Kerry Coombs is as Cincinnati as a coach can be. He was a highly successful, longtime high school coach in the city, leading Colerain to an Ohio state championship in 2004. The next year, he joined Brian Kelly's staff as a defensive backs assistant and later was promoted to associate head coach.
Coombs was the only member of Kelly's staff who stayed behind and signed up with new head coach Butch Jones. I recently caught up with Coombs to talk about the differences between his two bosses, this year's Cincinnati secondary and his own interesting career path. (This is Part I of our conversation; look for the second half later today.)
How much thought did you give to leaving when Kelly went to Notre Dame, or were you always going to stay in Cincinnati?
Kerry Coombs: I'd be being insincere and disingenuous if I said it didn't cross my mind to leave. I really like Brian Kelly, and Brian Kelly was very good to me. And the fact is that I believe he's going to be successful. He's a very, very good football coach and I like the guys on his staff, in addition to the fact that there was going to be a significant amount of money.
For me, at the end of the day, it came down to I've lived here all my life. I'm 48 years old and have spent my life in this town. This is really who I am and what I know. And for me, it's the place to be. That and the fact that I love the kids on our team. I'm learning a lot about college football as I go through this process. And having been a high school coach for 24 years, you become really attached to your players, and I love the kids on our team. That was a strong attraction for me as well to stay right here.
As the only holdover from the previous staff, how much did you try to help the transition for coach Jones and his assistants?
KC: The transition process is a very interesting one. For me, if they were not hiring a guy of great quality, there's no way I would have stayed. I mean, I really like Butch. I had known him from working some camps and I knew him and I liked him. And when I met with him right after he got the job, he and I had a really good conversation. You worry about whether you will be the outsider, but these guys couldn't have been nicer to me.
Obviously, my role in helping them by telling them where to move, what schools to put your kids in, where do you go to get a great burger, all that kind of stuff is separate from football. And then hopefully, I'm helpful to Butch and the whole staff relative to high school football in Cincinnati. I believe this is where the best high school football in the nation is played.
What are the differences between working for Kelly and working for Jones?
KC: What's really interesting for me to watch is two guys who I think are really good coaches go about their business in different ways, and I'm learning from that. Brian had a certain style, personality, methodology about how he was going to be a head coach. He was very confident in it and he believed in it and you never questioned it.
And here comes Butch Jones, and he has the same confidence and aura about what he's doing, but it's different. They're two different guys. They have a different way of approaching recruiting, of approaching practice, of approaching that season, And they're both successful. So for me, it's further evidence that there's more than one way to do things; it's that you believe in what you're doing that makes the difference. I can't tell you which one's better. I can just tell you that both are successful.
Kelly had a reputation of letting his coaches coach. Is Jones the same way?
KC: Brian was very much a get-your-job-done kind of guy. He wasn't really going to tell you how to do it. Now, he'd let you know when he didn't like the way you were doing something, and in no uncertain terms. You knew if he didn't approve of the way you were doing something, and you'd have to go fix that. You weren't walking around thinking and wondering if this is the right way or the wrong way of doing this. He was very results-oriented.
Butch is more process-oriented. He wants to know how we're doing it, why we're doing it. He doesn't necessarily want to tell you how to do it, but he wants to know about it. So both are results driven, but one is a little bit more concerned about the nuts and bolts of the process.
You know the Cincinnati high school scene as well as anybody. How has the reception changed toward the Bearcats from the area's top recruits after the success of the past few seasons?
KC: You can't even begin to imagine the change. For a long time when I was coaching high school ball and I had some of those kinds of players, Cincinnati acquiesced to Ohio State and Michigan. When those guys came in and they offered a player, then Cincinnati backed off. They didn't feel like they were in the game or would be able to get those kinds of guys.
I would say that is now 180 degrees different. We're geared to recruit with the best teams in the country. I think we have a product that's fantastic for a young person, particularly a young person in the Cincinnati area. They can go a lot of places and play great football and get a great education, but they can only go one place and be a hometown hero, and that's this one. And there are kids to whom that appeals to.
As we continue to build a program and not just have good seasons, we'll be right in the thick of that. We were down to the wire last year with a kid like Matt James. We're down to the wire with every top level player in the Cincinnati area. And for me, that's where we belong.