COLUMBUS — Ohio State had no drama as it entered National Signing Day.
All 21 Buckeyes commitments in the 2021 class already signed during the Early Signing Period in December, making February a non-factor for recruiting for the four-time defending Big Ten champs.
So instead of waiting by the fax machine for Letters of Intent, Ryan Day took the day that is normally hectic and used it to finalize the next Ohio State coaching staff by shuffling responsibilities on defense and promoting a deserving quality control coach.
The Buckeyes could have held a national search to bolster the coaching staff and replace veteran Greg Mattison, who retired after the national championship game. But Day and the staff chose to make internal moves, elevating Matt Barnes to secondary coach, giving Kerry Coombs more freedom to coach the entire defense and promoting quality control coach Parker Fleming to a full-time role working with special teams.
Day doesn’t need to explain his reasoning for choosing to go that route instead of making a splashy move, but he did anyway. The big sticking point: Continuity. Day has lost just two games in his Ohio State career, won two Big Ten titles and made two appearances in the College Football Playoff. He’s earned the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his moves.
“After looking at it and considering a lot of different things, the thing that came to me first off is that Matt Barnes has really done an excellent job in special teams,” Day said during his press conference Wednesday morning. “He has a great background on defense. I think he’s a great young coach. Speaking with the defensive staff, speaking with Kerry Coombs, what we’ve decided to do is take [Barnes] from special teams and make him the secondary coach. I think this is a great move. It’s going to allow him the opportunity to have that room. It also allows Kerry to move within the linebackers, the defensive line and also have his hands in the secondary, certainly he is still going to be involved with the corners and the safeties as well.
“And so for a lot of reasons, I’m excited about this. And from there, now that Matt is going to spend a lot of his time with the secondary, we wanted some continuity with what we’re doing on special teams. We’ve done a great job here with special teams. Parker Fleming is somebody that knows what we do very, very well. He’s got the respect of our team. We think that’s a really good move there. Promoting from within is something I believe strongly in.”
The coaching staff is set now, and Day answered plenty of questions about defensive improvements, philosophy and plenty more. Lettermen Row is breaking down What We Learned from a loaded morning media session with the Buckeyes coach.
Early enrollees begin workouts, impressing coaches
Ohio State didn’t have to worry about National Signing Day on Wednesday because all commitments are already signed. And 15 of those 21 are already on campus and beginning workouts. The bulk of the country’s No. 2 recruiting class is in the weight room and preparing for spring practice.
And they’re certainly already impressing the coaching staff.
“The maturity of these guys is off the chart,” Day said. “The leadership of these guys is excellent. All the feedback we’re getting from our people, these 15 guys have a chance to be special. While they haven’t done a ton working out yet because some of them are still working through the quarantine phase and different things, I can tell you that they’re very, very talented as well. Really have a chance to come in here over the next six and a half weeks and get after it, get stronger, understand our culture and then compete in the spring to play. Really, really excited about this group.”
The class is expected to be a special one. It’s already making a good first impression on Day and the coaching staff.
Buckeyes could still add veteran defensive analyst
Ohio State finalized its coaching staff with the addition of Parker Fleming and the movement of Matt Barnes. But those moves won’t entirely fill the void that 40-year coaching veteran Greg Mattison leaves behind. Although there are no remaining assistant coaching slots available, the Buckeyes have the option to bring in a proven veteran defensive mind in an analyst role.
Day and the coaching staff are weighing their options.
“It’s something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about,” Day said. “Every program is different. You have to do what’s right for your program. Now that I’m going into Year Three, I’m taking a hard look at that and seeing if there are some people around who would be the right fit. I think the big thing for us is that it has to be the right fit, culturally. It has to be the right personality that brings the right things to the table. So certainly looking at all those things, and over the next couple of weeks, we’ll have an opportunity to bring some guys in and possibly talk about those type of things.”
Multiple sources have indicated to Lettermen Row that the Buckeyes do plan on bringing in a veteran defensive assistant to serve in that analyst role. But those options have not been revealed and will be discussed internally. Ohio State may have finalized its 10 assistant coaching slots, but the Buckeyes certainly aren’t done adding to their talented staff.
Ohio State expects sense of normalcy in spring practice
Last season, Ohio State — and every other program in college football — experienced the most bizarre season in the history of the sport. Barely any spring practice. A cancelation of the season, followed by a reinstatement. Eight-game season. It was not normal, but amid the ongoing pandemic, nothing is.
Although the COVID crisis is not over, the Buckeyes have already been through a season that featured protocols and abnormalities. As the program continues to learn how to operate during the times, a sense of pseudo-normalcy might return to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this spring.
“I think the thing for us is just that we’re planning on having a somewhat normal spring where we can have six weeks of a lead-up working in the facility and then having a normal spring practice schedule,” Day said. “The thing that isn’t different is that we’re still in protocols. We still can’t have a lot of group things together. We have to make sure that we’re still following all those things. We’re still being tested and all that. But we’re hoping all to be together and not broken up like we were last year.”
If Ohio State can return to some sense of a normal spring, the program will be healthier in the long run because of it.
Running back competition already heating up for Buckeyes
The running back room for the Buckeyes seems to be loaded. Plenty of talent returns, and now, two of the top five running backs in the latest recruiting class are already on campus.
So how will the running back situation play out? It’s too early to tell, but the spring could go a long way in providing some hints as to who could be the starter in September.
“A lot of depth, a lot of guys, certainly a lot of talent,” Day said. “What a great opportunity this spring to have these guys go compete. We’re going to try to do the best we can to simulate games this spring to get a feel for where these guys are at. Master comes back, which is great. He brings some experience to the table. Marcus Crowley is now coming off that ACL so now we get to see the best version of him. Miyan really popped this year, showed some great things. Steele is going to get an opportunity to compete, and then you have two young guys. I know that they are coming in here to play.
“A lot of depth there, but an opportunity for those guys to come in and compete. It’s going to be exciting to watch.”