Ohio State ‘the most fun I’ve had coaching in a long time’ for Jeff Hafley

Jeff Hafley finds himself in the spotlight for multiple reasons this week.

The Ohio State football co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach not only gets to bask in the afterglow of the Buckeyes’ shutting down Nebraska last week, he is also being mentioned as a potential candidate for the open head coaching position at Rutgers.

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A former Scarlet Knights assistant (though just for one season), he is a native son of the Garden State (Montvale) and figures to be a rising star in the coaching profession as the Ohio State defense and particularly the secondary continue to show vast improvement over last season.

(In an ironic twist/reminder how small the world can be, the coach Rutgers fired Sunday — Chris Ash — got that job in 2016 based largely on his success as co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Ohio State.)

Therefore it was no surprise Hafley, 40, fielded questions about his future Tuesday -- at least not to the people on the other side of the mic from him.

“Honestly I’m just thinking about today,” Hafley said before joking he hasn’t even had time to shave.

“There’s so much that needs to go into every single day, every single minute, every meeting,” he said. “I walk around here and someone grabs me here and someone grabs me there. Just to think about tomorrow would be hard for me.”

Beyond that, the former NFL assistant said he is enjoying himself more than he has recently.

“I’m very happy here,” he said. “Truthfully this is the most fun I’ve had coaching in a long time. I feel re-energized. I love working for (Ohio State head coach Ryan) Day. I love these players. I love coming to work every day. I haven’t been able to say that in a long time, but I mean that. This is fun. So I’m really excited to be here right now.”

Ash was one of four Urban Meyer assistants at Ohio State who left to become a head coach during his seven seasons in Columbus.

The first was co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Everett Withers, who became head coach at James Madison after the 2013 season. He went 18-7 with the Dukes and parlayed that success into a job at Texas State, where he went 7-28 before being fired.

Withers is currently the New York Giants defensive backs coach.

Ash, who replaced Withers at Ohio State, turned a moribund defense around over two seasons but found virtually no success at Rutgers, where he went 8-32 with no more than four wins in a season.

Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman left after the 2014 season and went 22-4 as head coach at Houston before taking the same job at Texas, where he is 20-11 so far.

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Luke Fickell was hired by Cincinnati after the 2016 season and is 18-11 so far with the Bearcats, who went 11-2 last season when Fickell was named AAC Coach of the Year.

Meyer always said he was happy to see his assistants move up the coaching ladder, but he did prefer for them to stay at Ohio State for at least two seasons.

Day, in his first season as Meyer’s replacement, expressed a similar sentiment Tuesday.

“We talk about it when people bring their families here that we'd like them to be here for a long time, and I'd rather not them come here for one year and leave, but guys have opportunities, and I don't want to get in the way of that.

“At the same time, when you're building relationships and you're recruiting, we expect at least two years, sometimes more.

"The good news is our coaching staff is really entrenched in this community now, which is great. We love it here, and they're happy. I don't expect anybody to leave anytime soon.”

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