From the moment Urban Meyer was hired nearly a year ago, he talked about assembling the best coaching staff in the country at Ohio State. This was music to Buckeye fans' ears, as Tressel's staff was mostly anonymous to the college football world outside of Buckeye Nation in his final few years.
Urban backed up that talk as well, aggressively taking well thought of coaches from around the country and paying them salaries not previously seen at Ohio State for assistants. It was a move that in the right direction for the B1G as well. Going into this year, the conference ranked fourth in assistant football coach compensation, behind the SEC, Big 12 and ACC.
Still, we all know that it isn't the salary that makes the coach, it's the on the field product. So how is Meyer's new staff doing?
Well, the 9-0 record would suggest this newly compromised staff has done their jobs very well. As a whole this group easily gets an A. Individually? Well, let's dive in a take a look:
That being said, I have to mention some of the problems with the special teams. That unit is Meyer's baby, and they've given up as many big plays as I can remember the Buckeyes giving up in a very long time. To his credit, injuries have hurt the special teams, and they have also forced some huge plays to makeup for their errors. Still, it is enough to bring the grade down from an A+ to an A. Grade: A
Luke Fickell (Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach): Luke Fickell has easily been the most controversial figure on the coaching staff, which is pretty amazing considering his quiet demeanor. Most of this controversy surrounds the defensive product that fans have seen on the field, which needless to say, hasn't been close to Ohio State standards for most of the year. His supporters would point out the lack of talent he's dealing with, especially at safety and linebacker, while detractors argue that he hasn't developed enough talent or made many adjustments. Both have solid points.
While I've mostly been in the latter camp, I have seen a huge turn around the last couple of weeks. Against both Purdue and Penn State, Fickell has blitzed a ton more and finally put his best personnel on the field. There are whispers that this sudden change only came due to Meyer forcing Fickell's hand after the debacle in Bloomington, but still I think he gets some credit. In fact, the improved play of guys like Ryan Shazier gives me hope for Fickell's future. While I'm not going to give him a glowing review because of what I've seen most of the year and my doubts about his ability to defend the spread, the last two weeks definitely bring up the grade. Grade: C
Everett Withers (Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator): Fickell shouldn't take all the blame for the defense as Withers is part of the defensive coaching equation. While he's mostly been in the background this season and we don't know nearly as much about what's he's bringing to the table weekly, there are a few things that help us grade him. We do know that he's brought the new base coverage package for the defense, the Cover-4. In fact, Meyer hired him because of his experience with it and his desire to install it at Ohio State. While it's taken some time, the defense appears to finally be grasping the new look.
On the other hand, I still have to look at the on the field product. The big plays and the consistent mistakes from the back seven really hinder me giving him a good grade. Do I think he's a very good coach? Absolutely. His track record prior to OSU shows that. Still, this season has been a rough one all around for the defensive staff. Grade: C+
Tom Herman (Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach): It took a little while for the offense to get their legs underneath them, but over the last few weeks they have very much been in sync. While Braxton's inconsistencies in the passing game have definitely hindered what Herman (and Meyer) have been able to do with this offense, they have still found a way to overpower most everyone in the conference.
While like any offensive coordinator, there are times we second guess the decisions that are made at times, overall Herman has shown while he is a fast riser in the coaching ranks. He's a good recruiter, dynamic guy and a great offensive mind. I've been most impressed with the in game adjustments that have happened all season, which is part of the reason the Buckeyes have looked so good in the second half. I really believe that another offseason with Braxton Miller will have him playing a more complete all-around game. Grade: B+
Stan Drayton (Running Backs Coach): Drayton's move from coaching wide receivers back to his "sweet" spot of coaching running backs has proven to be a good one. Players like Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith have greatly improved from last season, and even throughout this year, which shows the quality of coaching going on behind the scenes. In fact, before going down, Jordan Hall appeared to be playing the best football of his career.
It's not been all prefect for Drayton, though. With Hall and Warren Ball being injured for the season and Bri'onte Dunn needing more time to develop than previously thought, he's had a tall task this season. There's little to complain about though, and I actually think the offense should feature Drayton's guys a little more. Grade: A-
Tim Hinton (Tight Ends/Fullback Coach): Much like Drayton, the best indicator of the Hinton's coaching this season is the improvement that is evident. While Zach Boren didn't exactly need a lot of coaching, the tight ends were very young. Reid Fragel's move to play right tackle and Jake Stoneburner's move to taking snaps at wide receiver, meant youngsters Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett needed to step up. Both have proven to be very solid blockers, an extension of the offensive line, as well as consistent threats down the field. While neither guy is going to be confused for Aaron Hernandez, both have greatly improved, a credit to what Hinton has done. Grade: B+
Zach Smith (Wide Receivers Coach): Zach Smith had a huge task, as Urban Meyer made it clear throughout the spring that the wide receiving ranks were nowhere near the level he expected of a top-15 caliber team. Despite all the negativity leading up to the season, this unit has been a pleasant surprise. Both Philly Brown and Devin Smith have obliterated their statistics from a season ago, and have stepped up in crunch time to make some very big plays. Other players like Chris Fields, Michael Thomas and Evan Spencer appear to be improving. While there have been some dropped balls, it's hard to complain after what was projected of this unit. Grade: B
Ed Warinner (Co-Offensive Coordinator/Offensive Line Coach): Next to Zach Smith, I'm not sure a coach on the staff inherited a tougher task than Warinner. Thank you Jim Bollman! He's been able to turn this unit around though, and they have actually become one of the strengths of the team. In fact, they are arguably the best offensive line in the conference. They are strong, technically sound and playing with an attitude that we didn't see over the last few seasons. Hopefully Meyer can keep him around because he is doing an outstanding job. Grade: A
Mike Vrabel (Defensive Line Coach): At first glance it may appear as if Vrabel hasn't had the best season in 2012. Coming in the defensive line was supposed to be the strongest unit on this team, and for much of the season they've been a disappointment, especially in rushing the passer. Still, we have to remember the incredible amount of injuries that have taken place across the line, which has greatly diminished what they could have been this season. It's also important to note how much better this unit has played during conference play. Some of this is due to the increase in aggressive play calling from Fickell/Withers, but the line has also stepped up their game.
While I really believe the jury is still out on Vrabel as a coach, since he is so new to the game, I don't think I can give him an awesome grade at this point. Next season with all the new faces getting playing time should tell us lots more about his ability. Grade: B-
Kerry Coombs (Cornerbacks Coach): It's pretty hard to knock Coach Coombs, just from the standpoint of him being so awesome. I love coaches that coach like their hair is on fire, and that's exactly what Coombs brings to the table. The enthusiasm aside, I do think he's done a solid job. Not a stellar job, a solid one. He inherited guys like Bradley Roby and Travis Howard that were already good players. To his credit, both have improved steadily this season. Another guy that we have seen on the field, Doran Grant, also appears to be a better player than last season and early spring. Still, this unit has given up a lot of big plays and dropped a lot of coverages. Some is that is on the defensive scheme and overall defensive coaching, but Coombs has to take some of the criticism too. Grade: B