Ohio State shored up its defense with a couple of important coaching hires on Tuesday, bringing in Chris Ash to be the new co-defensive coordinator and Larry Johnson to head the defensive line.
Update: Jan. 23 – 3:55 p.m. ET
Ohio State made the Ash hire official on Thursday, tweeting news of his arrival:
--END OF UPDATE--
Dom Tiberi of WBNS in Columbus confirmed the hire from sources, as first reported by Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated:
Sources confirm Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash & Penn State D line coach Larry Johnson have both agreed to coach at OSU.— DOM TIBERI (@DOMTIBERI) January 14, 2014
Ash returns to the Big Ten after spending one season as defensive coordinator of the Arkansas Razorbacks. He followed head coach Bret Bielema to Fayetteville in 2013 after heading his final two defenses at Wisconsin. Under Ash's direction, the Badgers had America's No. 15 total defense in both 2011 and 2012.
More importantly, Ash's speciality lies in the defensive backfield, where Ohio State appears to need the most help. He was previously a secondary coach at San Diego State and Iowa State (as well as Wisconsin), which should make him a nice complement to co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, a former linebackers coach who has struggled to mold a secondary.
Former co-defensive coordinator Bill Withers accepted the head-coaching job at James Madison.
Johnson, meanwhile, takes over for departed defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who left to join the Houston Texans' staff under Bill O'Brien. Johnson comes over from Penn State, where he had coached since 1996, making him the last holdover from the Joe Paterno era.
According to Bob Flounders of PennLive.com, Johnson was offered a chance to retain his position by new head coach James Franklin but declined the offer. He's moved to one of the Nittany Lions' biggest rivals instead, where he'll have shiny new toys like Noah Spence and Joey Bosa to play with.
Both Ash and Johnson understand Big Ten football and are well-respected defensive minds. After the Buckeyes defense imploded at the end of 2013, allowing 7.03 yards per play in its final three games against Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, additions like this were sorely needed.
Ohio State has size, speed, talent and pedigree all over its defense. If Ash and Johnson can provide the proper coaching, there's no telling how good this unit can be.