The first item only took one season for Chris Ash to scratch off the to-do list.
And it put him in line one year later to check off the second big one -- to lead his own program -- as Ash was named Rutgers' new head coach on Monday, replacing Kyle Flood.
Ash was hired by Ohio State two years ago to lead a dramatic overhaul of the defense and help Urban Meyer win a championship. He did it in short order with a stunning turnaround paving the way to victory in the College Football Playoff. Ash had jumped at the chance to join the Buckeyes in order to learn from Meyer and position himself to run his own team, and that move paid off almost as quickly.
Ash’s impact at Ohio State was undeniable, and clearly others around the Big Ten took notice -- particularly within the division, where Rutgers will now turn to Meyer’s latest protege in an effort to catch up with the Buckeyes. That’s a significant undertaking given the gap on the field recently between Ohio State and the Scarlet Knights, but if nothing else, Ash has proven he can generate the results he wants in a hurry.
Here’s what else the Scarlet Knights need to know about their new leader:
Secondary specialist: The Buckeyes had a clear, glaring weakness that cost them a shot at the national title in 2013, and Ash was specifically targeted to address the pass-defense issues that had been driving Meyer crazy. A unit that finished No. 112 in the nation in passing yardage allowed before Ash arrived jumped up all the way to No. 29 in that category on the way to the national championship, finishing No. 19 in total defense overall just for good measure. As a position coach, Ash primarily worked in the secondary, where safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell and cornerbacks Doran Grant and Eli Apple emerged as some of the country’s most reliable defenders against the pass.
“Exceptional defense,” Meyer said last month. “Our defense has gotten better and better and better. You win championships with great defense. We've proven that. That's time-tested. It's an unusual situation when a team can compete for a championship with a bad defense.
“We learned that two years ago. We had an exceptional offense and very poor defense, and we lost. Last year we finished the season with the best maybe three-game run of defense that I've seen against three Heisman [Trophy finalists], and just outstanding performance, and we won.”
Impressive coaching tree: Spending his last two seasons as a coordinator before taking over as a head coach will technically make Ash another limb on the Meyer Tree, but the defensive guru obviously had other high-profile influences on his career before joining Ohio State. Ash was an invaluable assistant for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and for a season during his transition to the SEC at Arkansas, and he was also a part of Dan McCarney’s staff at Iowa State that did impressive work turning that program into a semi-annual bowl contender.
Focus on fundamentals: A chance viewing of an instructional video that emphasized rugby tackling provided inspiration for Ash, who took the idea to the rest of the staff as a way to address both health concerns and the large amount of missed tackles by the Buckeyes. Meyer handed him control of implementing the fundamental changes, which clicked almost instantly and were a significant factor in another statistical rise for Ohio State -- all the way up to No. 2 nationally in scoring defense.
“[Meyer] wanted a defensive back who will challenge receivers,” Ash said shortly after joining the staff. “He wants a defense that makes an offense work for everything that they can get, both in the run game and the pass game.
“That’s what I believe in, that’s my philosophy and that’s what I want to do.”
Ash certainly did it with Ohio State, and now Rutgers will get the same treatment.
Recruiting reputation: There are no ties to the New Jersey area for the native of Iowa, who has also spent most of his professional career in the midwest. But Ash has earned a reputation as a valuable recruiter thanks to his knack for forging relationships and the track record of success he has been able to pitch. Ash is intelligent and thoughtful as a public speaker, which works just as well for boosters and fans as it seems to with the recruits he targets. Considering just how desperately Rutgers could use an influx of excitement and talent, Ash should be able to provide a jolt in both areas.