Withers hopes to bring creativity to defense.

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Established October 31, 1996
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Last updated: 01/18/2012 1:21 AM

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Withers Hopes to Bring Creativity, Not Ego, to OSU Defense
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Everett Withers is assistant head coach to Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but he won’t throw his title around in any defensive meetings—even if it might help him win a disagreement with defensive coordinator Luke Fickell.

Everett Withers
Photo by Jim Davidson
Everett Withers

“I’ve been doing this a long time and my ego isn’t very big,” said Withers, who came to Ohio State after three years as North Carolina’s defensive coordinator and one as the interim head coach.

“The only thing I like is winning. Hopefully we can come together and put a defensive football team on the field that will help us win.”

The Buckeyes have done a lot of winning over the last decade, and they have almost always been led by their defense. In 2002, Ohio State won its first national championship in three decades behind a swarming defense that suffocated Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey in the title game.

That success, which started under former defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio, was continued by Jim Heacock and his staff all the way up through last season, when the Buckeyes were 12-1 behind a senior-laden defense.

“I have a lot of respect for what Coach Fickell has done here with Ohio State and the defense,” said Withers, who will also serve as co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes.

“How hard and passionate they play. I think it's always good when you get a chance to be around somebody else that's done it and doing it. That you can put ideas together. I always thought that two heads were better than one. So I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a great opportunity and a great journey.”

Meyer, who took over as the head coach at Ohio State back in November, is known for his offense as much as anything else, but playing sound defense has always been a part of his Plan to Win. One of the first things he did after taking the job was secure Fickell as his defensive coordinator.

Everett Withers
Photo by Jim Davidson
Everett Withers

Before hiring Withers, Meyer made sure the two coaches were going to be on the same page when it came to running Ohio State’s defense at the level fans in Columbus have become accustomed to over the last decade.   

“I think we’re very similar in a lot of ways,” Withers said of Fickell.

“We talked. We actually sat down and met and spent some time, and I think it was just a matter of chemistry.”

Both guys experienced similar situations this past year, having to take over a program in turmoil after the sudden departure of a highly successful head coach. Fickell replaced Jim Tressel in May after he was forced to resign, but Withers was not so fortunate.

“Eight days,” Withers blurted out when talking about the timetable for his takeover at North Carolina.

That is how many days he had to prepare himself and the Tar Heels for the 2011 season after Butch Davis was fired by UNC chancellor Holden Thorp amid NCAA investigation of academic misconduct and allegations players receiving improper benefits from agents.

Like Fickell, who accepted a prominent role on Meyer’s staff to stay in Columbus, Withers says he won’t have any problems going back to an assistant role after his one year of running the program in Chapel Hill.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to actually be in a meeting room and coaching,” Withers said in his laid-back country voice.

That is Withers personality. He is not coming to Ohio State with plans to take over the defense—which will be called by Fickell—but instead to add a different perspective to what has already been working in Columbus.

“We’ll figure it out together,” Withers said.

“My goal is to try to add ideas to what’s being done here and be able to help with another guy with creativity in the room. I think creativity is good on a staff. If there’s some way to get us off the field on third down and seven that maybe Luke hasn’t done in the past, I don’t feel bashful about bringing it up. Whether we use it or not will be seen, but just the opportunity to be able to bring other ideas.”

Fundamentally, however, much of what has worked for Ohio State will remain in place under Fickell, who spent six seasons as the co-defensive coordinator under Heacock from 2005-10.

“We just want to build on that and obviously whatever style of defense you play, you want to be able to stop the run,” Withers added.

“Luke has done a great job with the defensive staff here of being able to stop the run in the 4-3 and then being able to get to a 3-4. I’m excited about that because that’s things that I’ve done in the past.”

Withers made it sound as though Ohio State will continue to use a hybrid “Leo” position to create that flexibility on defense which allows the Buckeyes to switch back and forth between a 4-3 and a 3-4. They weren’t able to do that as much in 2011 because of the injury to Nathan Williams.

The Buckeyes also had some shortcomings at the linebacker position this past year which truly effected almost everything they were trying to do defensively.

“I know this, today’s game will change on you really fast,” Withers said.

“You better be able to stop the run inside with big physical guys, but you better be able to run on the perimeter. That’s something we’re looking at, being able to run out on the perimeter.”

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