Kerry Coombs turned the Ohio State Buckeyes into the new DBU

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

When you’re an elite football program, two things are most important in terms of on-field success: The amount of championships (both conference and national) you’ve won, and the amount of players you send to the NFL. While the athletes are considered student-athletes, many come to Columbus in order to improve their skillset and eventually get drafted into the NFL, class is sometimes put on the backburner for some.

At Ohio State, many players have been able to do both, succeeding in the classroom while also preparing themselves for the next level on the gridiron. While the Buckeyes have had plenty of success getting a bunch of players into the league in almost all positions on the field, one of the most NFL-ready positions they’ve had of late is at defensive back, and that is in large part due to Kerry Coombs.

When Coombs came to Ohio State with head coach Urban Meyer in 2012 to be the defensive backs and special teams coach, a majority of Buckeyes fans had no idea who he was. He was just a coach from Cincinnati who coached at Cincinnati-area high schools from 1983-2006 and then joined the University of Cincinnati’s coaching staff led by Brian Kelly in 2007 and stayed there until coming to the Buckeyes. My how things have changed in six years. He’s went from a no-namer to a legend in Columbus, a legend that may be known for his gray (white?) hair.

From 2001-2012, the Ohio State Buckeyes had just four defensive backs selected in the NFL Draft.1 Since Coombs joined Ohio State’s coaching staff, the Buckeyes have had arguably the best defensive backfield in the country, both in terms of talent on the field and success in the NFL Draft.

Coming to Columbus, it took some time for Coombs and company to get their guys. But after they did, the Buckeyes have basically been a development team for the NFL, especially for their cornerbacks and safeties. In just the last four drafts since 2014, Coombs has had five of his defensive backs drafted in the first round, three of which came last April.2 He will all but certainly have another one this fall, when Denzel Ward, one of the best cornerback prospects in the upcoming draft, will get selected in the first round.

Thanks to Coombs ability to find talent on the recruiting trail while “planting flags” paired with being able to develop the defensive backs while they are in Columbus, Ohio State has turned into the new DBU, aka Defensive Back University. Ohio State’s talent in the defensive backfield was second to none, both during the player’s college years and in the NFL.

His ability to recruit the top talent in the country was one of the best things he brought to Ohio State,3 along with his energy and enthusiasm. Coombs not only recruited defensive backs like Apple, Conley, Lattimore, and Ward, but he played a key role in bringing running back Ezekiel Elliott, safety Vonn Bell, defensive end Sam Hubbard, and running back Mike Weber to Columbus, along with a handful of others. What do all of those players have in common? They are all either in the NFL or will eventually be in the league once they leave the Buckeyes.

Thanks to Coombs, Ohio State is the first program in NFL Draft history with three cornerbacks taken in the first round of two-consecutive drafts. While that’s quite an accomplishment, the even more insane statistic is that every one of Coombs’ starters at cornerback have reached the NFL. Yes, every single one of his cornerbacks who have started during his six years at Ohio State have reached football’s highest level. Incredible would be an understatement, really. That will continue this year. After declaring prior to the Cotton Bowl, Denzel Ward is expected to be the top cornerback taken in the draft this April.

This success, along with the fact that he coached with new Tennessee Titans new head coach Mike Vrabel at Ohio State from 2012-13, seems to be one of the main reasons why Vrabel was able to get Coombs away from Columbus and bring him to Nashville. Yahoo! Sports’ Pete Thamel broke the news Wednesday afternoon that Coombs will joins Vrabel’s new Titans staff. Luckily, the Vrabel wasn’t also able to pry Ohio State quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Ryan Day away as well. Day rejected the Titan’s offensive coordinator job earlier this week. Losing Coombs is bad enough. Losing both he and Day would have been a devastating blow for Ohio State, one that could have taken some time to recover from.

His ability to recruit and develop his defensive backs was well known, but another reason Coombs was so special for Ohio State was due to the relationships he had with his players off the field. Many coaches say that their players have basically become their sons, but for Coombs, it was actually true. He cared about his players, whether it was on the field or not. You could see that every Saturday, when his players gave their full effort for their coach. Ward took to Twitter to explain his love for his position coach during his time in Columbus.

Losing a coach like Coombs is a devastating blow, even for an elite head coach like Meyer. Whether it was the talent he continued to recruit and develop in the defensive backfield, his energy and enthusiasm, or a number of other things, he was a vital part of Ohio State’s success, one that might be hard to replace.

Coombs is a lifelong Ohioan. He grew up in Colerain, graduated from Colerain High School in 1979 and from the University of Dayton in 1983, and has a master’s degree from Wright State (1996). He then coached at a number of Cincinnati-area high schools, Colerain for 16 years before moving onto the Cincinnati Bearcats, and then Ohio State. The Titans gig will not only be his first in the NFL, but it will also be the first time he takes a job outside of Ohio.

While it’s tough for Ohio State to see him go because he brought so much to the Buckeyes both on and off the field, a job in the NFL is hard to pass up. Even at his age, Coombs was always one of the most energetic coaches, whether it was on the sidelines or in practice. Being able to make the leap to the NFL will not only allow him to spend more time with his family4 now that he won’t have to go on the recruiting trail, but it will also allow him to put in less hours while (most likely) bringing in a bigger paycheck. Having just concluded his 35th year of coaching, the promotion is well deserved.

No matter who Meyer and the Buckeyes find to fill the vacancy left open by Coombs, it will be hard for said coach to live up to what he brought to Ohio State. His energy, enthusiasm, recruiting, and ability to build relationships with his players both on and off the field will definitely be missed in Columbus.

He will be missed in Columbus, but Buckeye Nation should be happy for Coombs. The old man deserves it! He turned Ohio State into the new #DBU, and he will forever be remembered for that.

  1. Cornerback Nate Clements (2001), cornerback Chris Gamble (2004), strong safety Donte Whitner (2006), defensive back Malcolm Jenkins (2009). []
  2. Cornerback Bradley Roby (2014), Cornerback Eli Apple (2016), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (2017), safety Malik Hooker (2017), cornerback Gareon Conley (2017). []
  3. He was named Rivals Recruiter of the Year in 2017. []
  4. he and his wife, Holly, have three grown children and five grandchildren []