clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Column: Malcom Jenkins is an Ohio State legend. If he wants it, he should consider a future as an Ohio State coach.

Jenkins recently announced his retirement from the NFL. Could he follow in the footsteps of Fickell, Vrabel, Hartline, and others?

Malcom Jenkins closed the chapter on an outstanding NFL career Wednesday, announcing his retirement after 13 professional seasons. The former Buckeye All-American and Jim Thorpe Award winner spent time with the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles, and started 191 regular-season games (13+ in each of his last 12 years). Jenkins won two Super Bowls, beating both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, was named to three Pro Bowls, and continued playing at a high level into his mid-thirties.

He was highly respected as a player and vocal team leader, but his actions off the field were arguably more impressive. Jenkins became known for his charitable work and community involvement, and was nominated for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award multiple times. His off-the-field contributions will far outlast his playing career, but both should be recognized now and for decades to come.

So what does Jenkins do with his newfound free time? Well, frankly, he can (and should) do whatever he wants. He made a lot of sacrifices – and a lot of money – over the last decade and change, so he should enjoy the fruits of his labor. Jenkins will surely remain involved in different communities he has been a part of, and he also has several business ventures that require some level of attention. This Renaissance man will have plenty of options, and he does not strike me as the type who will retreat to a cabin in the wilderness.

But what if the itch to play football returns? What happens if or when Jenkins’ competitive juices are flowing in the fall, and he isn’t able to put on the helmet and shoulder pads and bust a wide receiver coming across the field? We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again: athletes from every sport come out of retirement when they miss the action or have trouble transitioning to everyday life. I personally don’t think either of those is likely with Jenkins, but if he wanted to feel that rush again, or at least be a part of the game, I suggest a homecoming of sorts.

Jenkins was born in New Jersey, but spent four of his formative years in Columbus, Ohio. He committed to Ohio State as a three-star recruit and saw the field immediately as a freshman. He developed into an All-American and Thorpe winner, finishing his OSU career with nearly 200 tackles and 11 interceptions as a cornerback. Whatever he did lack in speed and/or athleticism (which wasn’t much), he made up for with cerebral attributes and football IQ. Jenkins is the last Buckeye to win the Thorpe Award, yet it still feels like he is underrated. Maybe that’s just me being a prisoner of the moment.

Jenkins developed into an excellent football player while playing in The Shoe, and if you saw any of the comments provided by former teammates on Wednesday, you know that he was revered as a peer and a leader. Great player, great leader, versatile, super-intelligent... sounds like a great recipe for a coach. The same recipe has proven successful for Luke Fickell, Mike Vrabel, Brian Hartline, Tim Walton, and many other former Buckeyes. I have not seen Jenkins comment on his own interest – or lack thereof – in coaching, but I would love to see him give it a shot. Even more so, I would love for Ohio State to offer him the opportunity.

Not every player can coach, and not every coach can (or could) play. I won’t pretend that I know exactly what goes into either excelling at a high level, but I would venture a guess that Jenkins is one of those who could potentially succeed at both. Three-star recruits are often ranked as such due to their limitations — whatever they are. And three-star recruits don’t become All-Americans and/or Pro Bowlers without overcoming said limitations (perceived or real), or working their tails off to develop those into strengths.

Not only did Jenkins do those things, but he did so playing different positions. After earning the Thorpe Award as a corner, he transitioned to safety early in his NFL career. Sure, it’s not uncommon for that switch to take place, but it still requires skill and adaptability. The skill and the will to become great, and the work one must put in to do so, are all firsthand experiences Jenkins could pass on to younger players.

From a relationship-building perspective, Jenkins seems custom-made for coaching. As somebody who spent nearly two combined decades in NCAA and/or NFL locker rooms, and was highly respected in each one of them, he would carry a certain cachet that should appeal to players and garner respect.

He clearly knows how to speak to and hold an audience, which is very important when in a room full of young athletes. And the passion and love for teaching others about football – that we hear from a guy like Brian Hartline – is just how I imagine Malcom Jenkins would speak about the game. Similar to Hartline, Vrabel, Fick, and others, Jenkins is plenty young enough to relate to college-age kids. The whole thing just seems to fit perfectly.

I say all of this as a fan. I am merely an observer. Jenkins might have no interest in ever coaching, and even if he did, that interest would need to be reciprocated. The former Buckeye has no ties to Ryan Day, although he was teammates with Hartline. This is all hypothetical, but if the interest was real and mutual, I don’t see any reason why Jenkins could not become the next in a long line of Buckeyes-turned-coaches. I’m not calling for anybody’s job, and I’m not saying he should replace Walton or Perry Eliano — far from it.

He would probably start as some sort of analyst or low-level assistant and work his way up. But as a diehard I just think it would be great to see Jenkins back in The Shoe, coaching up the Silver Bullets or BIA on Saturdays. Come home, Mr. Jenkins. Come home!