Kerry Coombs wasted no time confirming he is still, in fact, Kerry Coombs.
After striding confidently to the front of the Ohio State football team meeting room (coffee in hand), he boomed into the microphone, “How is everybody doin’?” to kick off his re-introductory press conference.
After two years in the NFL, he is back in college with a new title and the same enthusiasm.
Maybe even more of the latter?
“Honestly, I couldn't be more excited,” he said of returning to Ohio State from the Tennessee Titans, who lost in the AFC Championship game just over two weeks ago. “If you can imagine — we had that AFC Championship game and then I'm out and I'm on the road (recruiting). I'm not here. I don't get to see anybody. And just this week, we've been able to sit down and start to talk defense and watch the Buckeyes play (last season). I got to watch it on the road. I took the computer with me. I watched the whole season and how well they played, how hard they played.”
The first time around, Coombs was cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator.
He’ll coach the entire secondary now along with Matt Barnes, who is back in that position for a second season in Columbus, but Coombs said he is a different coach than he was when he left.
“I will tell you that the experience was phenomenal, and there’s really three reasons why,” Coombs said. "First of all, the volume of defense in the NFL is incredible. I have a library that is this huge, as big as all outdoors of defensive football now. Now you can't play it all here, but you can play some of it. You can pick and you can choose and now we have options. And it was a great learning experience from two of the great defensive minds in the history of football — Dean Pees and Mike Vrabel — so that was outstanding.”
While the 70-year-old Pees was the Titans’ veteran defensive coordinator, 44-year-old Vrabel served as their young head coach.
Coombs, who will turn 59 in September, appreciated the way Vrabel ran his team compared to his previous bosses, Urban Meyer at Ohio State and Brian Kelly at the University of Cincinnati.
“Man, did I learn some great things from Mike, and then the last thing that I didn't expect was you have to coach different in the NFL,” said Coombs, who was one of the top high school football coaches in Ohio at Colerain in Cincinnati prior to joining Kelly’s UC staff in 2007.
“When I coached high school football, I had a particular style that worked in high school football, or at least I think it did,” said the man who led the Cardinals to 10 GMC titles and the 2004 state championship. “When I came to Ohio State I had another style — not drastically different than the high school style. To be honest with you, it was pretty much this: ‘Hey, go do that.’ And guess what? They go do that, right? For different reasons in high school in college, but they go do it. When you get to the NFL and you say, ‘Hey, go do that.’ They say, ‘Yeah coach, that's great, but tell me why.”
That turned out to be a revelation for Coombs.
“I'm gonna be honest with you: When you have to contemplate every drill, every coverage, everything you do, and you have to have a ‘why’ behind it, it makes you a much better coach. Not just because you have to think about it, but because you have to explain it to somebody, and I can't wait to get my hands on these guys and be able to start to explain to them why we're doing these things. It will make them better. But that was a phenomenal part of the experience of being in Nashville.”
Aside from greater knowledge of the game and his profession, Coombs has greater responsibility in his return to Ohio State, too.
Head coach Ryan Day named him defensive coordinator sand said while holdover co-defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and assistant head coach Larry Johnson (who also coaches defensive linemen) will collaborate with Coombs on the defense, Coombs will have the final say.
Mattison and Jeff Hafley, who became head coach at Boston College in December, remade the defense last year, tweaking the way the front played and changing up some coverages but also emphasizing fundamentals.
“You know, there's no reason for us to make massive changes to what they're doing defensively,” Coombs said. “What they're doing here is great. What we're doing now is great. We have great players. We have great coaches. Greg, Larry, (linebackers coach Al Washington), Matt, those guys have done a phenomenal job. So for me right now I'm in the meeting room with them in the afternoons, learning what they did, trying to make sure that I'm adopting their terminology and the playbook.
“Going to make additions to it, make some alterations to it, but at the same time, those guys are phenomenal coaches. I've known Greg Mattison for a long, long time. When I was coaching high school football, and he was coaching at (Michigan), so we’ve had a long relationship. Obviously, I've coached with Larry. I'm getting to know Al and Matt, and they are terrific. So I'm really excited to be working with those guys.”