Kerry Coombs returned to Ohio State from the NFL this year to run the Buckeyes defense.
Now he feels like running up the walls of his house.
Like most people, Ohio State’s football coaches are working from home these days because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Home confinement is hard for most, even more so for someone with Coombs’ boundless energy.
"Absolutely climbing the walls," Coombs said last week in a conference call with reporters. "I’m not going to tell you that I’m not. It’s one of those things you can’t control, but it’s not something that’s pleasant to me."
Coombs reached the point where he told his wife, Holly, that he had to buy something to provide some sort of competitive outlet.
"My poor wife," he said. "It’s awful. I went and picked up a pingpong table yesterday. I said, ‘We’ve got to compete somehow, honey. We’ve got to find something we can do. So we’re going to play pingpong.’"
This wasn’t what Coombs had in mind when he left the Tennessee Titans after two years to come back to Columbus. Coombs had been an integral part of Urban Meyer’s staff as cornerbacks coach and special-teams coordinator. The parade of first-round cornerbacks the Buckeyes have sent to the NFL are players Coombs recruited and coached.
He went to the Titans to coach under Mike Vrabel, the former Buckeyes player and assistant coach. When secondary coach and defensive co-coordinator Jeff Hafley took the Boston College head coaching job, OSU coach Ryan Day lured Coombs back as defensive coordinator.
It didn’t take much of a selling job.
Coombs expected to have spring football to refamiliarize himself with OSU players and make modifications to the scheme. But Ohio State got in only three practices before the pandemic forced cancellation of the rest of practices. Players are now scattered throughout the country to complete the rest of spring semester remotely.
"The good thing for Kerry is he’s only been gone for a couple years," Day said. "So he knows everything that’s going on here. He recruited Shaun Wade, Tyreke Johnson and some of these guys. It’s not like he’s coming into the situation where he doesn’t know the guys in that room. He’s got that background, and then there’s already a system in place here."
Disappointed as he is that 12 practices were canceled, Coombs knows it could be worse. It’s not as if he’s taking over a defense in need of a major overhaul.
That happened last year under coordinators Hafley and Greg Mattison along with position coaches Larry Johnson, Al Washington and Matt Barnes. They transformed a porous defense into an elite one.
"I didn’t have a great hope of over-installation, primarily because you’re coming in with a team that had the No. 1 defense in the country last year," Coombs said. "If it’s not broke, you don’t fix it. You don’t make a lot of changes. ...
"We weren’t making an overhaul of anything relative to the defense. Do I think we’re going to make some additions and changes and modifications? Absolutely."
Coombs said the Buckeyes were able to get a good start in the three practices they did have. Now, coaches are doing their best to instruct and monitor their players from afar. They have regular Zoom meetings and remain in close touch.
But there’s only so much you can do without hands-on instruction.
"It would be foolish to try to teach new concepts and ideas over a computer screen," Coombs said. "The process of teaching in the game of football is so specific to the things that you want to install and how you want to do them. I think those things are very, very challenging."
Direct coaching may be on semi-hiatus, but recruiting never stops, and Coombs has been on a roll.
He has been the primary recruiter for four players who have recently committed — Jakailin Johnson, Andre Turrentine and Devonta Smith for the 2021 class and Jyaire Brown for 2022 — and the secondary recruiter for ’21 commits Jantzen Dunn and Jaylen Johnson.
"This (shutdown) gives you a lot of time to recruit and watch tape and stuff like that," Coombs said. "So that’s been fun and that’s been productive.
"One thing Ryan said is we’re going to make more out of this time than anybody else, and I think we’ve done a good job."
Coombs has had reason to celebrate lately on two other fronts. He accurately predicted that cornerback Damon Arnette would go earlier than projected in the NFL draft. A player Coombs recruited and developed, with plenty of speed bumps along the way, Arnette went 19th overall to the Las Vegas Raiders.
Even better was the birth last Wednesday of his son Dylan’s daughter, his eighth grandchild.
"As much as this past week was a blast with recruiting and the draft, nothing compares to the arrival of our new granddaughter, Presley Jonelle!" Coombs said Monday on Twitter.
Even with that, the social-distancing requirements caused by the coronavirus has impacted the experience.
"Dang virus," he added in hashtags. "Looking through the glass is not near as much fun as holding her."