Coaching the secondary is a two-person job.
For years at Ohio State, one coach would take the cornerbacks and the other controlled the safeties.
During his first go-round with the Buckeyes, Kerry Coombs always had the cornerbacks. In his six seasons at Ohio State, Coombs worked with three different safeties coaches. His first two years were spent with Everett Withers, then spent two years with Chris Ash, then finally two years with Greg Schiano.
Coombs then went to Tennessee where he coached the entire secondary, but still had a safeties coach along with him.
When Jeff Hafley took over prior to the 2019 season, he went away from the “one coach, one position” formula that had worked for so long at Ohio State. Like the safety coaches before him, Hafley had a defensive coordinator title, but he was now also simply the “secondary coach.”
In other words, he coached everybody in the secondary. Corners, safeties, it didn’t matter. But it was still a two-person job, which is why he had assistant secondary coach/special teams coordinator Matt Barnes alongside him.
Now that Kerry Coombs is back at Ohio State as the defensive coordinator, he won’t be reverting back to what worked his first time around. Instead, he’s doing what worked for the Buckeyes last year. He will coach the secondary and Barnes will help him.
This kind of set up won’t be difficult for Coombs to get used to, since it’s what he did the last two years in the NFL.
“That’s what I’ve done the last two years. I had the whole secondary at Tennessee. I’m very comfortable with that,” Coombs said. “That’s really the best way to do it, right? Because all the pieces are communicating together. So we’re gonna continue to do that.”
Communication between the safeties and corners has always been paramount. Without it, a secondary is doomed. Confusion in a defense will make an offense look unstoppable and make third downs seem like a breeze.
Communication between the two secondary coaches also needs to be perfect. Both coaches need to be on the same page, which is probably why one is the secondary coach and the other is the assistant secondary coach.
So far, those talks between Coombs and Barnes have been going very well, and it’s a good thing because they have to replace three starters this season.
“I really like Matt Barnes now,” Coombs said. “I’m telling you, I’ve had some great conversations with him…about the coverage that they played last year, how I see it going forward, and I think he is a really, really sharp coach. So I’m looking forward to working with him.”
As to how they will work together, it doesn’t sound like it will be much different than it was last year — at either Ohio State or with the Titans.
“I think we’re going to meet together but I think we’re going to do individual work separately,” Coombs said. “There’s gonna be times when he’s gonna take safeties and I’m gonna take corners. Might be times when I take safeties and he takes corners. Might be times when I take the right side and he takes the left side. Just to get the job accomplished.
“There may be times when we’ll split a little bit because we gotta watch film of different things, to save time, because the four hours is a different deal than it is in the NFL. But I’ve been working with the whole group in the back end at Tennessee, and I like meeting with all of them together.”