New Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley may have come from the NFL, but he spent the first 11 years of his coaching career in college football.
He broke in to major college football at Pitt in 2006, remaining there until 2010 when head coach Dave Wannstedt was fired. He landed at Rutgers the following season as the secondary coach for Greg Schiano. After that 2011 season, Hafley went with Schiano to the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Hafley was with the Bucs for two years until Schiano was fired. He then ended up with the Browns for the next two years until head coach Mike Pettine was fired. The next year (2016) found him in San Francisco, once again as a secondary coach, for the beginning of the Chip Kelly era with the 49ers. That era lasted just one season, but Hafley remained with the 49ers until about a month ago.
Having seemingly found a home in the NFL — or at least a comfort level — why was now the right time to come back to the college game? And why was Ohio State the right program to come back to?
“That’s a good question. A lot of people have asked me that,” Hafley said. I wanted to coordinate and I was ready to coordinate. But there’s more to it than that because I’ve had opportunities the past few years to coordinate, and to come back to college. I had opportunities to go be some type of coordinator in the NFL this past year. I came back here because this is a special place, and I mean that, not just because I’m sitting here. You get a chance to coordinate at a place where you can win a lot of games. That’s important.”
While winning is important, it wasn’t the only part of Hafley’s decision.
“You get to coordinate where you can win a lot of games with the right type of people, and that’s the culture here,” he said. “That’s where it’s different. I didn’t want to go to a place where the culture wasn’t right, where you weren’t around good people, and that’s what I talked to Ryan [Day] about, and I know Coach Meyer has done that, and I know Ryan will continue to do that. It’s the right type of player here. It’s the right type of head coach here, and it’s the right staff here.
“So there’s more to it than winning and losing. You want to do it the right way with the right people. Those are all the things that drew me here, and I studied that, and I talked to a lot of people about that.”
What Hafley found when he was asking around was that Ohio State was the perfect opportunity to accomplish everything he was wanting in his next job. He is finally coordinating and doing it for a head coach he knew, having worked with Day on Kelly’s staff at San Francisco in 2016.
The opportunities provided by Ohio State fell right in line with everything that Hafley was looking for, and that has only been reinforced upon meeting the players.
“They’ve recruited the right type of people. They’ve recruited the right type of guy,” Hafley said. “They’re smart, they’re tough, they’re reliable. They come to work. If any of you saw the mat drills today, for 30 minutes I was in shock. I hadn’t seen anything like that for a long time. I said to Ryan when I walked out, I had chills.
“But they’ve recruited the right type of guy, the guy that’s going to do the right thing, the guy that’s going to go to class, the guy that’s going to treat people the right way, the guy that’s going to come to work and give it all he has because — you guys know it — other places they don’t do that. There’s a lot of teams that are different, but this place is special for a lot of reasons.”