COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The gray hairs are limited to a couple of small patches around his temples, at least for now.
Greg Schiano has a theory about what has caused them, and his first season back on a college sideline might put it to the test.
“I tell you, it’s nice to have experience,” Schiano said after his second practice back in college as Ohio State’s co-defensive coordinator. “A lot of these gray hairs are from a lack of experienced players.”
Those are just about the only kind Schiano is inheriting as he goes to work with the Buckeyes and a secondary overflowing with untested, but talented, defensive backs.
With three starters electing to skip their final seasons of eligibility and head to the NFL, Ohio State is facing an extensive rebuilding job alongside the lone returner in cornerback Gareon Conley. And it also has a new guy leading the renovation as Schiano slides in to replace Chris Ash in Schiano's return to the collegiate ranks after his stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
There’s no question that Schiano has the ability and credentials needed to help keep the Buckeyes among the nation’s best units, and those flecks of gray make it clear he’s bringing some experience working with youthful players along with him to the program. Complicating matters for him this spring, though, are injuries to a couple of presumptive candidates to take over at safety for Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, adding to the degree of difficulty as Ohio State tries to put together a depth chart by the end of camp.
But rather than pull out his hair and stress about absences for Cam Burrows or Erick Smith now on the practice field, Schiano is embracing his return as a position coach and getting creative both with his personnel and his evaluations.
“You know what, in the secondary it might be [a benefit],” Schiano said. “If we’re going to introduce some new things, if a guy has been doing the same thing for three or four years, he might be like, ‘Why do we have to change it now? Why are we changing this thing?’ Whereas guys who haven’t had a lot of experience, they’re just ready and fighting for a job and wanting to please and do everything they can.
“To me, meetings are a competitive event. Meetings aren’t going in and kicking your feet up talking about football. In meetings, I want to see who answers first. Who answers me clearest, loudest, most assured? Everybody is getting different levels of work, because there are injuries. But I evaluate everything. Walk-throughs, meetings, practice, that all will go into the formula when you make a decision.”
There will undoubtedly be a lot of attention paid on the practice field, however, and those reps figure to be invaluable as the Buckeyes try to speed through the learning curve with potential first-time starters like Malik Hooker or Eric Glover-Williams while Burrows and Smith work their way back to full strength.
Schiano appeared to be enjoying the opportunity to be out on the turf again working with his young defensive backs, and he even showed off a decent arm while throwing passes and leading them through positional drills when camp opened two weeks ago. There may be plenty of work to be done with a unit that might be the most critical to Ohio State’s chances of returning to the top of the Big Ten or the College Football Playoff again, but the Buckeyes hired a veteran to make sure the youngsters are ready by September.
“It’s been good, yeah -- especially good when you’re working with such quality people,” Schiano said. “It’s something you love to do, so it’s a passion. When you haven’t been able to do it, you know, I coached high school football and I coached my kids, but when you’re at this level, it’s different.
“To be with what I think is an elite group of coaches and elite athletes, it’s an awful enjoyable thing to do.”
The fun might only be beginning for Schiano. And measuring his success with the secondary by the time the season rolls around may wind up being as simple as checking his hair color.