Coachspeak is normally the order of the day when coaches talk to reporters, but on Tuesday at Ohio State, Kerry Coombs didn’t shield his feelings or protect his thoughts.
Coombs, still the Ohio State defensive coordinator, has very publicly had his job situation change, and this was the first time he has spoken publicly about it. He was open, honest, and clearly still raw about having to hand over playcalling duties to defensive backs coach Matt Barnes.
No defensive coordinator wants his defense to come up short, but when it does, there aren’t many areas for a head coach to point the blame. After the loss to Oregon in week two, Coombs accepted the blame for the defensive shortcomings. In the days that followed, Coombs moved from the sideline to the press box in order to be the eyes in the sky for Barnes, who would now handle the defensive calls.
But while Coombs’ job may have changed, his work hasn’t.
And there’s a good reason for that.
Kerry Coombs is now a living, breathing, thriving example of everything that coaches preach to their players.
“I would tell you that the handling of it is a work in progress,” he said of his transition to what he’s doing now. “But I would also tell you this, that if I, in my opinion, that 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 or a Friday night or a Sunday afternoon and I had to have the conversation with, ‘Hey, hang in here. It’s going to be okay.’
“Whether they agreed with the decision or not, it didn’t matter. You have to battle and fight through. Those players and young men that struggled with the public criticism and things that are out there in the world today. If you want to look them in the eye and tell them,’ Hey, you need to hang in there. Don’t accept criticism from somebody 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.”
It’s not every day at Ohio State — or likely anywhere — when a coach talks about some perceived failing and they’re as forthcoming and honest as Coombs was on Tuesday. Coombs could have gone to the coachspeak playbook, but that’s never really been who he is. He’s always been fairly open with the media, and so even though Tuesday’s session was eye opening, it probably shouldn’t have been a surprise.
Kerry Coombs has never come across as “just a coach,” after all. He’s well known for being an outstanding recruiter and an energy guy for the Buckeyes, but he’s also the guy who still keeps in touch with his former cornerbacks and is always there when he’s needed.
And that doesn’t stop now just because Coombs is going through what he called “the hardest stretch” of his professional career. There are still many players at Ohio State who rely on him and that’s where his focus remains while dealing with this entire ordeal in the public eye.
“I’m blessed to work here,” Coombs said. “And the last piece is this. We talk about the brotherhood around here an awful lot. We talk about it an awful lot. And if you believe it, and you live it, then when things get tough — it’s easy to be a brother when it’s 66-17 on a Saturday afternoon, it’s hard to be a brother when you face adversity. It’s hard. And so if you’re here for the other men on this team, the other coaches and the other players on this team, if that’s truly what you believe, then you’re here with them come heck or high water. You’re here fighting and struggling and scrapping.
“And I love those kids. I love those kids in that locker room. I love those kids on this team. I love the men I work with and I love Ohio State. And I’m going to be here. I’m going to be fighting and battling and scratching and clawing for the remainder of the season to help us win every frickin’ Saturday. That’s what I’m going to do. And so whether or not I like everything or how everything went, that’s got nothing to do with it. It’s got to do with you got a job to do.”
Kerry Coombs has faced the music and even though he may not like the tune he is still keeping the beat. He understands that there is a much higher purpose at work here, and he’s still trying to be an example for the players who trust him to be there every day for them.
“Hopefully someday down the road, some young man who had trouble, who faces trouble or adversity, can remember an example of a man who tried to lead with positive energy in the midst of adversity,” Coombs said. “And if I can do that, then I will have accomplished my goal, as long as we’re continuing to progress and win on Saturday afternoons.”