The new coach of Rutgers football, Chris Ash, has been credited with turning the Ohio State defense around the past two seasons. Reviewing total defense rankings from the past three seasons, it is undeniable statistically. The season before Ash arrived to coach with the Buckeyes, their defense ranked 84th in the nation in 2013. Last season's national championship team saw their defense finish 29th in the nation in 2014. Although Ohio State failed to make the college football playoff this season, it was not because of their defense. Their total defense ranking actually improved to 7th in the nation in 2015.
To those that point to Ash being co-defensive coordinator with Luke Fickell, know that Fickell was in that same role in 2013 when the Buckeyes struggled on that side of the ball. Ash has also been the one calling the plays on defense for the past two seasons. This isn't meant to disparage Fickell, but to highlight that Ash's impact has been obvious.
Chris Ash took a defense that was a disaster and just lost two 1st round picks & made it one of the country's best. Great hire for Rutgers.— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) December 5, 2015
A more important question for Rutgers supporters is who did Ash learn from that helped him become one of the best defensive coordinators in the country? Ash's tutelage can be traced back to two Big Ten coaching legends and another well on his way to that status once his career is over.
While Ash never worked directly for Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez, their influence is all over his career. Ash worked for three head coaches that played for Fry at Iowa. Fry's coaching tree is arguably one of the strongest in college football history. The following coaches are all disciples of Fry: Kirk Ferentz, Barry Alvarez, Bob Stoops, Bret Bielema, and Bo Pelini. Let's look at the entire timeline of Ash's career that led him to the head coaching position at Rutgers.
After working at his alma mater Drake for three seasons, Ash worked at Iowa State under Dan McCarney as a graduate assistant and defensive backs coach from 2002-2006. McCarney played under Hayden Fry at Iowa in the early seventies, worked as a graduate assistant there and then was the defensive line coach under Fry for 12 seasons. He then went to work for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin as defensive coordinator and defensive line coach. McCarney became the head coach at Iowa State from 1995-2006, hiring Ash the latter part of his tenure. Iowa State went to a bowl game three of the five seasons that Ash worked there.
However, McCarney resigned at the end of the 2006 season and Ash went to work for another former Fry player. Former All-American and Heisman runner-up at Iowa, Chuck Long, hired Ash as defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator after becoming the head coach at San Diego State. Long had an unsuccessful tenure, compiling a record of 9-27 and was fired after just three seasons.
After a one year return to Iowa State, Ash went to work for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin. Bielema also played under Fry at Iowa and then coached the linebackers for him and Kirk Ferentz, before becoming the defensive coordinator for Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin. Alvarez also coached under Fry at Iowa, serving as his linebackers coach for eight seasons. After Alvarez stepped down as head coach to become the athletic director, he hired Bielema to be the head coach in 2006. Bielema hired Ash as the defensive backs coach in 2010 before promoting him to defensive coordinator, a role he held for two seasons. Ash followed Bielema to Arkansas in 2013, serving as his defensive coordinator in his first season with the Razorbacks.
After the 2013 season, Ash branched out of the Fry coaching tree for the first time in his career. Ash was vocal when joining Ohio State to coach under Urban Meyer that he was looking to the future. From this article back when he was hired in 2013:
"I want a chance to be a head coach," Ash said then. "Coach Meyer has been very successful. I've learned from a lot of really good coaches. I think I'm going to have an opportunity to learn under another top coach in this profession who will help me evolve and grow as a coach to help me be better suited for an opportunity down the road."
Meyer has started his own successful coaching tree that already rivals Fry's. Meyer learned from legendary coaches Earl Bruce of Ohio State and Lou Holtz at Notre Dame. Before today's announcement with Ash becoming the head coach at Rutgers, Meyer has had eleven other assistant's under his tutelage become a FBS head coach. They include Charlie Strong at Texas, Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, Kyle Whittingham at Utah, and most recently, Tom Herman at Houston. Herman served as offensive coordinator last season at Ohio State while Ash served as defensive coordinator. He led Houston to a 12-1 record and AAC Championship this year in his first season as a head coach. Ash And Herman also worked together for one season at Iowa State in 2009.
One argument against Rutgers hiring Ash is that he has never been a head coach before. While a legitimate concern, Ash has worked for multiple former players and coaches who learned from Iowa legend Hayden Fry, the all-time winningest coach in school history. Wisconsin legend Barry Alvarez, and soon-to-be legend Urban Meyer at Ohio State, have also had an influence on Ash's career. Alvarez endorsed Ash to Keith Sargeant this past weekend:
"Chris did a great job for us at Wisconsin,'' Alvarez said. "He's ready to be a head coach. I think he's a great fit for Rutgers. He'll do an outstanding job recruiting. He knows our league. He's been around some really good people throughout his career. It's an excellent selection, and I'm really happy to have him as a head coach in our league."
On top of all this, Ash has Herman as an example to learn from in how to be successful in his first season as a head coach. Take confidence that Ash has learned from some of the greatest college football coaches of the past 50 years. He also has plenty of resources to consult with in terms of how to approach every aspect of the head coaching position. It's now his time to create his own coaching legacy at Rutgers!