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Possible candidates to replace Chris Ash as Ohio State's defensive coordinator

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Ohio State's going to need a new defensive coordinator soon. Here are some names to watch.

As has become commonplace in the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State -- which in fairness is a good problem to have given the way it enhances your ability to recruit replacements -- the Buckeyes will need to replace another top assistant.

First reported by Sports Illustrated's Thayer Evans, Buckeyes second-year DC Chris Ash is expected to become the next head coach at Ohio State's divisional rival Rutgers. USA TODAY's Dan Wolken and NJ.com later confirmed the report.

So what's that mean for the Buckeyes?

Short term, OSU loses the guy who helped fix the secondary and reinforce fundamentals to the defense as a whole. While Luke Fickell's track record speaks for itself, the 2012 and 2013 Ohio State defenses had somewhat lost their way, oftentimes devolving into a porous state against higher-octane offenses.

Ash, whose reputation as a defensive instructor extends into having done a series of defensive fundamentals videos, was brought in from Bret Bielema's first-year staff at Arkansas after a successful run at Wisconsin before that.

Though he and Meyer had no career overlaps prior to linking up, Ash's standing as a teacher was well regarded and helped make the hire a good one.

The results were immediate. Ohio State's defense returned to near-2000s levels of excellence the fan base had come to expect, which helped the team take home the 2014 national championship and follow it up with a strong 11-1 campaign.

Accordingly, Ohio State won't need a wholesale rebuild or any kind of repair reminiscent of the last time Meyer and Co. went through a (co-)defensive coordinator change. It's always good to welcome in new ideas though, so while it's possible Meyer goes to the well and brings back someone he's worked with prior, don't necessarily rule out an outsider (not unlike Ash was at the time he was hired by the Bucks).

Here are a few names to be on the look for in the weeks ahead:

Todd Orlando, DC - Houston

A year after losing Tom Herman to the University of Houston, could Urban Meyer turn to his old colleague to find a new defensive coordinator?

In his first year with the Cougars, Orlando took a defense which had been 121st in the country in S&P+ and turned it into the No. 68 defense.

While the Cougars were understandably still in a number of shutout-type contests this season, Orlando was brought in by Herman in the first place due to his stout reputation at Utah State. He'd previously coached at UConn and Florida International prior to his time in Logan.

Jeremy Pruitt, DC - Georgia

This name is unlikely but one you're certain to hear a lot in the weeks ahead.

Pruitt is not expected to be retained by probable new Georgia head coach Kirby Smart and has already been tied to his former boss, Nick Saban, as a probable replacement for Smart in Tuscaloosa.

Pruitt is known as a solid game planner and an outstanding recruiter, but rumors of extracurricular issues allegedly played a role in his leaving Florida State for Georgia in a near-lateral move several seasons ago.

The other reason Pruitt might not be a fit is he's likely to command at or near $1 million per season. Buckeyes athletic director Gene Smith has gone on the record in the past that he wasn't willing to enter into the kind of arms race that has become commonplace in the SEC.

Chuck Heater, DC - Marshall

Familiarity is extremely high here as Heater coached under Meyer for over half a decade at Utah and Florida, but there are plenty of reasons to doubt this one too.

Meyer could've hired Heater the last time he sought a co-defensive coordinator and didn't. Heater's also 63 years old, and while he likely has some good coaching years in front of him, he may not mesh with Meyer's potential desire to continue grooming future head coaches among his staff.

There's no arguing the networking plusses, though. It will be interesting to see if Meyer elects to pick up the phone and call his old friend.

Mel Tucker, DBs - Alabama

It wouldn't be an Ohio State defensive coordinator search without Tucker's name being mentioned.

A former Buckeye assistant under Jim Tressel, Tucker's resume includes six years as an NFL defensive coordinator (including a brief stint as interim Jacksonville Jaguars head coach).

Though his run with the Chicago Bears ended with some rather poor defenses under his stewardship, a year under Nick Saban at Alabama can't be viewed as anything but a positive.

Given his familiarity with the program (and Big Ten country as a whole as a former Wisconsin Badger), don't be surprised to hear rumors of Tucker to Ohio State.

Cornell Ford, DBs - Missouri

This one is more of a dark horse selection and may ultimately only be in play if, say, OSU elected to promote Kerry Coombs and hire Ford to coach the defensive backs.

Ford may be a relative unknown to most Ohio State fans, but he's done great work with the Mizzou secondary. He's a Toledo guy with Ohio roots and he's been recruiting at high clip for much of the last year.

Though he's probably the name we'd put the least stock in, he's an interesting guy with some upside to say the least.

Dean Hood, unemployed (former EKU head coach)

It may not be the sexiest name dropped in the time between now and when Ohio State names a new defensive coordinator, but recently let go Eastern Kentucky head coach Dean Hood has a deep, personal history with the Ohio State brass.

Considered one of Urban Meyer's best friends, Hood and Meyer have co-hosted free football camps near where they grew up in Northeast Ohio. Hood also took former Ohio State defensive end Noah Spence after he was banned by the Big Ten league office for repeat drug test violations.

An Ohio Wesleyan grad, Hood's coached in and recruited Ohio and was also the defensive coordinator for Wake Forest the year they won the ACC championship and went on to a BCS bowl.

His q-score may not be the highest, but given that they've never coached together, the time might be right given his recent departure from EKU.

(Thanks to reader Brian Frankenberg for the tip)

Other names to watch

Tim Beckman - Unemployed

We're ruling this one out due to his recent history of alleged student-athlete endangerment and litigation to the same effect from his time at Toledo. An Ohio State coaching background and a history with Urban Meyer will make his name come up, however, realistic or not.

Gene Chizik, DC - North Carolina

UNC will likely be aggressive to match any attempts to poach one of the Broyles Award nominees for assistant coach of the year. For our money, Chizik's next move will be as a head coach, but stranger things have happened.

Greg Schiano - Unemployed

No evidence suggests that Schiano would be willing to lower himself to being a DC to get back into college coaching, but you have to think he needs a job eventually. He and Meyer have mutual friends with the New England Patriots. Allegations of abuse and possible mismanagement of player health at Tampa Bay might prove too much for the Buckeyes.

Derek Jones, DBs - Duke

Another younger guy who's been in charge of a standout unit. An outsider hirer's outsider hire, but could bring fresh ideas to the Buckeye defensive braintrust.