For the last eighteen years, Coombs has been a head coach. Now he has two on-field bosses. One is Bearcat defensive coordinator, Joe Tresey; the other, Coach Kelly. Since Coombs works with the defensive backs, he teaches Tresey's defense, and Kerry's certainly seems to have adjusted well to being an assistant as his defensive backs have had more than their share of interceptions this spring. Kerry talked about some of the reasons why. "We've had a change in style on defense. They were a press corners, stop the run defense last year, and they did a great job with it, but that won't get you many interceptions. We've got a little more zone concept with our corners off the ball where they're able to see things. They're great ball kids. We've got kids out there that hawk the ball very well. They've done a great job understanding and reading. Defenses also have an advantage in the spring. We're playing eleven defenses and trying to disguise them. That makes it more challenging for quarterbacks, and defense will always be ahead in the spring, especially with some of the experience we have back there."
When another hometown kid recently took the Bearcat head basketball job, many UC fans loved the fact that Mick Cronin said it was his dream job. Kerry Coombs may be the football version of Mick Cronin. "This is a dream come true, but the reason I came is to win a national championship. There were three teams from our conference in that conversation last year, and there's no reason the Bearcats can't be in that conversation year in and year out. We have a great facility, a great coaching staff and Coach Kelly is doing a phenomenal job of taking us in that direction. I think he's getting the city excited, and I've seen it on a smaller scale when an entire community rallies around a team. I believe the city of Cincinnati will rally behind this team. We have good experience coming back on defense, good skill on offense with an offensive minded head coach. I think the people that come out will be excited about what they see, and we have a chance to win." Coombs loves being a Bearcat and doesn't understand when people ask him why he took the job and left Colerain. "What's amazing to me is people look at this without quite understanding what a great job it is. We've got to let people in here to see what we offer. This facility in this environment is second to none. To me it's a silly question. I want to be here for many, many years. I want to see this program reach national prominence and be here to enjoy it." Are you believing yet?
Many people believe Coombs stepped into a top job at Colerain, but that was far from the case. Kerry got the job after going 6-14 at Loveland High School, and the Cardinals were 3-7 in Coombs' first season. But Kerry sees some similarities between what he built at Colerain and what Coach Kelly is doing at Cincinnati. "Brian is doing all the things we did at Colerain of involving the community on every level. He's making it affordable, and he's out in front of everybody, which I think is critical. He's making things fun. He's also asking fans to take ownership. When fans start to think what's happening on the field is part of them, they will want to support it. This will be Cincinnati's team, and we are going to try and recruit those local kids so the fans have that feeling. Once the fans adopt this team, there are no limits to what we can do."
One of the interesting sidebars to this season will be the Battle for the Victory Bell with Miami University. Kerry's son, Brayden, is a wide receiver for the Redhawks, and the rivalry has already becoming a family feud. "It's going to be huge in our house. It's a big issue of contention already. We sat down on Easter Sunday, and we had a good old ‘get after it' verbally. I've got to ask permission to see him play in his spring game on Friday, and I'm excited for him, but the Bearcats are out to win every single time. There's no doubt what our mission will be on that Saturday afternoon."
A friend of mine coaches at Colerain, and he keeps an audio tape of Kerry's pep talk prior to their winning the 2004 Ohio state championship. He still listens to the tape and still gets goose bumps because he still believes in Coombs' words. As Coach Coombs talked about recruiting, I found myself hanging on every word. "People talk about 60% in recruiting is a great year, but in high school, 60% is an F. We need to get kids that fit into what we want to do and develop them as players. If we put a thumb tack in this stadium and recruit within a hundred mile radius, we can get as many players as we need to fill this stadium and compete with anybody in the country. We need to close that net and keep those kids here. When we do that, they'll be no stopping us."
Coach Coombs admits he misses being the head man, but the lessons he's learning now will probably give his career a better ending than Gerry Faust's. "I miss things like setting the schedule, but I love it out on the field coaching my four guys. I love coaching football all day long. I'll be honest with you. I used to think I was ready to make that jump from being high school head coach to college head coach, but I've learned that I'm not ready. There are many things you learn being on the inside, and now I have a better understanding of that. Having said that, I'm thrilled working for Coach Kelly, and I hope he stays the head coach of the University of Cincinnati until I retire. I'm not looking to leave Cincinnati. I'll be here as long as Brian Kelly and the people of Cincinnati will have me."
When Kerry Coombs says he's not leaving Cincinnati, I tend to believe him, but then Kerry Coombs makes everyone believe.