National Championship Game Preview: Q & A with Ohio State Defensive Coordinator Kerry Coombs

Kerry Coombs
Kerry Coombs OSU DC Talks Alabama Lathom Ramson Ryan Day Justin Fields 1 6 21.mp3

Quick Facts: Returns to Ohio State following
a two-year stint in the NFL with the Tennessee
Titans … coached five first-round NFL Draft picks
from 2014-18.

Kerry Coombs was named Ohio State’s defensive coordinator on Jan. 20 by Ohio State head coach Ryan Day. Coombs, who has spent all but two years of his life in the state of Ohio, thus returns home to Ohio and Ohio State after spending two successful seasons coaching cornerbacks for the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. He had previously coached at Ohio State for six seasons, from 2012 through 2017.

Over the past two seasons with Tennessee, Coombs helped the Titans produce one of the league’s top secondary units. In 2018, it ranked sixth in passing defense (216.9 yards/game), eighth in opponent passer rating (88.4) and ninth in opponent completion percentage (.632).

This past season, which included a trip to the AFC Championship Game, Tennessee ranked eighth in the league with 14 interceptions during the regular season. In a wild card round playoff win at New England, the Titans held Tom Brady to his fifth-lowest passer rating of his postseason career.

Coombs spent his first five seasons with the Buckeyes as Ohio State’s cornerbacks coach before being promoted in 2017 to assistant coordinator, defense. He was also the special team’s coordinator for five seasons, from 2013 through 2017.

Coombs’ tenure with the Buckeyes was a remarkable one, as evidenced by the five first-round NFL draft choices that he developed between 2014 and 2018: Bradley Roby (2014, Denver Broncos), Eli Apple (2016, New York Giants), Marshon Lattimore (2017, New Orleans Saints), Gareon Conley (2017, Oakland Raiders) and Denzel Ward (2018, Cleveland Browns). Every starting Ohio State cornerback in Coombs’ six-year tenure reached the NFL.

Not coincidentally, Coombs also helped shape some of the Ohio State’s best defensive units. From 2012 through 2017, Ohio State was second nationally with 101 interceptions and first with 17 that were returned for touchdowns.

In 2017, the Buckeyes ranked ninth nationally in total defense as Ward became the program’s first consensus All-American at cornerback in nine seasons, since Malcolm Jenkins in 2008. A year earlier, in 2016, Ohio State was fourth in the country with 21 interceptions, including a nation’s-leading seven that were returned for TDs. Two of Coombs’ defensive backs – Lattimore and Conley – were first round NFL Draft choices. Coupled with Apple’s selection in the first round of the 2015 Draft, Ohio State set a record with three cornerbacks taken over consecutive drafts.

During a four-year period between 2014 and 2017, which included two Big Ten titles and the first-ever College Football Playoff national championship, Ohio State finished no lower than No. 13 nationally in pass efficiency defense, rising to as high as No. 3 in 2016.

Aside from his two-year Tennessee tenure, Coombs is a lifelong Ohioan. He grew up in Colerain, graduated from Colerain High School in 1979 and from the University of Dayton in 1983, and has a master’s degree from Wright State (1996).

Coombs was a member of the University of Dayton’s 1980 Division III national championship team while studying secondary education. He then charged through the high school ranks: spending two seasons as an assistant at Greenhills High School and four at Lakota before taking over as head coach at Loveland in 1989. Two years later – 1991 – he took over at Colerain.

In 16 seasons at Colerain Coombs’ teams went to 10 state playoffs, including five state semifinal berths. His 2004 team won the Division I state championship with a 15-0 mark. Colerain won seven consecutive Greater Miami Conference championships from 2000-06, and Coombs had a 161-34 record as head coach. His overall head coaching record through 18 seasons was 167-48.

Coombs left the high school ranks in 2007 to join Brian Kelly’s staff at the University of Cincinnati, where he stayed five years – through the 2011 season – working under Kelly and then Butch Jones. Coombs was part of Kelly’s three Cincinnati teams that were 33-7 overall and played in BCS bowl games after the 2008 (Orange Bowl vs. Virginia Tech) and 2009 (Sugar Bowl vs. Florida) seasons.

Coombs and his wife, Holly, are the parents of three grown children: son Brayden (wife is Alex) played collegiately at Miami (Ohio) and has recently been named the special team’s coach for the Detroit Lions; daughter Cortney (Rob) played soccer at Ball State; and son Dylan (Ciara) is a graduate of the Lindner Honors Plus business program at the University of Cincinnati. The Coombs also have seven grandchildren.


2020-pres.Defensive coordinatorOhio State
2018-19SecondaryTennessee Titans
2017Asst. Defensive Coordinator/Cornerbacks/Special Teams Coord.Ohio State
2013-16Cornerbacks/Special Teams CoordinatorOhio State
2012CornerbacksOhio State
2009-11Associate Head Coach/Defensive Backs/Special TeamsUniversity of Cincinnati
2007-08Defensive BacksUniversity of Cincinnati
1991-2006Head CoachColerain High School
1989-90Head CoachLoveland High School
1985-88Assistant CoachLakota High School
1983-84Assistant CoachGreenhills High School

Kerry Coombs Quick Facts
 Colerain, Ohio
High School: Colerain
Alma Mater: Dayton (1983)
Year in Coaching: 38th (Seventh year at Ohio State)



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