It's Time for Urban Meyer to Put His Full Stamp on the Ohio State Defense
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With the news Thursday night that Mike Vrabel was leaving his position as Ohio State's defensive line coach to become the linebackers coach with the NFL's Houston Texans, the number of Buckeye defensive assistants who have moved on in the last three weeks doubled to two.
Combined with former safeties coach Everett Withers leaving to become the head coach at James Madison, Urban Meyer is now faced with replacing two assistants on the one side of the ball that needs help the most.
Photo by Jim Davidson
While Vrabel is considered a budding star in the industry, change was inevitable given the defensive struggles the past two seasons under Meyer. That change, however, was not expected to be on the defensive line. With two spots now open on the defensive staff, Meyer finally has the opportunity to shape the defense exactly how he wants it.
You probably read that last line and asked yourself, “What do you mean 'finally'?”
Okay, I'll explain.
Meyer has stated in the past that when it comes to assistant coaches, his goal is to have the best coaching staff in the nation. But what are the chances that three of those coaches would already be on the Ohio State staff when he arrived?
Let's not forget that Meyer's intention was to keep Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel and Taver Johnson in order to make the transition from Tressel to Fickell to Meyer an easier one in which to adjust. Adding one more assistant after that (Everett Withers) wouldn't really make this Meyer's defense, it would only continue to make it Fickell's.
Meyer's plan fell through a bit, however, as shortly after the 2011 season, Taver Johnson followed departed OSU safeties coach – and friend – Paul Haynes to Arkansas. Johnson was given the title of Assistant Head Coach in order to sweeten the deal.
Meyer was then left to look for a new cornerbacks coach. A little over two weeks after Johnson left, Meyer hired Bill Sheridan for the vacant position. A little over two weeks after that, however, Sheridan left to become the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was a month after that when Meyer finally hired Kerry Coombs away from the University of Cincinnati to handle his cornerbacks. This was all being done with the distant glow of spring football nearly visible on the horizon.
Given that in his two seasons as head coach at Ohio State, Urban Meyer's defenses have given up 22.8 and 22.6 points per game respectively, we can consider his first attempt at a defensive staff as less than ideal. It can't be called a failure because we have all seen real failures in the Big Ten (see: Rich Rodriguez, Michigan), and that doesn't describe what has happened at Ohio State.
Regardless of how we couch it, however, the defense has been below Meyer's standard to this point. But sometimes you have to do something wrong before you know how to do it right, and it would seem that by this point, Meyer would have plenty of examples of what has been done wrong.
So now we are brought to the present day. Changes are going on all around the Big Ten. Michigan has hired a new offensive coordinator, and Penn State is on the verge of replacing one offensive-minded head coach with another. Moves are being made by the competition, and this is Meyer's first real opportunity to move in a new and more fitting direction for his preferences, whatever he may deem that to be.
With two openings on the defensive side of the ball, it's time for Meyer to install a defense to his standards, and nobody else's. The hires that will be made will reshape the Ohio State defense for better or worse, though it's hard to imagine that there's a worse.
If fax machines still existed, you can bet that there would be a constant stream of résumés being sent to the Ohio State football offices. There will be a glut of candidates for Urban Meyer to choose from, and those candidates will come from all over the nation.
If defenses win championships, then until Meyer gets the Ohio State defense fixed, there will be no championships in Columbus. For no other reason than that, you can be sure that Meyer is going to give it every effort to find a championship defense. He will hire the best available fits, and they will match his preferences.
The Buckeye defense moving forward will resemble Meyer's wants more than they have in his first two seasons, and this cannot be up for negotiation. His name needs to be all over these next two hires, because it's his name in the win/loss column.
Meyer knows that it is time to change things up at Ohio State. He is searching for a defense that is worthy of being an “Ohio State defense”, and the coaching searches over the next month will go a long way in determining whether or not he finds it.
If the Buckeyes are going to reach their championship hopes, it starts with a championship defense, and that starts with Urban Meyer no longer settling for the defenses that he has seen for the past two seasons.
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