The 56-year-old Knowles, who identified himself in a video published by Oklahoma State as a vegan who runs marathons, smokes cigars and does not like to put his shoes on all the way, has coached college football for more than 30 years.
His previous stops also include Cornell, where the Philadelphia native was the head coach of his alma mater, and Duke, where he spent eight seasons before getting the call from Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State four years ago.
Earlier this year, Gundy told reporters in Stillwater that Knowles “has a big of mad scientist in him,” and that he is impressed with Knowles’ intelligence and his willingness to adapt.
While many veteran coaches might prefer to stick to what they know, he adjusted his defense to fit the types of attacks Oklahoma State has to contend with in the Big 12 as opposed to the ACC.
“He’s very calm, and he’s a fast thinker,” Gundy said. “He thinks really fast and he reacts to things.”
Gundy’s Cowboys teams have been known for their high-powered offenses over the years, but this season defense led them to the top of the Big 12 standings and a berth in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame.
Following conference championship weekend, Oklahoma State ranks third in the nation in total defense, including fifth against the run and 12th against the pass. The Cowboys are No. 16 in passer efficiency defense, eighth in points allows per game (16.8) and No. 2 nationally on third downs.
“It is what it is: The guy is highly intelligent,” Gundy said. “He has a demeanor in practice that’s a little bit old school. The players like it. They don’t look against it. They buy into it. On game day, he’s very, very calm and he’s a fantastic play caller.”
What does Knowles do?
That could vary as well based on the personnel, opponents and the rest of the Ohio State coaching staff.
In previous defensive assistant searches, Day has said he wanted to maintain a four-man front. That fits how Ohio State has recruited for nearly three decades and is the preference of defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Knowles’ defense is typically identified as a 4-2-5, but it has included a hybrid player at one end spot. That players will be smaller than a typical 4-3 end and have some linebacker attributes. He could line up in a two-point stance or even move around the formation and give the Buckeyes a three-man look at times. Ohio State has occasionally done the latter on third downs in recent seasons, and the Buckeyes used a hybrid end called the “Leo” for many seasons during the Jim Tressel era.
Ohio State typically featured only two true linebackers last season, and that is likely to continue with the third player being a hybrid safety who is physical enough to stop the run but athletic enough to play in space and cover. Such a player was also a featured part of the defense in the Tressel era but has waxed and waned in the past 10 years.
Among the questions for Knowles when he arrives will be how he wants to stop the run.
His willingness to adapt is likely to come in handy there both in terms of adjusting his way of doing things and fixing Ohio State’s deficiency in that area last season.
Oregon ran all over the Buckeyes in September, and Michigan pounded Ohio State with its power running game in the finale.
The front seven struggled mightily in both games both from an execution and Xs and Os standpoint. The Buckeyes struggled to win one-on-one matchups on the line, but they were also frequently outflanked or outnumbered by alignment so the players were starting out behind in the count.
Jan. 1, 2022
Ohio State vs. Utah, 5 p.m., ESPN, 1410