Greg Mattison is 69. Larry Johnson is 67. Kevin Wilson is 57. Three older — they prefer you don’t call them old — Ohio State football coaches working together in an environment dominated by youth.

They make movies about aging guys like this, but usually they’re sitting together on a park bench — pigeons perched on a shoulder and head — grumbling about “kids these days.”

Not these three. Their knees may ache and their hair may be shifting into reverse, but coaching the Buckeyes keeps them thinking — if not always feeling — they are young.

“Listen to the old Toby Keith song,” Wilson said, quoting the lyrics. “ ‘Ask yourself how old you’d be if you didn’t know the day you were born.’

“It’s how you act. Coach Johnson and coach Mattison are young guys, and I try to have as much fun as I can.”

For those who remember the 1960s — an oxymoron; as the old hippie joke goes, “If you can remember the ’60s you didn’t live through them.” — it is hard not to identify with this trio. As time flies, it becomes increasingly rare to find folks who remember when Robert De Niro was better known for driving a taxi than a family RV.

That younger generation includes Ohio State’s head coach. Ryan Day is 40, which is considered old only by those who never learned to write cursive. Offensive line coach Greg Studrawa is 54 — the double nickel is coming for you, Stud — and running backs coach Tony Alford is the big 5-0. But 36 is the average age of the remaining full-time assistants.

Day wooed Mattison from Michigan in January — a move that nearly doubled his salary to $1.1 million; tough career decision, eh? — to serve as co-defensive coordinator with 39-year-old Jeff Hafley, explaining that he wanted to add experience. It was an interesting hire, given Johnson already was on that side of the ball.

How have the more-senior members of the staff connected, given they did not know each other well before two months ago?

“It’s been awesome. We have a great relationship,” Johnson said of working with Mattison. “And to me, coaching is about relationships. If they’re really good, you can really grow as a staff.”

Relationships can prove challenging when trying to connect across generational lines, which helps explain the shared trust among Mattison, Johnson and Wilson. Each said their age does not necessarily factor into feeling comfortable around one another, but there is no denying a mutual respect exists based on “been there, done that.”

“It’s a comfort level of being around really good coaches,” Mattison said. “I see Larry in there and, dang, I recruited against him every day of my life. Then I watch his (defensive line) and go, ‘Man, that’s really good.’ ”

Wilson has noticed a difference in dialogue with older coaches compared with younger ones.

“It’s nice to have experience out there, and with that comes trust,” he said. “You can have two-way conversations. With young coaches sometimes it’s a one-way conversation. The older you get, it’s a little more of a two-way street.”

What do Ohio State players think of playing for men old enough to be their grandfathers?

Defensive lineman Jashon Cornell said he feels blessed and excited to be coached by Johnson and Mattison. Blessed because “we have two of the best minds in college football now.” Excited because the old(er) dogs are coming up with new tricks.

“They want pressure, so this whole defensive scheme is pretty much getting the defensive linemen in the backfield and disrupting everything,” Cornell said. “We like it a lot more than our defense we had previously.”

Call it cool that Day maintains such a multi-generational staff. Younger learn from older. Older adapt to younger. Wisdom wins.

roller@dispatch.com

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