During the tenure of Urban Meyer, like with every coach, there were invariable areas on the team that occasionally needed improvement and went through some up and downs. However, from 2012-17, the secondary was not one of them. Former position coach Kerry Coombs, now with the Tennessee Titans, was consistent in recruiting solid high school athletes that he, and the rest of the defensive staff, would turn into first and second round NFL Draft picks.
Marshon Lattimore, Eli Apple, Denzel Ward, Gareon Conley, Bradley Roby, Doran Grant, Vonn Bell and Malik Hooker are all testaments to what Coombs was able to create on the back end of the OSU defense. And, with that eventual pro talent, the Ohio State secondary was a strong spot for practically every single year that Coombs was in charge.
But then after the 2017 season, Coombs took a job with the Tennessee Titans and moved on from the Buckeyes and college football. Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith went on the hunt for a new coach and landed with Taver Johnson and Alex Grinch. After a mess of a season, and one of the worst defenses and secondaries that the Buckeyes have had in a while, newly promoted head coach Ryan Day moved on from Johnson and Grinch after just one year and hired Jeff Hafley.
Hafley comes in as the co-defensive coordinator and the secondaries coach, and has a ton of experience under his belt. He started with Albany as the defensive assistant in 2002-03 and then worked his way through Pittsburgh and Rutgers as the defensive backs coach before the NFL came calling.
In the pros, Hafley started as a defensive backs assistant in 2012 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and after one season, was promoted to secondaries and safeties in 2013. Ironically, this was under recently departed OSU defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. In 2014-15 he was the defensive backs coach for the Cleveland Browns, and for the past three seasons, he was the defensive backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
During his tenure in the NFL, he worked for some great coaches and worked with some great players. Richard Sherman in particular had some really insightful things to say about Hafley last season.
“He’s with his preparation, how he breaks down film and how easy and simple he makes the game plan sound and how easy he makes it for guys to understand,” Sherman commented about Hafley.
“The extra work with Marcell Harris and D.J. Reed, that’s all Haf,” Sherman said. “Just getting those guys to get aligned and play fast and know the plays, and know the plays when this guy motions or this guy moves or a back moves here or a back moves there, I think he deserves a lot more credit than he’s getting.”
This is extremely high praise from a player of the caliber of Sherman. It is especially important when he goes on to say great things about how Hafley can take young players and really get them to buy into the system and trust the coaches. This will be a huge thing for the Buckeyes with all of the coaching changes and especially with the ones on the defensive side.
There is a lot of talent in the secondary for Ohio State this year with Damon Arnette returning after possibly heading to the draft and then Shaun Wade, Jeffrey Okudah, Isaiah Pryor, Jordan Fuller and Brendon White all returning for Ohio State after seeing meaningful minutes last season.
With a guy that has the resume and toolbox that Hafley has coming in, it seems like things are pointing to an improved secondary — and by extension defense as a whole. If all of the things that Richard Sherman had to say about Hafley remain true in Columbus, then Buckeye fans are in for a fun ride.
Also, as we all know, Richard Sherman likes to tell it how it is and never hold back, so that is a reassuring sign.
If you need more convincing that Hafley has what it takes to be a difference maker, check out his introductory press conference at Ohio State from last month. This guy is undoubtedly special.