- Andrea Adelson, ESPN Staff Writer
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Some of the bloggers have begun a series taking a look at one assistant coach whose position group will be in the spotlight this fall. Call me a copy cat -- it is my turn. Today, I start with Cincinnati.
Coach: Kerry Coombs
Position: Defensive backs
Experience: Coombs is entering his fifth season with the Bearcats after a run as one of the most successful high school coaches in Cincinnati. At Colerain High, he coached Ohio Division I Defensive Player of the Year award winners in 2004 and 2006, and led his school to 10 playoff appearances. In his first season at Cincinnati in 2007, the Bearcats led the NCAA with 26 interceptions. That season, Coombs coached All-Big East safety Haruki Nakamura, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2008. In 2008, the secondary had three NFL draft picks (Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith, Brandon Underwood).
Of note: Coombs was the only member of Brian Kelly's staff who stayed behind to join new coach Butch Jones last season. He told Brian Bennett his decision came down to this: "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."
His challenge: Coombs did not just go from good coach to bad coach in one season. He had his share of challenges going into 2010, and then starting cornerback Dominique Battle went down with a knee injury. Drew Frey saw his production go down, and Reuben Johnson was so raw he gave up more than his share of big plays. The team was so inexperienced on the back end, it simply was not aggressive and soft at times. In the end, the Bearcats were the worst passing defense in the Big East and one of the worst in the country.
They ranked No. 99 in FBS with just eight interceptions -- the first time under Coombs they were in single digits in the category. Cincinnati also ranked No. 88 in passing defense, allowing an average of 234 yards a game; and No. 106 in pass efficiency defense, allowing opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes, 25 passing touchdowns and a total of 2,808 yards. This year, all starters return and so does Battle, but the team is still young. Still, the plan is to be more aggressive with the secondary and go back to what worked in the past.
Camerron Cheatham has taken on more of a leadership role this offseason, and the addition of junior college transfer Malcolm Murray should help, though he is listed behind Wes Richardson on the depth chart. Battle also should be healthy and provide a boost. This unit is still young -- of the 10 players on the two-deep, only Battle and Richardson are seniors. But they do have way more playing experience and should be better.