It’s not always the case, but young college football coaches often have a similar path as they try to carve out their careers.
Quality control positions, offensive or defensive analysts, perhaps a chance to be a position coach, moving from program to program as they look for solid footing. It can be challenging on families and it’s certainly a young man’s game.
Ohio State special teams coordinator and safeties coach Matt Barnes arrived in Columbus in January 2019 after spending the three previous years at Maryland. He’s also been on staff at Michigan, Florida, DII West Virginia Wesleyan and DIII Delaware Valley College.
But as he enters his second season with Ohio State, Barnes pays special credence to what Ryan Day is building that makes this a special place for him to coach.
“What’s different here compared to other places I’ve been, I think it’s the culture,” he said. “Our culture here is elite and it starts with the head coach. I think our culture and the way our kids respond to things is far different and better than any place I’ve been.”
Having a winning culture is essential to developing routine success, something the Buckeyes have become awfully familiar with since the turn of the millennium.
One of the biggest challenges that naturally comes with coaching in so many different places is trying to develop relationships with players. You can’t coach every player the same way and expect to be successful. You have to get to know players on an individual level. It’s a challenge that Barnes has embraced.
“There’s a level of comfortability here in every way,” he said. “Particularly with the relationships with the players. It’s really hard to coach the players the way they should be coached without any preexisting relationship. Just time spent has been big for me to get to know our players and just a general level of comfortability here and what to expect.
“The first time I met Coach Barnes, he introduced himself and I quickly realized that he had a little pep to him,” said sophomore safety Marcus Hooker. “He is upbeat and sparks the day whenever you speak to him. He started calling me ‘little head’ after our first practice because, apparently, he thinks my head is little. That makes me smile whenever we speak now. He always tries to brighten my day and bring me in a good direction with my emotions, because it’s something I used to struggle with.”
Meanwhile, Barnes continues his coaching career in Columbus during perhaps the most difficult time in college football history. At a minimum, this year has presented a very different dynamic, but Barnes feels he’s adjusting to it well. Ohio State is anxiously awaiting the chance to open the season on Saturday, Oct. 24.
Last year, he worked closely with Jeff Hafley, who has since departed for Boston College. Now, Barnes works with defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs in the DB room as coach Coombs oversees the secondary. Especially because there are two coaches overseeing some of the same players, Barnes thinks it’s important to make sure they don’t cross-up their messaging.
“I think in the secondary it’s critical there are not too many voices,” he said. “Even if you’re trying to say the same thing, just saying something in a slightly different way can cause confusion. I do think it’s a great thing that our players are hearing one voice in the front of the room. Everyone’s on the same page and Kerry does a great job of running the room and making sure we’re organized in that way.”
Part of the reason Barnes says he enjoys Ohio State so much is because of the talented coaches that he works alongside. Barnes isn’t afraid to admit that he leans on their ideas and thoughts quite a bit.
“I’m a complete football nerd, a football junkie. I’ve been very fortunate to be here at a relatively young age and I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve had an original idea yet. We try to see what fits for us and fits for our personnel. I think we’ve done a good job trying to use some of these early games that have been played to learn from mistakes.” -on whether he watches football
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