Examining Ohio State's Cincinnati Recruiting

With Ohio State's spring game in Cincinnati on tap for this weekend, we review an earlier look at what has helped and hurt the Buckeyes' recruiting efforts in the Queen City over the years. We talked to former OSU coaches, recruiting coordinators and high school coaches for their views.

Kerry Coombs admitted there is a disconnect between Ohio State and the Cincinnati area, but that does not come close to telling the whole story.

That much became clear in 2010 when BSB set out to figure out if a problem really existed as far as recruiting and just why that might be the case.

John Cooper provided the answer in a way only the amiable and affable former coach of the Buckeyes can, yet further digging found multiple layers to the issue.

"That's easy – There ain't no question it's more difficult," Cooper said of recruiting Cincinnati for Ohio State.

He went on to cite several reasons, many of which remain similar today. Therefore, with Ohio State preparing to play its spring game in Cincinnati we thought this would be an appropriate time to re-post that June 2010 cover story for a review. Others we interviewed then included Cincinnati-area high school coaches Steve Specht and Larry Cox, former OSU head coach Earle Bruce, OSU historian Jack Park, then-recruiting coordinator John Peterson and former recruiting coordinator Bill Conley. We encourage you to check it out here.

Since that story was printed, the Ohio State program has undergone many changes, of course, with the most notable being the hiring of head coach Urban Meyer, a self-identified "big Cincinnati guy."

Meyer grew up in northeast Ohio but played college football at the University of Cincinnati before starting his coaching career as an assistant in the Queen City at St. Xavier (where Specht was a player then and is the head coach now).

While Meyer focuses on scouring the entire nation for the best high school football players he can find, he has dispatched Coombs to Cincinnati to spread the Buckeye gospel.

Few are more suited for that job than Coombs, a lifetime Cincinnatian and a long-time Ohio State fan to boot.

"To me, Cincinnati is different, it is unique – and that's OK," Coombs said earlier this week. "Cincinnati should celebrate who they are, and I do as a Cincinnatian. I'm also an Ohioan, and I feel that gap is what we're continuing to bridge and working really hard to bridge, and that's what I think is really exciting about this deal on Saturday."

Coombs, who coaches Ohio State cornerbacks and special teams, spoke excitedly about exposing the players to Queen City cuisine such as Montgomery Inn ribs, Skyline chili and Graeter's Ice Cream, and he relived for reporters his experiences growing up on the city's west side in the 1970s.

"I went to my backyard on Saturday afternoons after the noon kickoff and watched the game on ABC, whatever game it was and whoever they were playing, and then I went into my backyard and replayed every down of the game in the leaves and everything else," Coombs said. "Woody Hayes was my hero. The Ohio State Buckeyes were my team. I would fight you for the Buckeyes. That was who I was and I am proud to tell you that. I grew up an intense fan. I can tell you about missed field goals and made field goals and stops on fourth down and all that kind of stuff."

Cincinnati remains a provincial town, though, one that has plenty of competition for sports fandom that includes pro baseball, pro football, a resurgent UC Bearcats football team and strong fanbases for the basketball played by the Bearcats and crosstown rival Xavier.

And then there is high school football. Perhaps nothing stirs the passion of Cincinnatians more, something of which Coombs was proud to remind everyone listening.

"In my opinion, there's no better high school football anywhere in the country than there is in the city of Cincinnati," said Coombs, who was a high school head coach at Loveland and Colerain before joining the UC coaching staff in 2007. "I think historically, you could say that they have produced an awful lot of great, talented kids at a wide range of ability levels and a wide range of universities. I have found my experience to be – without having any spring ball and without having all the benefits you might have at other places – they compete extraordinarily hard. Friday nights in Cincinnati are truly special and unique and I loved coaching football there. I still love whenever I have a chance to be back there for high school football."

And, as we learned in our investigation three summers back, recruiting is a two-way street. The relative dearth of Queen City prospects that made their way up I-71 to Columbus as opposed to down that highway from Lake Erie had as much to do with Ohio State's preferred shopping destinations as anything else.

The class of 2010 would turn out to be the next-to-last Tressel signed as OSU head coach, and it like most of the ones he brought in was more than 50 percent Ohioan with a tilt toward the north (four Cleveland-area players with one from Cincinnati).

From 2002 (Tressel's first full year on the recruiting trail at OSU) through 2011 (his last), he offered roughly as many players from one school in Cleveland (Glenville) as he did the entire greater Cincinnati area. Overall, he signed 39 Cleveland-area players compared to 22 offers (and 9 signees) in the Cincinnati area. 

This comes as little surprise considering Tressel grew up near Cleveland in Berea and built a Division I-AA powerhouse at Youngstown State, developing deep connections along the way.

To his credit, Tressel won a lot of football games (not to mention Big Ten titles and a national championship), and the recruiting rankings seem to indicate he was looking in the right place.

From 2002-05, the Cleveland area produced 15 four- or five-star players (via Scout.com) compared to only five in Cincinnati.

The tables began to turn the following year, however, as Cincinnati enjoyed a 7-4 advantage in 2006. From 2006-13, the areas have been virtually even with Cleveland enjoying a 31-30 edge.

What does that mean? Meyer is probably best-served searching high and low in his home state for future Buckeyes, and this weekend's journey to Cincinnati for the OSU spring game offers an important chance to plant a scarlet and gray flag by the Ohio River.

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