Ohio State adds two defensive assistants

The Columbus Dispatch


Urban Meyer and Tom Herman don’t remember Ohio State’s 2012 game against Wisconsin as one of their finer coaching moments.

The Buckeyes won that next-to-last game of the season in overtime, but the game was a slog in which Wisconsin’s defense seemed a step ahead of Ohio State’s offense.

“I felt like I got outcoached,” Herman, OSU’s offensive coordinator, told the Big Ten Network in June.

Chris Ash was the Wisconsin defensive coordinator who got the better of Ohio State that day. Now, after coaching for four years under Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas, he will become a Buckeye.

Although Ohio State wouldn’t confirm the hirings Tuesday, which were first reported by SI.com, both Ash and Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson will join Meyer’s staff as the Buckeyes attempt to improve their beleaguered defense.

Ash replaces co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers, who became the head coach at James Madison in December. Johnson takes over for Mike Vrabel, who was hired by the Houston Texans last week.

Ash’s primary responsibility will be to help shore up Ohio State’s leaky pass defense. His resume suggests that he can. In 2011, Ash’s first season as defensive coordinator, Wisconsin ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense and 15th in total defense. Its pass defense was fourth, yielding only 163.6 yards a game.

In 2012, Wisconsin ranked 23rd in pass defense. Ohio State’s players and coaches don’t need statistics as proof.

“I wouldn’t say they were taking it to us physically,” center Corey Linsley, a Boardman High graduate, said about that game. “But they were taking it to us fundamentally and outexecuting us and outscheming us.”

The Buckeyes’ defensive line was a strength last year, but Vrabel’s unexpected departure was a blow. Johnson’s hiring is considered a major coup. Highly respected for his coaching and recruiting ability, Johnson was the last remaining coach from Joe Paterno’s veteran staff. He had coached for the Nittany Lions since 1996.

Johnson was appointed interim head coach after Bill O’Brien left for the Texans job — and took Vrabel with him — but was disappointed after being bypassed when Vanderbilt’s James Franklin was hired for the job full time.

Johnson has coached six first-round NFL draft picks, including 2000 No.1 overall pick Courtney Brown.

He also is familiar with at least a couple of current Buckeyes. While at Penn State, Johnson recruited Noah Spence and Tommy Schutt, both of whom would have played for the Nittany Lions if not for the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

In 2006, Rivals.com named Johnson the national college football recruiter of the year.

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