Urban Meyer’s next big hire to his staff will have the title, “Defensive Coordinator”

Since the end of the regular season, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has lost two members of his coaching staff as co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers and defensive line coach Mike Vrabel have taken jobs elsewhere.

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Last month, Withers was named head coach at James Madison. Prior to arriving in Columbus, Withers was the defensive coordinator for three seasons at North Carolina. In July of 2011, Withers was named interim coach for the Tar Heels after the university fired Butch Davis amid an NCAA investigation of academic misconduct and allegations players receiving improper benefits from agents.

At the conclusion of the 2011 season, Larry Fedora was named head coach at UNC and Withers was not retained. A month later, Meyer hired him at Ohio State and Withers spent two years on his staff.

Yesterday after three seasons at Ohio State, Vrabel announced that he will join Bill O’Brien’s staff as the linebackers coach for the NFL’s Houston Texans.

Vrabel retired as a player from the Kansas City Chiefs after 14 seasons in the NFL on July 10, 2011, and became linebackers coach at Ohio State, joining his longtime friend and former college teammate, Luke Fickell, who was named interim head coach following the dismissal of Jim Tressel.

After Meyer was hired as head coach in November of 2011, Vrabel was one of the assistants he retained, though Vrabel went from coaching the linebackers to the defensive line.

Both coaches were very good recruiters, especially Vrabel.

But the thing is, Ohio State’s defense has been subpar for three years now. And if the Buckeyes want to contend for a national title, Meyer has to make a splash and reel in a big fish. And whoever that is, he’ll have the title of “defensive coordinator.”

While this is just a hunch, I’ve been very good at this for over 10 years. It also means, in all likelihood, that current defensive coordinator Luke Fickell will be demoted and will return as “co-defensive coordinator.”

So who could the next defensive coordinator be?

Let’s throw out some names.

Greg Mattison
Currently, Mattison is the defensive coordinator for Michigan. But if Brady Hoke can poach offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier from Alabama, why can’t Meyer do the same?

Plus, Mattison and Meyer have worked together before. Mattison was Meyer’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Florida for three seasons from 2005-2008 before moving on the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens.

Mattison’s unit ranked among the top 10 nationally in rushing defense each of his three seasons as he helped the Gators win the 2006 title, where his defense held Ohio State to 82 yards of total offense in a 41-14 victory in the BCS National Championship game.

Fred Pagac
Pagac was a three-year starter at tight end for Ohio State from 1971-73 and he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant under the legendary Woody Hayes in 1978 before joining the staff on a full-time basis under Earle Bruce in 1982.

From 1996-99, Pagac served as defensive coordinator under John Cooper at Ohio State. In 1996, Ohio State was first in the country in pass defense and ranked second in scoring defense allowing just 131 points, which was the fewest surrendered by Ohio State since 1979. In 1997, Ohio State allowed 170 points to rank second in the nation in scoring defense. That season the Buckeyes also ranked second in the nation in pass defense. In 1998, the Buckeyes led the nation in rushing defense, ranked second in pass defense, and were fourth overall defensively.

Prior to being named defensive coordinator in 1996, Pagac was Ohio State’s linebackers coach from 1982-1995.

During the 2013 season, Pagac was the linebackers coach for the Minnesota Vikings.

Gene Chizik
Chizik was the head coach of Auburn for four seasons and led the Tigers to a national title in his second year in 2010, but then his next two squads went 11-14 and he was fired.

Prior to being the head coach at Auburn, Chizik spent two seasons as head coach at Iowa State, two seasons as co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at Texas, three seasons as defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach at Auburn, and four seasons as defensive coordinator at Central Florida.

Chuck Heater
Chuck Heater, a native of Tiffin, Ohio, who played his collegiate football for Bo Schembechler at Michigan from 1971-1974, is currently the defensive coordinator at Marshall.

Heater, a 37-year veteran in the college coaching ranks, also served as the co-defensive coordinator at Florida in 2010, and assistant defensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009, all under Meyer, as the Gators won two national titles during Heater’s six-year stint in Gainesville.

“He’s one of the best teachers. I used to just sit in his meetings and watch him coach,” Meyer once said. “Coach Heater has a tendency of making some players out of non-players.”

Need any more connections? Heater served as the defensive backs coach at Ohio State under Coach Bruce from 1985-1987.

Jim Heacock
Though he retired two years ago, Heacock spent 16 seasons as an Ohio State assistant from 1996-2011. In 1996, Heacock was hired by former head coach John Cooper to work with the defensive line. In 2002, he was one of three coaches retained by Jim Tressel when he was hired. In 2005 when Mark Snyder (see below) left for Marshall, Heacock was elevated to defensive coordinator.

Even though Meyer did not retain Heacock when he was hired in 2011, the two do have a relationship. When Heacock was the head coach at Illinois State, Meyer was one of his assistants coaching the outside linebackers in 1988, and the quarterbacks/wide receivers in 1989.

Mark Snyder
Snyder, a native of South Point, Ohio, is currently the defensive coordinator at Texas A&M working under head coach Kevin Sumlin, where he’s been for the past two seasons.

Prior to joining the Aggies’ staff, Snyder was the defensive coordinator/linebackers coach at South Florida for two seasons.

Before taking the head coaching job at Marshall in 2005 where he guided the Thundering Herd to a 22-37 overall mark in a four-year span, Snyder was an assistant under Jim Tressel at Ohio State. From 2001-2003, Snyder was the linebackers coach. In 2004, Snyder was promoted to defensive coordinator when Mark Dantonio left for Cincinnati.

Randy Shannon
Shannon, who spent most of his career at the University of Miami, including four years as head coach of the Hurricanes from 2007-2010, is currently serving on Bret Bielema’s staff at Arkansas as the linebackers coach for the Razorbacks.

While Shannon didn’t exactly get the results need by the administration at Miami during his four years as head coach going 28-22 overall, he was a tremendous defensive coordinator under former head coach Larry Coker. From 2001-2006, the Shannon-led Hurricane defense ranked in the top 10 five out of those six seasons.

In 2001, Shannon’s first season as defensive coordinator, Miami won their fifth national championship and he became the first UM coach to be named the winner of the Frank Broyles Award, presented annually to the nation’s top assistant coach. The Hurricanes had 25 defensive players taken in the NFL Draft from 2002-07, including 12 first round picks.

Clancy Pendergast
Pendergast spent the 2013 season as the defensive coordinator at USC under former head coach Lane Kiffin and interim head coach Ed Orgeron. Pendergast was not retained when USC hired Steve Sarkisian and is currently unemployed.

Before taking the USC job, Pendergast spent three years as the defensive coordinator at California from 2010-2012. The Golden Bears led the conference in total defense, pass defense and fewest first downs allowed in each of his first two seasons while producing nine NFL players.

Prior to Cal, Pendergast was the defensive coordinator with the Arizona Cardinals (2004-08) and the Kansas City Chiefs (2009).

Bill Sheridan
Most recently, Sheridan was the defensive coordinator for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers working under former head coach Greg Schiano.

But with Schiano getting the ax, Sheridan was not retained by new head coach Lovie Smith, who opted to go with Leslie Frazier as his defensive coordinator.

Ironically, Meyer had hired Sheridan once before in January of 2012 to replace Taver Johnson as cornerbacks coach.

Sheridan was on Meyer’s staff for about a month before he was hired by Tampa Bay.

Prior to his very short stint at OSU, Sheridan spent the previous seven seasons in the NFL with the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins. But Sheridan was also a former assistant at both Michigan (2002-04) and Michigan State (1998-2000).

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4 comments
Bob
Bob

My vote goes to Pagac. Michigans defence was worse than Ohio States, and Twxas A&M was giving up a lot of points as well. Fred Pagac is a genius as a defensive coordinator. Lets go after him.

TomD
TomD

It should be obvious that if the Buckeyes are serious about being national title contenders, they need to play much better, consistent defense, especially pass defense. This is not going to happen with co-coordinators . . . one guy has to be completely in charge of the defense. And this should not be hard, Ohio State has had, recently, very good defenses, so it can be done, with the right defensive coordinator. The talent is there. First, a proven, sound defensive scheme . . . a smart, effective approach to the defensive side of the ball. Not reactive to the offense but intelligently proactive . . . aggressive in the right way at the right time. Offenses today are too good for defenses to be reactive. Pressuring a quarterback . . . being proactive by taking him out of his comfort zone . . . should be a top priority. Realizing the strengths and weaknesses of defensive players and factoring that into the mix, all the while recognizing that good defense is ultimately a team accomplishment, centered around a sound defensive scheme. Find a coach with a sound scheme and then STICK WITH IT . . . do not vacillate around from game to game, perhaps confusing your own players more than opposing offenses. When a defense fails to find an identity, it telegraphs its own insecurity. Players should develop during the year, as they gain game experience. That did not seem to happen with the defense in 2013. Also, was physical conditioning an issue in 2013? There is much talent on defense at Ohio State, and more is coming. There should be no excuse for mediocrity, being 112th in the nation in pass defense. Ohio State needs a new defensive coordinator and a new approach to the defensive side of the ball. While the offensive approach was not blameless in the losses to Michigan State and Clemson, Urban Meyer must know that the defensive approach must be completely revamped after the Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson games. This begins with the coaches. I apologize for the long post, but I strongly believe that the fans at Ohio State deserve the best.

Matt_Barker
Matt_Barker

Tom, I greatly appreciate your comment. Every word of it. First, let me explain something. The past two seasons, Fickell has been the defensive coordinator and Everett Withers was the co-defensive coordinator. There was no "co-" in Fickell's title because he was (and still is for now) in charge. That's exactly how it was when Heacock and Fickell worked together from 2005-2010. Heacock was in charge, Fickell was the co-defensive coordinator. It's sort of like "Assistant Regional Manager" and "Assistant to the Regional Manager. It's a title. The bottom line is that defense wins championships. Too many times this past season, Ohio State's defense turned average quarterbacks into great ones, and that includes Joel Stave, Devin Gardner, Conner Cook, etc. The defensive line was the one true positive, and with Vrabel leaving that hurts. This thing is, not only is Fickell the defensive coordinator, but he's the linebackers coach as well. To me, that unit struggled as bad or even worse than the secondary. At least the secondary has an excuse after losing Christian Bryant to an injury. Speaking of the secondary, I got tired of seeing the corners play 10 yards of their man, letting them roam free from the line of scrimmage. When Urban Meyer was hired, it was a no-brainer that he was going to retain Stan Drayton because he worked with him at Florida. As for Fickell and Vrabel, it was a good PR move. But with Vrabel gone and the defense struggling, it's time to being in someone new with more experience.

TomD
TomD

Thanks Matt. I don't know where I picked up the mistaken idea that Luke Fickell and Everett Withers were co-defensive coordinators this year. But that at least clarifies that Fickell has been the top guy on the defense. And you are right, losing Vrabel will be a challenge. He was a good coach and a better recruiter. Was his choice to leave now at all related to the changes that are probably coming to the defensive coaching staff? "Speaking of the secondary, I got tired of seeing the corners play 10 yards of[f] their man, letting them roam free from the line of scrimmage." Exactly. When you directly telegraph to your opponent that you are insecure about your own competence, and consistently playing well off a receiver is exactly that, opposing coaches and players notice and elevate their own game in response. Connor Cook said exactly this, in so many words, prior to the championship game. This attitude on the defensive side of the ball has to change, drastically. But not "dumb" aggression, but calculated, intelligent aggression. That is what wins championships. Michigan State proved it.