Alford was born in Akron. He played under Earle Bruce and Urban Meyer at Colorado State. He is friends with Drayton, who called him after taking the Bears job to let him know he should look at the OSU gig.
And Alford knew he’d get a chance to work with talented players at Ohio State, too.
“I don’t know, is it pretty easy to drive a Lexus?” he said when asked if he was looking forward to working with the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, for example. “In all seriousness it certainly helped. It helped to come in and have great players all around and guys that understand how to work. I’ve been very fortunate in my career, everywhere I’ve been I’ve had guys that will work hard and the game’s important to them. But like I said, coming in to a situation like this, it’s a great situation for me personally.”
Of course, any job on a staff that won the national championship a year ago wasn’t going to be a slam dunk. Alford still had to interview with Meyer, who was a young first-year wide receivers coach in 1990 on Bruce’s staff when Alford was a senior running back at Colorado State.
“Take him now and multiply it by 100,” Alford said of Meyer’s intensity then, as the coach famously went 1,000 mph early in his career. Now, Meyer might have mellowed a bit, but being called in to interview with one of the most demanding coaches in the nation was still an experience.
“It’s intense, but I wouldn’t say intimidating because I am confident in my abilities, I’m confident in what I do and I would like to think that if he wasn’t confident in what I can do he wouldn’t have reached out to me,” Alford said. “I think I’m pretty adept at what I do too. I’m fortunate and honored that he would think that highly of me.
“You’re talking about a team that is coming off a national title, a room full of guys that are full of really good players and a guy that could go anywhere he wants and talk to guys about coming here to coach and he chose me. So I am very fortunate and honored and blessed. But it was all right.”
Alford comes to Ohio State with a solid résumé to back up those words. He has coached at Kent State, Iowa State, Washington, Louisville and Notre Dame in his career, having spent the previous six seasons in South Bend serving at various times as running backs coach, wide receivers coach, slot wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator.
He helped coach Notre Dame to the 2012 national title game partly thanks to the combination of backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood combining for 1,659 yards and 5.5 yards per carry. The year earlier, he mentored Michael Floyd, an All-America receiver who went in the first round of the 2012 draft.
He was in a good spot with the Irish on the staff of Brian Kelly, but for someone with designs on moving up the coaching ladder, the move to Ohio State – where he has the title assistant head coach as well as running backs coach – seemed right.
“Listen, I was at a great place, make no bones about that,” he said. “I was at a fantastic place that took great care of me and my family and I was almost treated unfairly in them being so kind to me as they were. It was an agonizing decision because I had been there a long time, but for my professional goals I thought this would be best for me.
“I had to do this. I have an unbelievable amount of respect for Urban, it’s a guy I played for – I’ve known him since I was in my early 20s – and Earle Bruce and the great job and the great history of this place. I thought it would be good for me and to put on my résumé as I move forward in this profession.”
In many ways, Alford seems similar to Drayton. Each was noted for his recruiting acumen – Alford will take over some of Drayton’s areas near Cleveland and also work in the competitive world of central Florida – and the two have a passion for the game that manifests itself on the field.
“I really don’t see any difference right now,” junior Bri’onte Dunn said. “He’s a great coach just like Coach Drayton. Right now he just had to really learn the plays and everything. Right now we are going along smooth.”
Alford did compare the opening days of spring to drinking from a firehose simply because of having to pick up Ohio State’s style of practice and terminology on the fly, but as he’s mastered the technical aspects of the job, he has began showing his stripes as a coach.
“I think I’m bringing someone who is honest about a day’s work, I’m honest about how I do my business,” he said. “I am passionate about it and the way I coach. I think I’m a guy that really works to get close to his players. There’s a lot of mentorship involved in coaching. You wear a lot of different hats; you’re not just coaching but you’re a disciplinarian, you’re a confidant a lot of times, so you wear a lot of different hats, but I love that about this.
“That’s what I love about the college game as opposed to potentially going to the NFL for me right now is I like to be able to see how guys grow and mature through time. But I’m consistent, I’m very consistent about the things that I want and the way I handle my business.”
Alford will mentor a position that has been crucial to the Buckeyes success in Meyer’s tenure with the impressive performances of Carlos Hyde and Elliott. With his veteran unit, Alford expects similar success once the fall arrives.
“I think it’s gone well, but you’ve got a bunch of really good guys in that room, so it’s not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “You’re talking about a team that has had great success throughout the years. So I’m just trying to come in here and fit in where I can, but I’ve got a real good room of mature kids, to they’ve been good.”