The Ohio State assistant, whose recruiting territories include Southwest Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, was first sent to recruit Ohio’s northern neighbor in the hopes that he could simply make the Michigan and Michigan State staffs play some defense for in-state products instead of spending all their time camped out in the Buckeye State. So when he first started roaming the high school hallways of schools in Detroit, his hopes were at least tempered from his default state of enthusiasm that borders on mania.
“I don’t know that I necessarily thought that I could (sign kids from Michigan),” Coombs said. “I hoped that I would. I think it was more about this being an area that’s important to our team. It’s important strategically to us for a lot of reasons, so I’m going to go in there and do the best I can to make some connections. I was lucky enough to find the right schools, schools that traditionally had a ton of players.”
One of the schools that he found was Detroit Cass Tech. The Technicians are coached by Thomas Wilcher, who played football at the University of Michigan and has sent many of his own players to his alma mater. Coombs made it a point to visit Michigan, to develop relationships with Wilcher and his staff and his players.
It’s paid off in three straight recruiting cycles. From Cass Tech alone, Ohio State signed cornerback Damon Webb in the class of 2014 and then signed running back Mike Weber and defensive lineman Josh Alabi in the class of 2015. The Buckeyes recently received a commitment from Canton (Mich.) Plymouth four-star offensive tackle Michael Jordan, showing that they can successfully recruit more than just one school in the state.
It doesn’t hurt that the person recruiting two areas – Cincinnati and Detroit – historically perceived as a tough sell for Ohio State was a high school coach himself. Coombs prides himself on his ability to connect with high school coaches and use those relationships to show why he’ll take care of their players.
“For me, my style of recruiting is relationships with people, primarily head high school football coaches and assistant football coaches,” Coombs said. “That’s where I start with everything. I’ve been in their shoes, I know their job and I think they have a comfort level talking with me. I can be honest with them, and I feel like they can be honest with me. You start to have that relationship and they give you information about their players. If they trust you, they’re going to trust you with their players. That’s the biggest part.”
It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Wilcher. Although he admitted that Ohio State will be a tougher sell to Michigan kids if Michigan turns things around and Michigan State keeps winning, he said Coombs is doing everything he can to give Ohio State its best shot in the state.
“He’s a great guy,” Wilcher said. “Fun loving, he talks well, he speaks well and he’s always trying to think about what to do for you and your program. Those are the types of things that you look at because it builds relationships.
“If I’m going to be a recruiter, I’m going to take some pages out of his book. Put it that way.”
Relationships are the most critical aspect of recruiting, and Coombs makes sure he lays as much groundwork as possible in that area. It’s no coincidence that he was the only staffer Ohio State sent up for the first day of the 2015 Sound Mind Sound Body Camp in Detroit, effectively doing recon work and building relationships before the whole staff arrived for the second and final day on Friday.
All alone, Coombs was still in his element. Following the conclusion of the first day, Coombs spent more than an hour greeting campers and parents from schools as close as Detroit and as far away as Florida, Georgia and California. His high-energy approach is perfectly suited for that setting, allowing him to maintain the same demeanor for the 100th conversation as the first.
What started as a way to make the in-state schools work harder has turned into an important aspect of what the Buckeyes do in recruiting. As long as camps like Sound Mind Sound Body exist, Coombs will be there putting in the hours to make sure Michigan prospects know about Ohio State. There's no denying that the Buckeyes face an uphill battle going forward, but they'll continue to put resources into Michigan until it's shown to be a waste of time and resources.
“We go where good players are,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said. “There are excellent players here, and it’s an area I know quite well from my Bowling Green days. I hired Coach Coombs, and he doesn’t do a good job – he does a great job. We will forever be recruiting Michigan.”