Just when it seemed like any drama surrounding the Buckeyes’ coaching staff had come to an end, a new challenger has entered the mix. Ryan Day hired from within to replace the retiring Greg Mattison, upgrading Kerry Coombs to the full-time defensive coordinator while naming Matt Barnes the secondary coach. Now, the Tennessee Volunteers are looking to fill their defensive coordinator vacancy, and the man they have singled out for the position is Ohio State linebacker coach Al Washington.
According to a report by Football Scoop on Monday, the Vols offered Washington a three-year deal worth between $1.2 and $1.5 million annually. In response, Ohio State has been trying to sweeten the pot for the rising young assistant coach to stay in Columbus, with the braintrust combo of Day and Gene Smith reportedly offering Washington an increase in salary and potentially a promotion to co-DC alongside Coombs to stick around.
The rumor mill as of early Tuesday afternoon seemed to indicate that Washington is leaning towards remaining on the Ohio State staff following a boost in incentives, but the situation remains fluid. Tennessee isn’t exactly a hot destination right now, but the opportunity to become a full-time defensive coordinator at an SEC program for the 36-year-old may prove too good to pass up. Washington is a tremendously talented coach, and like we saw last season with Jeff Hafley, success with the Buckeyes as an assistant opens up the door for bigger roles elsewhere.
Ohio State will obviously do everything in its power to get Washington to remain with the team, as he has been an integral part of this defensive coaching staff. Coming over from Michigan after the 2018 season, Washington took control of a linebacker group that had been absolutely putrid under former linebacker coach — and public enemy of the state of Ohio to everyone but Urban Meyer — Billy Davis. With the same group of players under Washington, the Buckeyes linebackers played lightyears better than the season prior, with Malik Harrison becoming a third-round NFL Draft pick after an impressive 2019 campaign.
After another full season in Columbus in 2020, Washington will likely have another pair of mid-round NFL Draft picks to his credit in Pete Werner and Baron Browning. While Ohio State’s defense was well short of expectations across the board, the linebackers had very little of the blame to shoulder. Browning and Werner were solid all season, while Justin Hilliard showed flashes of excellence, especially late in the year. Washington was even able to do some things to mask the many shortcomings of fan-favorite Tuf Borland, which in itself is an impressive feat.
His coaching would become especially important for the Buckeyes in 2021, as the team will now be looking to replace all three of their starters at linebacker. Guys like Teradja Mitchell, Dallas Gant and others have been with the program for quite some time as they patiently awaited their turn in the depth chart, and will now finally get a chance to make a name for themselves at Ohio State. Day has preached consistency within the program since he arrived in Columbus, and having to replace an entire position group AND the coach that leads that position group would certainly be a tough pill to swallow.
Even bigger than his role on the field, Ohio State would love Washington to stick around for his massive efforts in the recruiting game. Per 247Sports, Washington is currently the No. 1 recruiter in the country in the 2022 class with four total commits already in the cycle. He has been able to land a trio of stud linebackers in C.J. Hicks, Dasan McCullough and Gabe Powers, as well as assisting in the recruitment of offensive tackle Tegra Tshabola. Linebacker was going to be a huge position of need in this junior class for Ohio State, and Washington has more than stepped up to the task of reloading the room.
Now, luckily for the Buckeyes, it seems like the current commits will remain intact whether or not Washington does decide to take the Tennessee job. According to Birm of Lettermen Row, there is little reason to worry than any of the highly-touted linebackers committed in 2022 would jump ship with a coaching change. Hicks and McCullough have been two of the most vocal leaders in recruiting additional talent to Ohio State, and it would be surprising to see them abandon the program just like that. Powers isn’t going anywhere either.
“I am Buckeye for life,” Powers told Lettermen Row on Tuesday morning. “[A coaching change] isn’t going to change anything.”
There was some worry as well that McCullough may think about joining his father at Indiana, who just took over as the Hoosiers’ RB coach, but McCullough told Hayes Fawcett that, “It is going to feel good beating [my dad] for 3-4 years. Imma Buckeye,” so there isn’t much reason to worry there. With Hicks earning the monicker ‘Captain Buckeye’ for his own efforts on the recruiting trail, the current commits seem to be relatively solid in their standing even if a coaching change does come to fruition.
However, where this could hurt Ohio State is with the rest of their linebacker targets in 2022. The Buckeyes have wanted to bring in four guys at the position in the next cycle, and are still in on a number of highly-regarded prospects, including names like Shawn Murphy, Jalon Walker and a handful of others. While they seem to be high on a few of these players’ lists at the moment, a new coach would have to quickly build back these relationships Washington has already spent all this time working on. Especially with how good a recruiter Washington has proven to be, it would not be an ideal scenario.
Only time will tell what the young assistant chooses to do. Ohio State clearly offers him more job security and a significantly better chance to win a national title, but that full-time gig at a Power 5 program is understandably enticing — even if it is the dumpster fire that is Tennessee football. If Washington does indeed chose to move on, Ryan Day will have to find a highly qualified replacement rather fast, but he and the rest of the people involved are surely hoping an increased salary and potential promotion will keep him around for at least one more season.