'You dust yourself off and you go back to work.' Kerry Coombs regroups after demotion

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Kerry Coombs had a decision to make.

But considering the Ohio State defensive coordinator’s personality and beliefs, the choice was easy.

Starting with his years building Cincinnati Colerain High School into a state powerhouse through his time at the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State and the Tennessee Titans, Coombs often did what all coaches must — give tough news to people who believed they deserved better.

When Ohio State’s defense struggled in the first three games and coach Ryan Day gave secondary coach Matt Barnes play-calling duties, it was a body blow that Coombs didn’t minimize.

“Obviously, this has been the hardest stretch of my professional career,” Coombs said Tuesday in his first public comments since the demotion.

But Coombs’ strength as a coach is his ability to combine raw honesty and an irrepressible, optimistic nature, so it wasn’t a surprise that he then added the chaser, “which I would tell you means I've had a really good career.”

Mike Tomlin,  Mike Vrabel and Dick LeBeau reached out

He said he was bucked up by messages of encouragement from coaches such as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mike Tomlin, his former OSU colleague Mike Vrabel with the Tennessee Titans and longtime NFL assistant Dick LeBeau. He also took comfort in his religious faith.

Coombs acknowledged that it remains a “work in progress” coming to terms with his demotion.

“But I would also tell you this,” he said. “Handling it in a different fashion, picking up your ball and going home, kicking the can down the road, quitting, packing your stuff up, being a miserable human being — if I had done those things, that would make me a liar to every one of those young men that I've coached along the way that had tough times, that got replaced on a given Saturday or Friday night or a Sunday afternoon and had to have the conversation with, ‘Hey, hang in here, it's going to be OK.’ ”

Coombs said it doesn’t matter if he agrees with Day’s decision. He said it’s the head coach’s prerogative to make the move and that he “absolutely” has respect for Day.

Coombs added that the “brotherhood” the Buckeyes often describe themselves as would be hollow if it didn’t apply in his case.

“It's easy to be a brother when it’s 66-17 on a Saturday afternoon,” he said, referring to Saturday’s score against Maryland. “It's hard to be a brother when you face adversity. And so if you're here for the other men on this team — the other coaches and the players — if that's truly what you believe, then you're here with them come heck or high water.

“I love those kids in that locker room. I love the men I work with, and I love Ohio State. And I'm going to be here fighting and battling and scratching and clawing for the remainder of the season to help us win every freakin’ Saturday. Whether or not I like everything or how everything went, that's got nothing to do with it.”

Kerry Coombs believes in his coaching ability

Coombs said his belief in his own coaching ability has not wavered.

“I don't have any lack of confidence in my ability to do the job,” he said. “I think that's important. I feel very comfortable with who I am and how I do my business.”

That might be why it was so hard for Coombs to be told he was being demoted. For one day, he allowed himself to feel the full brunt of the disappointment.

“I tell the kids when they have a tough day or an injury, it’s OK to be sad,” Coombs said “There’s nothing wrong with that. If it's not OK to be sad, if it's not OK to be upset, then is it OK to be happy? But that can't last. That's a 24-hour window. You’ve got to pick yourself up. You dust yourself off and you go back to work. That's what life is.”

Coombs said he made a conscious decision that day to not let others see his hurt, that he would bring the same positive energy he always has.

“Your guts can be turning inside out and upside down, but you don’t have to share that with anyone else,” he said.

Day has gone out of his way to praise Coombs for how he has handled the situation and reiterate that he remains an important part of the defensive staff. Day even awarded the game ball Saturday to him, which Coombs termed undeserving and even embarrassing.

At his suggestion, Coombs is coaching from the booth instead of the field now. He hasn't done that since his first year as a UC assistant in 2007.

"It's been something that I think has enhanced my ability to see the game, communicate the game, and I think that's been a real strength over the last couple of weeks," he said. "(But) I miss hugging people. I've got (offensive coordinator) Kevin Wilson (next to me), I've gotta be honest with you. Honestly, it's not the same."

As for exactly what his role is, Coombs wasn’t clear. Whatever he's feeling on the inside, he's projecting the same vibe he always has to players.

"He always has energy," senior wide receiver Chris Olave said. "You're going to get the same coach Coombs every day. He's impacted a lot of guys on the team, just not on the defense, but on the offense, too. He brings that same energy every day."

To Coombs, that's simply his responsibility.

"It's my job to walk in the building with a bounce in my step, to high-five and hug every single kid I come across, to prepare the team as best I can as part of the team of coaches to help us win on Saturday," he said.

“That's what my job is, and I look forward to it every morning. I don't get out of bed and go, ‘Oh, man, I've got to go to work.’ I’ve told you guys a million times, I get up on the edge of the bed and say, ‘Man, it's going to be a great day.’ Well, it still is.”


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