Ash Sees National Championship Potential at OSU
By Rob Ogden
Chris Ash was perfectly happy where he was. He was a defensive coordinator in the SEC, and was working under his close friend, Bret Bielema.
So why would he leave to take a co-job at Ohio State?
Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Chris Ash
"In your career you want to have an opportunity to win a national championship," Ash said. "I believe here at Ohio State that we have that opportunity.
The Buckeyes came oh-so-close to playing for the crystal ball a year ago, but were derailed by a defense that floundered when the schedule picked up.
Enter Ash, who's taking over as Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach after the departure of Everett Withers.
The Buckeyes signed 23 incoming freshmen on Wednesday, but Ash might be the most important person coach Urban Meyer lured to Columbus this offseason.
He's here to set a new course for Meyer's defense. Ash said he doesn't know yet what all ailed the Buckeyes last season, but he knows how they'll play in 2014.
"You play fast. You play with reckless abandon," he said. "You're physical, you throw your body around. You play without hesitation. There's no confusion, you know exactly what you're doing. And there's only one speed: it's full speed. And that's the way we've got to play."
Though Ash's defense might look different at times, it will align with what Meyer and Luke Fickell have envisioned, he said.
"When we met first, (Meyer) discussed his vision for the defense, and what he wanted to see when the film was turned on," Ash said. "What he wanted, and what I've taught and what I've been around matched. I met with coach Fickell and it was the same thing. They just, for whatever reason, have not been very good. But there's been a great tradition of outstanding defenses here at Ohio State. The last couple years it just wasn't to the level they wanted. Coach wanted to make some changes and go a different direction. Coach Fickell felt like they needed to do that also and here I am to try to help."
Both of the departures from Ohio State's defensive coaching staff left on their own, but Meyer did say Wednesday that a change was needed.
"I think so," he said. "I have a lot of confidence in the coaches that were here. And obviously we didn't perform up to standard. We won a lot of games but there were some holes. Holes very easy to blame players or blame coaches. Just overall we need to freshen up our defense. That's what's going to get ready to take place over the next few months."
Last season, the Buckeyes ranked 47th in the country in total defense, allowing 377.4 yards per game, and ranked 112th in pass defense at 268 yards.
Statistically, the unit was the second-worst in the Big Ten, and allowed a league-worst 31 touchdowns through the air.
Before moving on to Arkansas, Ash served as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin from 2011-2012, where his defenses saw success.
Both Badger defenses ranked in the top 15 in the nation in total defense.
With co-coordinators, Meyer said play-calling will be a collaboration, but deferred to Fickell for now.
"We're going to have those conversations," he said. "Right now Luke will (have final say)."
Ash stressed that his relationship with Fickell is important. He said he wouldn't have take the job if he didn't feel the two could be on the same page.
As for who's making the calls on game day, Ash didn't give a definitive answer.
"When you get to game day, most of the people on the defensive staff should be able to make the calls," he said. "If everyone's aligned the right way, then calling on game day is really not that difficult. Everything we're gonna do is gonna be a team effort."
Along with Fickell, Ash will have to work closely with defensive backs coach Kerry Coombs.
Coombs said the addition of Ash doesn't change his role as much as it changes the style in which they are going to coach.
Coombs specifically mentioned the need for more collaborative coaching, as opposed to splitting off separately.
"I would tell you I embrace it completely," Coombs said. "What has to happen in any collective group or part of defense is that everybody's gotta be understanding what everybody's doing at all times. I don't think we function very well in isolation."
Ash and Coombs have already met on multiple occasions to discuss future plans.
Coombs said he's excited about what Ash, as well as new defensive line coach Larry Johnson Sr., can bring to the table.
"We're getting an opportunity to learn from two more guys who have been successful at other places in the manner in which they do their business," Coombs said. "That's a real positive for the Ohio State Buckeyes."
It's no secret Ash's former employer, Bielema, and his new employer, Meyer, have traded barbs since Meyer took the Ohio State job in 2011.
But Ash said Bielema handled his decision well.
"Coach B has been nothing but great to me," he said. "Before I worked at Wisconsin I had a good relationship with him. During my time with him at Wisconsin and Arkansas he was outstanding to me. When I approached him about the opportunity here he was great. Coach B wants great coaches in his program but he also understands that if you help people reach their professional goals, then great people are gonna come replace the people that have left."
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