Publish date:

How Kerry Coombs turned his demotion as Ohio State's defensive play-caller into a coaching point

In coping with personal disappointment, Coombs had to accept the same advice he's given to numerous players over the course of his career.

Being demoted from Ohio State's defensive play-caller was painful for Kerry Coombs, on a number of different levels.

Painful, first and foremost, because Ohio State lost a game it believes it should've won. Coombs bleeds scarlet and gray and he loves his players and his fellow coaches, and seeing them in pain caused him pain.

Painful, because his boss Ryan Day viewed his performance as the primary reason Ohio State lost that game.

Painful, because Day viewed a change in Ohio State's defensive staff structure as necessary to maximizing the team's potential.

Painful, because we all saw the demotion coming.

Painful, because Coombs worked a long time to call plays for Ohio State's defense and still believes he can do the job.

But to dwell on that pain would've been selfish for Coombs. He's still employed as Ohio State's defensive coordinator, he still loves his players and co-workers, and there was still nearly a full season to play. 

Worst of all, in Coombs' own words, it would've made him a liar. 

As he explained Tuesday in a rare media appearance, Coombs reminded us all that he's demoted plenty of players in his near 40-year career that stretches across high school, college and professional football. Some of those demotions were temporary, others permenant.

Either way, he expected that player to take his demotion with head held high, anchored by the knowledge that he still had a job to do as a member of that team, and that better days still could lie ahead. 

So in handling his own demotion, Coombs owed it to his players -- past, present and future -- to take his own advice. 

"Handling it in a different fashion -- picking up your ball and going home, kicking the can down the road, quitting, packing your stuff up, being a miserable human being -- if I had done those things, that would make me a liar to every one of those young men that I've coached along the way that had tough times, that got replaced on a given Saturday. I had to have the conversation, 'Hang in there, it's going to be okay.' Whether they agreed with the decision or not it didn't matter, you had to battle and fight through. Those players and young men that struggle with the public criticism and the things that are out there in the world today, if you want to look them in the eye and tell them, 'Don't accept criticism from someone you wouldn't accept advice from,' if you're not willing to stand up and do the same thing, then you're a liar to all those people along life's journey.

"If you're here for the other men on this team -- the other coaches and the players -- if that's truly why you're here, then you're here come heck or high water. You're here fighting, scratching and clawing. I love those kids on this team, I love the men I work with, and I love Ohio State. I'm going to be here. I'm going to be here fighting, battling, scratching and clawing to help us win every frickin' Saturday. 

"Whether or not I liked how everything went, it's got nothing to do with it. You've got a job to do. Hopefully some day down the road, some young man who faces trouble or adversity can remember an example of a man who tried to lead with positive energy in the midst of adversity. And if I can do that then I will have accomplished my goal as long as we are continuing to progress and win on Saturday afternoons," he said.

Coombs was given the game ball following the No. 6 Buckeyes' 66-17 demolition of Maryland on Saturday. The change is working. After allowing 66 points in their first two games against Minnesota and Oregon, Ohio State has surrendered just 57 total in the four games since the change. 

As part of the change, Coombs moved from the field to the press box. He no longer makes the calls, but noted Tuesday the process is so collaborative that "I feel like anybody could make the call." 

The move allows him to see the game more, but does come with one draw back: instead of hugging his players after big games, now he has to settle for Kevin Wilson. "I gotta be honest with you," he said, "that's not the same." Coombs misses hugging his dudes "desperately," but the change has been best for the team and complaining about a lack of satisfactory hug targets is, in his word, "selfish," and if it takes him losing his play-calling and post-play-hugging ability is what it takes for Ohio State to reach its potential, that's a price Coombs is willing to pay.