Who Will Fill Out Meyer’s Staff: Defense
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — On Monday, Urban Meyer made it clear that he wants to assemble the best coaching staff in college football.
He said he wants assistant coaches who coach with their hair on fire, which certainly eliminates some candidates. One person it didn’t eliminate was Luke Fickell, who accepted Meyer’s offer to remain on staff at Ohio State after his one season as the interim head coach.
Fickell’s expertise will obviously be on the defensive side of the ball, but we don’t yet know exactly what his role will be. Here is a look at Fickell and other potential candidates who could fill out Meyer’s staff on defense at Ohio State.
- Luke Fickell (38, Ohio): Meyer announced Monday that he met with Fickell, who agreed to remain on the coaching staff at Ohio State. He did not say what capacity except that it would be a major role for the man who served as the school’s interim head coach this season. Previously, Fickell served as Ohio State’s linebackers coach from 2004-10. He became the co-defensive coordinator in 2005, but has never been the head coordinator of a football team. He was a 4-year starter for the Buckeyes and served as a graduate assistant under John Cooper before taking a job as the defensive line coach at Akron. If Fickell wants to be a head coach, it might be a good thing for him to get some experience as a coordinator. If he is not the defensive coordinator, he would almost certainly have to be assistant head coach along with coaching a position.
- Mike Stoops (49, Ohio): He has denied any contact with Ohio State until this point, but it appears that there is real interest from Stoops in joining Meyer in Columbus. He was one of the brightest defensive coaches in the country as the coordinator at Oklahoma under his brother Bob Stoops from 1999-2003. The Sooners put together a 55-11 record, including the perfect 13-0 mark in 2000 when Oklahoma won its seventh national championship.
He was only 40-45 in seven seasons as the head coach at Arizona, and may want to return to the defensive side of the ball at a major program. Stoops is from Youngstown, Ohio and played in the Big Ten as a defensive back at Iowa. He also played three seasons in the NFL before returning to his alma mater as a graduate assistant. He was the defensive ends coach at Kansas State in the early 1990s and eventually became the co-defensive coordinator. He is rumored to be Meyer’s top choice for defensive coordinator.
- Chuck Heater (59, Ohio): Heater was born in West Virginia but grew up in Ohio, where he attended Columbian High School in Tiffin. He is in his first season as the defensive coordinator at Tempe, where he also coaches the defensive backs. Heater was the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Florida under Meyer in 2010. He also coached the DBs from 2005-09. Before that, he worked with the cornerbacks at Utah in 2004 under Meyer.
Heater played running back at Michigan, where he racked up 1,995 rushing yards, 17 rushing touchdowns under Bo Schembechler from 1971-74. The Wolverines were 41-3-1 during his four seasons in Ann Arbor. He would go on to coach the secondary at Ohio State under Earle Bruce from 1985-87, but left when Bruce was fired following the ’87 season. He became the defensive backs coach at Notre Dame under Lou Holtz from 1988-90 before reuniting with Earle Bruce at Colorado State from 1991-92.
DEFENSIVE LINE COACH
- Luke Fickell: If Fickell is not going to be Ohio State’s defensive coordinator under Meyer, there are a number of directions they could go with him. He will likely serve as assistant head coach while coaching a position the way Darrell Hazell did in 2010. Fickell coached Ohio State’s linebackers for seven seasons, but he is really a defensive lineman at heart. The former state-wrestling champion started 50-straight games at nose guard for the Buckeyes, and he also coached the defensive line at Akron before coming to Ohio State.
- Mike Ward (49, Ohio): In his third season as Toledo’s defensive line coach and co-defensive coordinator, Ward is also the assistant head coach under Tim Beckman. He coached with Beckman and Meyer at Bowling Green, where he was the defensive line coach from 1999-2008. He also became the Falcons’ defensive coordinator in 2007. He is a Mansfield native who went to Lexington High School and graduated from Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. Ward immediately went to work for the University of Findlay as the defensive line coach before become the strength and conditioning coordinator at BG in 1992.
“Mike Ward is a great football coach and a great people-person who will bring so much to the Toledo community,” Beckman said when he took over in 2009.
“He has been in Northwest Ohio for many years and he brings a great attitude and knowledge of this region. He will be a tremendous asset to our program.”
- Mike Vrabel (36, Ohio): It will be interesting to see what happens with Vrabel, who spent the 2011 season coaching the linebackers at Ohio State. He is only one year removed from his NFL playing days, where he spent 14 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. Vrabel was a standout defensive lineman for the Buckeyes in the mid 1990’s and became great friends with Luke Fickell during their time together in Columbus. Fickell recruited Vrabel to replace him as the linebackers coach at Ohio State, but the linebackers were not very good in 2011. How much of that had to do with Vrabel’s inexperience is a question Meyer will have to answer. We also don’t know what type of recruiter Vrabel can be, although three Super Bowl rings cannot hurt. The Cuyahoga Falls native also knows northeast Ohio from his days at Walsh Jesuit High School.
- D.J. Durkin (33, Ohio): If Meyer decides not to keep Vrabel on the staff, or to reassign him, he may decide to target Durkin, who was an assistant for him at both Florida and Bowling Green. A product of Youngstown Boardman High School, Durkin coached the linebackers for Meyer at Florida in 2010. Before that, he was the defensive ends and special teams coach at Stanford, where the Cardinal rank 11th nationally in sacks per game in 2007 and 2009.
Durkin began his coaching career at Bowling Green, where he was a four-year starter at defensive end/outside linebacker for the Falcons from 1997-2000. Following graduation, he served as a defensive graduate assistant for on Meyer's staff for two seasons (2001-02). In 2001, Bowling Green's defense ranked first in the Mid-American Conference in total defense. He also worked as graduate assistant at Notre Dame, where he worked closely with defensive end Justin Tuck. It’s possible Durkin could be brought in to coach the defensive line if Fickell or Vrabel is coaching the linebackers.
- Luke Fickell: It might make the most sense for Meyer to slide Fickell back to the position he was coaching before becoming interim head coach. He would also likely add the title of assistant head coach if Fickell is not Meyer’s defensive coordinator.
- Jon Tenuta (54, Ohio): A name that should sound familiar to Ohio State fans, Tenuta was the school’s defensive coordinator back in 2000. He also served as the defensive backs coach under John Cooper from 1996-99. He is currently the linebackers coach at N.C. State after two seasons at Notre Dame under Charlie Weis. He is a Columbus native who attended Upper Arlington High School, but played defensive back at Virginia in college. His name has been linked to a number of high-profile jobs, including this one, although it seems like a long shot considering he has no real ties to Meyer.
DEFENSIVE BACKS COACH
- Taver Johnson (38, Ohio): He has served as the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State since 2007, when he was hired to replace Tim Beckman, who left to become the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State. Johnson is a native of Cincinnati and played his college ball at Wittenberg, where he was an All-America linebacker. It’s possible Meyer could move Johnson over to coach the linebackers, which is what he did at Miami University (Ohio), but it seems more likely he would stay in the secondary considering the other candidates. Johnson was a graduate assistant at Notre Dame in 1999 while Meyer was the team’s receivers coach. He is a high-energy coach who reportedly intrigued Meyer while he was at Florida.
- Paul Haynes (41, Ohio): After six seasons as Ohio State’s safeties coach, Haynes added the title of co-defensive coordinator for 2011. He replaced Fickell, who became the team’s interim head coach. Haynes is a former walk-on at Kent State under Glen Mason who played four years at safety for the Golden Flashes. He wound up his career as the seventh-leading tackler in Kent State history with 440 stops. He became a graduate assistant at Bowling Green in 1994 and would eventually become secondary coach and assistant head coach at his alma mater from 1999-2000.
Haynes spent one season as a quality control coach with the Jacksonville Jaguars before he was hired as the defensive backs coach at Louisville under John L. Smith. He went with Smith to Michigan State in 2003 before joining the Buckeyes in 2005. He is a native of Columbus.
- Chuck Heater: He coached the defensive backs at Ohio State under Earle Bruce and Meyer also hired him as his defensive backs coach not once but twice. He coached the corners at Utah in 2004 and the defensive backs at Florida from 2005-2010. If he isn’t a candidate for defensive coordinator, Heater would likely be at the top of Meyer’s list for defensive back coaches.
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