The Chris Ash era began in earnest on Monday when Rutgers formally announced him as the new head coach for the football program. I reached out to our colleagues at SB Nation's Ohio State site, Land Grant Holy Land, asking for their insight on Ash. After turning around the Buckeyes defense the past two seasons, including their national championship season a year ago, Ash is obviously well liked by the OSU faithful. I was fortunate to speak with Colton Denning about his thoughts on the job Ash did at Ohio State and what Rutgers fans can expect from him.
What is the consensus regarding the job Ash has done with the OSU defense the past two seasons? What is his style/philosophy from a defensive perspective?
Ash did an outstanding job as co-defensive coordinator in his two seasons in Columbus. Prior to his arrival, Ohio State's defense had the necessary pieces to be one of the better units in the country, but for whatever reason, it never materialized. This was most evident in the 2013 Big Ten Championship game, where the Buckeyes' inability to defend the pass against Michigan State cost them a shot at the national championship. Ash helped turn a defense that finished 61st in passing S&P+ that season into the 8th rated unit in 2014, despite losing four key players, including a first round draft pick. This turnaround was highlighted during the Buckeyes' run to the playoff last season, as they shut out Wisconsin and Melvin Gordon, slowed down Amari Cooper (as much as one could), and limited Oregon's high octane offense to a mere 20 points in the National Championship. It's been even better this season, as they finished the regular season 8th in Defensive S&P+, while having one of the best pass defense in the country (4th in Passing S&P+) and finishing 2nd nationally in scoring defense.
There are a ton of great resources that will give Rutgers fans a primer on the ways Ash likes to attack. With his background in coaching defensive backs, you'll hear a lot about his use of Cover 4, or 'Quarters coverage,' and playing aggressive press coverage, similar to the style Michigan State employs. This scheme depends on reliable corners who can be trusted in one-on-one situations against opposing receivers. A drawback is that this type of coverage lends itself to giving up big plays at times, but at its best smothers passing efficiency.
How successful of a recruiter has he been?
Ash isn't known as an ace recruiter, but it's a necessity to bring in top-level talent if you want to work under Urban Meyer. Most of the players he's helped bring to Columbus are either young and haven't stepped on the field yet, or are current commits for either this season or next, so it's hard to gauge exactly how he's done at Ohio State. Those players are all well regarded, however, so it stands to reason that Ash is no slouch on the recruiting trail. His work with Meyer, and having a national championship to his resume certainly won't hurt in trying to bring talent to Rutgers.
Was Ash considered the top assistant "head coach in waiting" on the OSU staff?
Yes. Interest in Ash as a head coach dates back to last season, as he interviewed for the Colorado State job, prior to then-Georgia Offensive Coordinator Mike Bobo eventually getting it. With the success and turnaround of Ohio State's defense under Ash, it was only a matter of time before someone offered a job he felt good about leaving Columbus for. In his two seasons at Ohio State, there's been a ton of talent on defense, but Ash has been able to utilize it to the best of its ability, and that's something Rutgers fans should look forward to.
Any thoughts on potential OSU staff he may try and bring with him?
As of right now, there isn't a chatter regarding who Ash might bring with him, and coaching Ohio State through the Fiesta Bowl certainly complicates matters a bit on that front. This is pure speculation, but I'd be surprised if anyone of note from the coaching staff joined him. Something to look out for is if he decides to pull someone from the Ohio State player personnel department, however. Tom Herman opted to do this to help implement a certain culture at Houston, and Ash mentioned earlier this week the importance of doing the same after taking the Rutgers job. I suspect he'll try to bring at least one key player from behind the scenes with him to Piscataway.
What do you think about Rutgers hiring Ash as head coach?
At first it was a bit surprising. Ash is deserving and more than qualified to be a head coach, but from the outside looking in, it didn't appear that Rutgers would go after a coach with such a heavy background in defense. But, I think it's a good hire, and I'd pay close attention to what type of culture Ash establishes. This is a huge area with Meyer, and seemingly all of his assistants who get head coaching jobs note how important it will be for them and their new program going forward. Ideally, Rutgers will have a strong defensive mentality under Ash, and it's a necessity that he gets them on the right track on the east coast (New York) recruiting trail. The competition in the Big Ten East makes any significant record improvements highly unlikely, but I do think Ash will get the Scarlet Knights headed in the right direction.
Thanks again to Colton for taking the time to give us insight on our new head football coach! Make sure to check out LGHL for all things Ohio State.