Looking at Candidates to Replace Taver Johnson
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — After more than a month of carefully piecing together his staff, Urban Meyer was set to introduce it to the world when he learned things were not quite as settled as he had hoped.
On the same day Meyer unveiled Ohio State’s new coaching staff to a sold-out crowd at Value City Arena in Columbus, his cornerbacks coach, Taver Johnson, was being announced as the new co-defensive coordinator at the University of Arkansas.
Johnson was a holdover from the Jim Tressel era who decided to join former OSU safeties coach Paul Haynes, now the Razorbacks’ defensive coordinator.
His departure leaves Meyer and the Buckeyes with a vacancy on their staff that needs to be filled before the start of spring practice. Because co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers is a defensive backs coach by trade, Meyer could go a number of different ways with this hire. It seems to reason that replacing Johnson with another secondary coach would make the most sense because Luke Fickell is already coaching the linebackers and Mike Vrabel is working with the defensive line.
We take a look at some of the strongest candidates on the market as Meyer tries to finalize his first coaching staff at Ohio State.
Chuck Heater (59, West Virginia/Ohio)
Why He’s a Candidate: From a familiarity standpoint and purely coaching aspect, Heater is the no-brainer pick for Meyer to replace Taver Johnson. An All all-Ohio running back at Columbian High School in Tiffin, Ohio, Heater was with Meyer as the cornerbacks coach at Utah in 2004. He went to Florida with him and coached both the corners and safeties for the Gators. He also served as the co-defensive coordinator in 2010 and Meyer has even referred to him as one of the best teachers and defensive backs coaches in the country.
What’s Not to Like: First of all, Heater played at Michigan under Bo Schembechler from 1971-74, but that would not stop Meyer from bringing him onboard. Especially considering he has already coached the defensive backs at Ohio State under Earle Bruce from 1985-87. Heater also served as Bruce’s defensive coordinator at Colorado State from 1991-92, which would make him the oldest member of Meyer’s coaching staff by eight years.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: MEDIUM. Right now, there is the little matter of him already being employed as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Temple, where Meyer’s former offensive coordinator, Steve Adazzio, is going into his second year as head coach. The Buckeyes don’t really have any special titles to offer him like assistant head coach or co-defensive coordinator, but they should be able to give him more money than he is currently making at Temple. Adazzio reportedly makes around the $550,000 Al Golden was making, which means Heater could make less as Temple’s defensive coordinator than he would as Ohio State’s defensive backs coach.
Troy Douglas (46, Jacksonville, Fla.)
Why He’s a Candidate: Douglas was the defensive backs coach at North Carolina from 2009-11 under current OSU co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. He is younger than Heater by 13 years and while he doesn’t have any direct ties to Ohio State or to Meyer, he has coached defensive backs in the Big Ten at both Michigan State (2001-02) and Indiana (2004-05). Like Withers, Douglas is a graduate of Appalachian State and actually played wide receiver on the same team as Withers. He has played a major role in developing top-10 defenses at both South Florida and UNC, and he is currently available after not being retained by new Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora.
What’s Not to Like: Based on his resume, Douglas has never really spent much time anywhere he has gone as an assistant coach. His longest stint was as the defensive backs coach at Tennessee State from 1992-94, which suggests that Douglas likes to hop around a lot. Or maybe he just continues to be offered jobs that interest him, much like Stan Drayton, who is now the running backs coach at Ohio State.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: HIGH. The fact Douglas is available and has such a strong connection to Withers—both as a former assistant and former teammate—could make him the leading candidate to replace Taver Johnson as cornerbacks coach in Columbus.
Tim Walton (40, Georgia/Mississippi)
Why He’s a Candidate: Before Walton was a big-time defensive backs coach in college football, and now the NFL, he was a two-year starter and four-year letterman at Ohio State. He was a co-captain for the Buckeyes in 1993 under secondary coach Larry Coker and graduated from Ohio State in 1994 with a degree in sociology. His first coaching job was as a graduate assistant with Bowling Green in 1995. He eventually coached the running backs and defensive backs for the Falcons before taking a job at the University of Memphis in 2000 (just before Urban Meyer arrived).
What’s Not to Like: There isn’t a whole lot not to like about Walton, who is currently coaching the defensive backs for the Detroit Lions. Walton also coached the defensive backs at Syracuse (2002), LSU (2003) and Miami, Fla. (2004-06) before being named the Hurricanes’ defensive coordinator in 2007. His pass defenses at LSU and Miami were among the best in the country. Walton ended up back at Memphis as the defensive coordinator in 2008 and became the secondary coach in Detroit a year later.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: MEDIUM. A lot depends on whether Walton wants to stay in the NFL or return to college. He isn’t from Ohio, but being a graduate of Ohio State and a former captain for the Buckeyes should make this job opening rather enticing for Walton. He is a young, energetic coach with plenty of experience at the collegiate level, and he would be a perfect fit with this staff as the replacement for Taver Johnson if he is interested.
Teryl Austin (46, Sharon, Pa.)
Why He’s a Candidate: After Meyer lost trusted defensive coordinator Charlie Strong to Louisville in 2010, he hired Austin away from the NFL, where he had been coaching defensive backs with the Arizona Cardinals. Austin served as Florida’s defensive coordinator in 2010, Meyer’s last season in Gainesville, but started his career as a graduate assistant at Penn State in 1991. He was a three-year starter at Pitt and coached the defensive backs at Wake Forest, Syracuse and Michigan (1999-2002) before jumping to the NFL in 2003 to work for Seattle. He helped the Seahawks reach the Super Bowl in 2005 and helped first-round draft pick Marcus Trufant become one of the premier corners in the NFL at the time.
What’s Not to Like: After Meyer left Florida last year, Austin went back to the NFL and is currently coaching the defensive backs in Baltimore. The Ravens are playing New England in the AFC Championship game this coming weekend, which means Austin probably isn’t worrying too much about the job opening at Ohio State.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: MEDIUM. There is no guarantee Meyer would even reach out to Austin, especially considering his current position with the Ravens. He was more connected to Adazzio and quarterbacks coach Scott Loeffler from his time at Michigan than he was to Meyer, who seemed to lose trust in many of his assistants after Strong left for Louisville.
Vance Bedford (53, Beaumont, Tex.)
Why He’s a Candidate: Another guy who left Florida with Strong in 2010 was Bedford, who had coached the defensive backs for Meyer from 2008-09. He had a big part in the development of first round NFL draft pick Joe Haden and also has a strong connection to the state of Texas where he played cornerback at the University of Texas and was a captain for the Longhorns in 1981.
Bedford’s first coaching job was at a junior college in 1986, but he would go on to coach the defensive backs under Earle Bruce at Colorado State. He also had two stints as the defensive backs coach at Michigan under Lloyd Carr (1995-98, 2007), and coached Charles Woodson to the Heisman Trophy in 1997. He has coached defensive backs in the NFL with the Chicago Bears (1999-2004) and also served as the defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State for two seasons (2005-06).
What’s Not to Like: Like Heater, Bedford is already serving as a defensive coordinator, only he is working under Charlie Strong at Louisville. Unlike Heater, Bedford would likely have to take a paycut in order to accept an assistant coaching job at Ohio State, especially since Meyer cannot offer him a co-defensive coordinator or assistant head coach title.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: LOW. Bedford left Florida, where he was already working as the defensive backs coach for Meyer, to run Strong’s defense at Louisville. That does not suggest he would give up his current gig to take a similar role under Meyer as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State. He does have ties to Earle Bruce, which have proved to be fruitful for Meyer and the Buckeyes, but the closest tie he has to the state of Ohio is the fact Haden plays corner for the Cleveland Browns.
Travaris Robinson (30, Miami, Fla.)
Why He’s a Candidate: Robinson is a young defensive backs coach on the rise. He was a four-year letterwinner at Auburn and helped the Tigers win or share three consecutive Southeastern Conference West Division championships. He also played safety in the NFL from 2003-2005 with Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
What’s Not to Like: He doesn’t have any real ties to Meyer or Ohio State, but Robinson is the current defensive backs coach at Florida. He was a player under Will Muschamp at Auburn and likely is not going to leave the Gators for a anything but a promotion.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: LOW. Since the Buckeyes cannot offer Robinson a promotion at this time, and since he has no ties to OSU or the state of Ohio, it seems unlikely Robinson would be a strong candidate to replace Taver Johnson.
Paul Nichols (30, Dunwoody, Ga.)
Why He’s a Candidate: Nichols was the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Toledo under Tim Beckman from 2009-11, but he got his start as a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 2004-05. He assisted Jim Heacock with the defensive line, but also worked with Mel Tucker and Beckman coaching the defensive backs.
What’s Not to Like: Nichols is only 30 years old and his only two jobs have been Marshall, where he coached the defensive backs from 2006-08 and Toledo. The Rockets’ defense ranked 106th against the pass this last season and Nichols was not asked to join Beckman’s new staff at Illinois. He did assume sole duties as defensive coordinator for the Rockets under coach Matt Campbell in the Military Bowl, but the Toledo defense allowed 41 points to Air Force.
Likelihood He’s the Guy: LOW. Nichols is a long-shot candidate. His ties to Ohio State as a graduate assistant under Tucker and Beckman make him a name to at least remember, but Nichols is not likely someone Meyer would seriously consider for his “all-star” cast in Columbus.
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