COLUMBUS — Ryan Day wasn’t looking for someone to make a few repairs, he wanted a leader. He didn’t want someone to make a couple of tweaks to an Ohio State defense that underachieved in 2021, he wanted a new path going forward.
And that, in a few words, is how former Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles became OSU’s new defensive coordinator a little over a week after the Buckeyes’ Rose Bowl win over Utah.
“I went out and tried to find the best coordinator in the country,” Day said during a press conference on Monday. “At the end of the day I was really looking for a head coach for the defense.”
Knowles is one of three new assistant coaches on defense at Ohio State. In addition to his coordinator duties he will coach the linebackers. The other new defensive coaches, Perry Eliano and Tim Walton, will coach the defensive backs. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson is the only returning defensive coach.
OSU will also have a new offensive line coach, Justin Frye, who held that same job at UCLA before joining the Buckeyes’ coaching staff.
But it was the defense that was most in need of a change even though OSU went 12-1 last season.
While the offense ranked No. 1 nationally in scoring and total offense and No. 3 in passing yards per game, the defense was No. 38 in points allowed, No. 59 in total defense and No. 97 in passing yards allowed.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve had a little bit of some issues (defensively) here and there,” Day said. “This kind of allows us to have kind of a fresh start on defense.
“When you look at the first three years there has been a lot of success and a lot of things have gone well,” he said, referring to his three seasons as OSU’s head coach. “But there have been some other things to learn from. As we move forward the idea of having the head coaches in each of those areas who really own those areas of the organization and the program is really important.”
Day said he began his search by identifying several defensive coordinator candidates.
“There were probably seven guys I recognized that I thought would be good fits in terms of what we think and who was out there and who had done really well. You kind of cross off some of the names and check the boxes and Jim was the guy,” he said.
And once the boxes had been checked, there were no objections from athletic director Gene Smith or president Kristina Johnson about the size of the check Ohio State would have to write to get Knowles.
“I thank Gene Smith for allowing me to go get the best guy. He never asked a question, he just said, ‘You go get whoever you think is the best defensive coordinator for Ohio State this year.’ I think we got the best,” Day said.
The flip side of the excitement about three new defensive coaches and another on the offensive side is that four other coaches no longer have jobs at Ohio State. Creating those vacancies was a tough but necessary part of his job, Day said.
“I say it all the time, I have a great job but it’s a hard job,” he said.
“One of the hardest parts is going through it and trying to make those difficult decisions. At the end of the day it’s more than that. It’s Ohio State football and a lot of people are counting on this to be right.
“You have to do the best you can. You ask a lot of questions. You make sure you’re making the right decision. Then you trust your gut and move forward. I’ve had to do that. It’s not something I look forward to but it’s something that will happen. It’s the way it goes.”