COLUMBUS — Shaun Wade announced his return to Ohio State in January, three weeks before Kerry Coombs was named the new defensive coordinator.
Wade, who was recruited by Coombs and coached by him for only one year before Taver Johnson and Jeff Hafley stepped in, didn’t make his decision based on the speculation that Coombs was going to be his position coach and defensive backs coach for one final season at Ohio State.
“I want to do it to show I can play outside corner, I want to do it for the team and I want to win a national championship,” Wade told Lettermen Row. “I feel like we’re going to have a great team next year, and I feel like we’re going to be elite. I want to be part of it.
“It was tough, but at the end of the day I feel like I made the right decision for me.”
But Coombs’ return after two seasons with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans certainly didn’t hurt Wade’s prospects of returning to the Buckeyes to be a shutdown, No. 1 cornerback. Wade is happy to have Coombs back in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center after a two-year absence.
He’s not alone.
“Kerry was my number one pick and that worked out,” Ryan Day said. “And a place like Ohio State, you’re going to have great coaches here.”
Everyone in the building who had been around Coombs before his departure for an NFL job under former Ohio State player and coach Mike Vrabel knew what Coombs could bring to the defensive meeting room, the weight room, the coffee consumption and the practice field.
His energetic style, experience and overall enthusiasm every day worked at the high school level in Cincinnati. It worked in recruiting when he hauled in Jeff Okudah and Shaun Wade in the same recruiting class back in 2017. It worked on the field when he sent numerous cornerbacks to the NFL in the first round of drafts. It worked when he got to the NFL and made an AFC Championship game with the Titans, keeping both Tom Brady and Lamar Jackson in check.
It’s likely to work again this time around for the Buckeyes, as Coombs is taking on a larger role. And he’s bringing his NFL experiences to the college style.
“More than anything though, I learned to be a better coach,” Coombs said upon returning. “To relate better in a different way to players who make a lot of money, and how to get those guys to maximize what they do for themselves and for the team. Instead of just saying: ‘Go do this,’ now I gotta say: ‘Here’s why we’re going to do this.’ I’m bringing that back to the room. I think it helps me with kids when I say to them, ‘This is how an NFL player does his business.’ I’m pretty sure they’re going to think that I’m credible because I spent two years doing it.
“So it’s not just, ‘I think it’s this way.’ This is what I know now. ‘This is what’s going to happen for you.’ I can tell a recruit that. I can tell a recruit: ‘I know what you look like now, I know what they look like at Ohio State and I know what they look like in the NFL, and I know how to get you in each place.’ And I feel very confident in that, and I’m very excited about that.”
The veterans in the secondary knew what to expect from Coombs returning. But for those who weren’t around the last time Coombs provided the juice in the defensive backs meeting rooms and on the field, they learned quickly. Going from Hafley to Coombs is quite the transition.
“I miss Coach Hafley, but Coach Coombs is cool, too,” Ohio State early enrollee cornerback Ryan Watts said. “I really like him. He’s outgoing, he’s vocal. Real vocal. He really gets you pumped up. Everybody says you would run through a brick wall for him. That’s how you really feel, you’d run through a brick wall for him.
“I like him a lot.”
Watts was recruited by Jeff Hafley, who left for Boston College after the Buckeyes loss in the Fiesta Bowl. True freshmen like Watts, Cameron Martinez, Lathan Ransom and Kourt Williams were under the assumption they’d play for Hafley.
So now, they’re getting to know Coombs. And it’s been fun.
“They say that he’s fiery, energetic and a lot of excitement about him,” Watts said. “Everybody on social media would say they’d run through a brick wall for him. That’s really how you feel in practice because he brings in that intensity. He’s really the one that’s talking in meetings so it really pumps you up a lot.”
Watts can see the intensity, and he’s only been around Coombs for a few months. As Coombs continues to grow his relationships with younger players and rekindle his old relationships with veterans, the Buckeyes will develop as a secondary.
And they’re certainly happy to have Kerry Coombs back in the building.