When Kerry Coombs returned to work at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center after two years with the Tennessee Titans, he used his thumbprint to see if the passcode system to open doors still recognized him.
It did. He took that as a sign that he never really left the place he considers home.
Coombs is back at Ohio State with a new title and expanded responsibilities. He was the cornerbacks coach and special-teams coordinator under Urban Meyer. Coombs is now the defensive coordinator under Ryan Day.
Coombs is known for his energetic personality as much as his coaching, and that was on display when he met with reporters Wednesday for the first time since his hiring last month. At one point, he spotted Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith walking in the hallway behind the room.
“What's up, Gene!” he yelled. “I'm back, baby! I'm back!”
His personality hasn't changed, but he believes he will be a better coach because of his NFL experience.
“You guys will be the judge of that, and obviously the scores will indicate, but I'm infinitely better than I was two years ago,” he said.
Coombs said the thicker playbook in the NFL and working under Titans coach Mike Vrabel and defensive coordinator Dean Pees has made him a more complete coach. He said no other team in the NFL used as many coverage schemes as the Titans.
“I have a library that is this huge, as big as all outdoors, of defensive football now,” he said. “Now you can't play it all here, but you can play some of it. You can pick and you can choose, and now we have options.”
He also learned from NFL players the importance of detailing the reasons for coaching certain techniques and concepts and not just demanding players do them.
“I can't wait to get my hands on these guys and be able to start to explain to them why we're doing these things,” he said. “It will make them better.”
When Coombs was at Ohio State before, the Buckeyes played press man-to-man coverage almost exclusively. They mixed in more coverage last year with a single deep safety when Jeff Hafley directed the back end of the defense.
Coombs and Day said the Buckeyes will stick with what worked in 2019 as their primary scheme.
“I think it's going to be a combination like it's been,” Day said. “I think there's just a lot of different things at play now. He certainly has two more years of experience in the NFL of different coverages, and what we've done with the cover-3 stuff has been really good for us. We want to keep building off of that.”
Coombs said the defensive coordinator title – Hafley was a co-coordinator, and Greg Mattison remains co-defensive coordinator – wasn't important to him and wasn't a condition for him to return. The defense will be a collaboration.
“I think defensive football and offensive football is best played when everybody's got a voice and everybody has input,” he said, “and that's the way we're going to operate.”
Coombs said he left Ohio State only because Vrabel asked him to join him. The two were close as Buckeyes assistants. But when Hafley left, the idea of returning to Ohio State was impossible for Coombs to resist.
“I love Ohio State,” he said. “I don't want to understate this. I missed it.
“I love recruiting. I love going into high schools and talking with high school coaches. I love meeting players when they're 16, 17, 18 years old and seeing that transition from a boy to a man. I love being behind the stage on a draft night and seeing a kid realize his dreams. I love coming out of that tunnel on a Saturday afternoon.”