limit on what all it can do to retain those guys since it doesn’t get into bidding wars. But internal promotions for some staffers or perhaps a new run-game coordinator title along with a bit of a raise are certain incentives to stay in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and keep winning titles.
Ohio State reload at linebacker isn’t interrupted
Losing four seniors from the top of the depth chart is enough of a challenge all on its own. Bringing in a new linebackers coach to oversee that reload definitely wouldn’t have been ideal, especially since Ohio State already lost veteran co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to retirement this offseason. Al Washington has been coaching, developing and recruiting the next wave of Silver Bullets, so he clearly has a jumpstart on where that unit needs to go heading into next year.
There’s no question that Ohio State could have landed another elite position coach if it needed to, and there would have been a long line of guys around the country angling to replace Washington if he left for Tennessee — including a handful with direct ties to Day or the program. The clear preference, though, was to keep Washington around to continue leading the way with guys who have bought into his approach. And the factors that made the job so appealing for outsiders are the same ones that kept Washington from leaving.
Al Washington better positioned for next step
The significant raise that Tennessee was offering was obviously tempting, and Washington was understandably humbled by both the salary and the opportunity to help rebuild a storied program that has completely fallen off a competitive cliff nationally. But the Vols aren’t likely to regain their glory any time soon thanks to the pending NCAA sanctions from their investigation into the last staff, the roster is wildly depleted and the offensive system Josh Heupel will be running won’t do any favors to his next defensive coordinator.
That’s just a sample of the reasons why it would have been a risky career choice for Al Washington in the long run, and he’s almost certainly positioned for a much better job in the next year or two — whether that’s as a coordinator or potentially even as a head coach. The level at which the program wins and the development the coaches get with the Buckeyes will always keep the demand high. Guys like Washington can afford to be patient while still making more money than the vast majority of position coaches in the country.