Ohio State, Clemson assistants prep for new jobs while coaching in playoff

Joey Kaufman
Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley will leave to become head coach at Boston College after Ohio State’s season ends. [Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch]

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — They stay up a little later.

The evenings involve extra viewings of recruiting tape in hotel rooms and phone calls with university administrators.

There’s little X’s and O’s.

In the lead-up to the College Football Playoff semifinal between Ohio State and Clemson set at the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, two of the coordinators pitted against each other hold additional responsibilities.

Earlier this month, Jeff Scott, the offensive co-coordinator for the Tigers, took the head-coaching job at South Florida.

Six days later, Jeff Hafley, the defensive co-coordinator for the Buckeyes, was named Boston College’s head coach.

Both are to remain in their current roles through the playoff, presented with delicate juggling acts.

“We should compare notes,” Hafley said.

Scott saves the end of his days to review the personnel of his new team. It involves evaluating prospective recruit on tape spliced by members of South Florida’s support staff, and emails with others in the program about which players are to return.

He talks with South Florida athletic director Michael Kelly “to just kind of hear what's going on.”

The duties total about a half-hour each night. Not much more, he insists.

“Whenever I wake up and start our meetings here, all the way through the end of practice and whatever events we have,” Scott said, “I try to keep everything blocked off for Clemson and just kind of be where my feet are.”

The routine for Hafley is similar as he pieces together his inaugural coaching staff at Boston College.

He strives for a similar approach as his counterpart, reserving most of his focus for Fiesta Bowl.

“You can ask the players, you can ask the coaches,” Hafley said. “I am 100 percent locked in. Nothing has changed, and I am doing the best that I can.”

Coaches with dual roles has been common in the playoff era.

Even in Ohio State’s two previous trips to the postseason, one of its coordinators was about to move on for a head-coaching gig, first in 2014 when offensive coordinator Tom Herman was headed to Houston, and in 2016 when co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was off to Cincinnati.

It seems difficult to ascertain whether their looming departures shaped the result.

While Fickell belonged to a staff that saw the team shut out in the semifinals, Herman helped the Buckeyes capture the national championship with a third-string quarterback.

Alabama coach Nick Saban, though, believed it hurt his team last January.

Months after finishing as the runner-up to Clemson, Saban lamented certain “distractions,” including coaches who were looking ahead to their new jobs. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley was taking over as Maryland’s head coach.

As if to demonstrate a commitment to his current team on Thursday during a media day event, Hafley remarked that he had not missed a practice or meeting since he was hired by Boston College.

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He made it back to Columbus for a practice on the day of his introductory news conference on Dec. 16.

“I owe it to the team, to myself, to the staff to finish this thing,” he said.

It was a condition that he gave Boston College athletic director Martin Jarmond while he was interviewed.

Jarmond and other school administrators expressed the same desire.

“You got to finish what you start,” Hafley said. “That's really important to me.”

Scott was less involved in Clemson’s preparation last week before it flew to Phoenix for the Fiesta Bowl. He said he missed about four to five practices, but cited his familiarity with Tony Elliott, the Tigers’ other offensive co-coordinator.

This was their fifth season together splitting coordinator duties, and Scott felt it was an “easy transition for us offensively.”

“Everybody has their role,” Scott said, “and a few of them assumed a little bit more responsibility in the game planning while I was down there in south Florida.”

But as with Hafley, Scott was eager to remain amid the playoff push.

A few days before his offer with South Florida was finalized, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney asked Scott what he would like to do if he landed the job.

“And I told him I would like to finish,” Scott said.


Ohio State vs. Clemson

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Glendale, Ariz.


Radio: WBNS-FM/AM (97.1/1460)

CFP semifinal