'Coaches bleed, too': Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles seeking redemption

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

ATLANTA – Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles didn't see most of the criticism directed at him following the Buckeyes' 45-23 loss to Michigan.

Coaches can be so consumed by their work during the season that they essentially live in silos. Not much from the outside pierces their world. But he didn't need critics ripping him to feel miserable.

“I'm human, right?” Knowles said Wednesday. “Coaches bleed, too.”

Miyan Williams:RB Miyan Williams absent from Ohio State football's College Football Playoff practice

Now Knowles and the Buckeyes can stanch that bleeding Saturday night when they play top-ranked Georgia in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Peach Bowl.

The Bulldogs have a superb defense, so it'll be necessary for the Buckeyes' defense to rise to the occasion.

For 11 games this season, Knowles mostly delivered on his mission Ohio State coach Ryan Day gave him to fix that unit, which was dysfunctional in 2021. The scare against Maryland the week before Michigan was a warning flag. Then came the big plays that doomed OSU against their arch-rival.

That caused Knowles to do plenty of tossing and turning at night.

“When you have those kinds of plays happen to you, you definitely go back to the call and every part of what you do,” Knowles said Wednesday. “There's some dark times. You've got to take responsibility for that, and you want to fix it. What was it about that particular call? Could I have done something different?”

Oct 29, 2022; University Park, Pennsylvania, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Knowles watches warm ups prior to the NCAA Division I football game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Beaver Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Adam Cairns-The Columbus Dispatch

He said he might, with hindsight, have changed a couple of his calls. But Knowles doesn't believe the breakdowns against Michigan are evidence of a schematic flaw.

He doesn't regret, for example, his decision to blitz on a third-and-9 in the second quarter that turned into a game-tying 69-yard touchdown after a missed tackle.

But Knowles takes responsibility for not teaching his players well enough to prevent those blown plays, and he has dissected them with his players.

Knowles, 57, has coached long enough not to believe things are perfect after success and not to panic after failures.

Ohio State football in the CFP:Ohio State moves to head of class if it passes tough test against Georgia | Rob Oller

“I think it's easier when you've had some experience and some success to stay the course,” he said. “Fix the issue but stay the course.”

The key is to instill confidence in players and then maintain it even while addressing mistakes, Knowles said.

“I think as you as you work through this profession, you deal with your own ego a lot,” he said. “When you're young, you ride the wave of when people are praising you, and then you crash when people are vilifying you. Then you learn that ego that doesn't serve me at all in terms of getting these kids ready to play the game.”

Knowles said the Michigan and Georgia offenses have some similarities. Both use multiple formations with much shifting. Both want to establish the run and use their tight ends in creative ways. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, like Michigan's J.J. McCarthy, is athletic and can improvise.

"It's a complete offense," Knowles said of Georgia. "It's developed like an NFL offense, and they have a bunch of tools at their disposal. We need to be sound across the board and really play hard with great effort."

Knowles believes the painful experience against Michigan could benefit the Buckeyes against the Bulldogs.

“Coach Day has talked about it,” he said. “I believe if that gives us a chip (on our shoulder) that no one's expecting us to do anything because of that, good. Because we have done a lot of good things, too. We can use that to our advantage.”

Knowles believes his players are up for the challenge.

"The guys, they have an edge," he said. "I know they're grateful for the opportunity to be playing on the biggest stage and really just want to go out and play their best."

Get more Ohio State football news by listening to our podcasts.