The two most important skills a college football coach must have are the ability to recruit and the ability to coach — in that order.
The recruiting aspect is why coaching in college isn’t for everyone.
Some coaches enjoy recruiting, while others would rather just be coaching. Those coaches who aren’t fans of recruiting strive to reach the NFL and never look back, especially if they’ve already experienced the rigors of college coaching.
The Ohio State recruiting machine has never been running hotter than over the previous seven years with Urban Meyer in charge. Ryan Day’s intentions are to keep that momentum going, but when he announced the hiring of Jeff Hafley to be his co-defensive coordinator, it was a bit of a surprise.
After all, from the outside, Hafley hadn’t been in the college game since Rutgers was in the Big East. He fit the profile of one of those guys who would rather just be coaching.
The first half of Hafley’s coaching career took place in college. He was at Pitt from 2006-2010, then joined Greg Schiano at Rutgers for the 2011 season. When the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers hired Schiano, Halfey went to the NFL with him.
Even after Schiano was fired two years later, Hafley remained in the NFL. He was with the Cleveland Browns from 2014-2015, then went to the San Francisco 49ers, which is where he was when Day called him up.
But Ryan Day knew better.
From working with him in San Francisco, Day already knew Hafley could coach. He also had no concerns about Hafley’s ability to recruit.
“Jeff has always been a tremendous recruiter,” Day said. “People ask me if he can recruit and I think that is one of the best things that he does. Now, because he was in the NFL, I think seven years, people don’t know that. But when he was at Pitt, when he was at Rutgers, he was one of the best recruiters in the entire country. He was recruiting some of the best players to those schools.”
Back in early June, the Buckeyes had just one defensive commit. Since then, however, they’ve added eight more commitments, and Hafley has been involved with most of them.
There was Top 50 California cornerback Clark Philliips, then Cody Simon, the No. 9 outside linebacker in the nation out of Hafley’s home state of New Jersey. After Simon came Michigan athlete Cameron Martinez, who looks like one of the most explosive athletes in the nation. Lathan Ransom, the No. 4 safety in the nation, was next on Hafley’s checklist.
The most recent commitment for Hafley was California outside linebacker Kourt Williams, who is the No. 12 player at that position.
Thanks to that month-long flurry of commitments, Hafley is now the No. 3 recruiter in the nation per 247Sports’ “Recruiter Rankings,” which tallies up the number and quality of commits an assistant coach has landed. He is only behind Clemson defensive line coach Todd Bates and Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline, who is No. 1 overall in the nation.
So far, everything has gone to plan for Day with regard to Hafley on the recruiting trail.
“I knew that about him from a long time ago and when we worked together at the 49ers, I told him that he was going to be an unbelievable head football coach someday,” Day said. “I believed in him from the get-go. Then, to combine that with what he has done in terms of coaching some of the best players in the country, I mean in the NFL with Richard Sherman and the list goes on-and-on.”
The current Ohio State defensive backs have spoken quite a bit about already learning so much from Hafley thanks to his experience in the NFL, and none of this is lost on the recruits.
And according to Day, the scary thing for the rest of the nation is that Hafley has been playing catch up since he arrived at Ohio State. Just wait until he’s put in some time with the future classes as well.
“I think the guys in the secondary who are being recruited by him just recognize the fact that he can make them a lot better,” Day said. “He is a likable guy and he is creating a great environment. He is coaching the safeties, the nickels and the corners along with Matt Barnes. He really has not had the luxury of a full recruiting cycle. I think the ’21 class will allow him to do that. He is going after the best guys in the country and has evaluated them and he is recruiting them.”