NEW YORK — Ryan Day proved he had an eye for talent when he put together his first coaching staff at Ohio State.
Now after one year of remarkable work from Jeff Hafley, Day has to go do it again.
Despite his low profile before arriving on campus with the Buckeyes, Hafley was a smashing success as the co-defensive coordinator for one of the nation’s best units — and his work with the secondary was particularly impressive, restoring the proud “Best In America” tradition for that group. Hafley’s impact, his public-facing savvy and recruiting track record obviously didn’t go unnoticed, and multiple sources indicated to Lettermen Row that he was heading to Boston College to take over that program with his first head-coaching job.
The timing obviously isn’t ideal for the Buckeyes on multiple fronts, with the early signing period opening on Wednesday and the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff preparing for the Fiesta Bowl against Clemson. How will the pending departure of Hafley impact Ohio State now and into the future? Lettermen Row is diving into a few key questions to assess the situation.
How will Jeff Hafley manage his time?
The expectation from Ryan Day is that his coaches finish the season they committed to with the program, so Hafley isn’t going anywhere on a full-time basis until after the College Football Playoff. But as several previous Ohio State assistants can attest, the next few weeks are about to be a complete, sleep-deprived grind while trying to juggle two jobs — recruiting and hiring a staff for one while game-planning and coaching for the most important matchup of the season at the other.
“I mean, one of the reasons that you come here is to be a part of this special family, but it also opens up opportunities for you down the road,” Day said earlier this month. “I think it’s healthy and it’s good for families. I support that. The one thing I’d ask is to those guys, if that situation were to come up, make sure we finish through this finish line first. We made a commitment to these guys. Most people who are looking for coaches at this time would understand that, what that means.
“We got a lot of guys who want to be here. I don’t expect any changes or anything like that to come up, but it’s part of the profession.”
The Buckeyes have a change coming now. And Jeff Hafley will have to hold up his end of the bargain for them.
Who could replace Jeff Hafley at Ohio State?
The Buckeyes are in a tricky spot with the early signing period looming. Hafley is a huge part of the current plan as the program chases a national championship, but he’s no longer a part of the future — so Day will have more on his plate than he anticipated as he looks to make another home-run hire.
Former Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash is on the market again, and he’s got a proven track record both with the program and working with the secondary. He’ll almost certainly be on the list, and it’s possible that he could wind up at the top of it for Day since few people could reasonably hold what happened at Rutgers against him.
Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman was in the mix for Day a year ago before talks broke off and the former Ohio State standout elected to stay on staff with his mentor Luke Fickell. He’s perhaps not as natural of a fit to replace Hafley, but he’s a rising star in the profession and could be an option depending on what exactly shakes out for the Buckeyes.
But the most intriguing name that Day will likely pursue in some fashion is legendary Ohio State cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs, who left a couple years ago to try his hand in the NFL with the Tennessee Titans. It might be a challenge to convince him to return to the Buckeyes after chasing a new challenge elsewhere, but a big raise and coordinator responsibilities are certainly worth the effort.
How will Ohio State recruiting class be impacted?
For all the talk about Real Life Wednesdays, competing for championships and the overall power of the program, recruits can still be unpredictable when the position coach they wanted to play for leaves for a job elsewhere. So, while Ohio State has appeared to be rock-solid and set with one of the best batches of defensive backs in the nation, the next few days could now bring a new headache as Day tries to address any questions about who will be leading the secondary in the future.
Hafley was only at Ohio State for a season, and the program has produced NFL cornerbacks and safeties before he arrived and will keep doing so after he leaves. Day has also shown that he can build a staff, think creatively when building it and will pursue talented assistants wherever he finds them. There will be a long list of coaches signing up to work with the talent on hand with the Buckeyes, and there really shouldn’t be much reason for concern for those five defensive backs already committed about the strength of the program.
Of course, it will be up to Day and the rest of the staff to hammer home that message while they can. And the sprint to the start of the early signing period did just become a bit trickier.