Turns out it was the latter for the affable senior, who was happy to cede time at the top of the depth chart while recovering from an injured right ankle.
"It's good because these two weeks I've kind of spent time just coaching and helping out the guys who really needed the help instead of me (my) getting out there," Coleman said earlier this week after returning to practice with a heavy tape job on his bad wheel. "It's been a really fun experience to help coach."
Among things coaches love, familiarity and certainty are high on the list, but Ohio State safeties coach Paul Haynes had no complaints about lacking the playing services of Coleman, who first broke into the starting lineup in 2007.
"Actually, you know what? It's pretty good because I'm getting the younger guys a lot of reps," Haynes said. "I know Kurt at least knows what he's doing. It's given me an opportunity to give some young guys a lot more reps."
Haynes will want Coleman back by the time things start to get more serious in the fall, of course.
That much is clear to anyone who watched the 5-11, 188-pounder finish third on the team with 78 tackles and lead the Buckeyes with four interceptions last season. He also broke up five passes, forced a fumble and recorded four tackles for loss, but he is not satisfied with those numbers after passing up a potential early jump to the NFL with one year of eligibility remaining.
"I've got to keep making more plays," Coleman said. "I pay attention to the top guys in the nation. Eric Berry (of Tennessee) had 10 interceptions (last season). That's kind of one of my goals. I have to try to do better than that. I really feel like as this team gets better and we do well, my stats will come. So I'm not going to be worried about how I'm doing, just how the team is doing." Such an attitude is befitting of a senior who seems to have all the makings of a captain in 2009, something he said he would welcome.
"I think whenever you're put into a senior role, it's kind of bestowed upon you," he said. "You kind of have to step into it and just take it. It's an honor for people to think of me like that."
He is not worried about that right now, however, and a reduction of worries helped contribute to his breakout 2008 season when he went from being just another player doing his job to one forcing the issue and making things happen himself.
It seems that in 2007 Coleman was not only dealing with the rigors of starting in the Big Ten as a sophomore but also the added trouble of balancing a busier-than-usual class schedule in pursuit of his pursuit of a degree in education.
"He was going from 6 in the morning to 6 at night because he just had school work," Haynes said. "It was tough for him because he would get over here 10 minute before practice and try to watch film, so ever since he has changed that, I think that is a huge plus for him being able to study the game a little bit more instead of just going off instincts."
This spring, his limitations were not related by student teaching or classroom observations but simply a result of that bad wheel, so Coleman has done his best to pass along what knowledge he could to his younger teammates.
Among his pupils are the young safeties and cornerback C.J. Barnett, a freshman who enrolled early after graduating from Clayton Northmont, the same Dayton-area high school that produced Coleman three years ago.
If Barnett's head is swimming right about now, Coleman said he can relate.
The senior laughed when asked about his own experiences as an early enrollee in 2006, when both his number (29) and position (cornerback) were different.
He had an acrobatic interception in the end zone in that spring game to help preserve a shutout win for the Scarlet, but he still had to wait his turn amid a talented group of defensive backs and saw the field only sparingly the following fall.
Asked now if he has taught Barnett anything he wished he would have been able to learn back then himself, Coleman said footwork.
"One thing I see a lot of DBs come in and they're quick with their backpedal but their not fluid with it or coming out of their breaks," he said. "(Barnett) and I worked on that a lot. Right now it's just a mental part of the game for him and after that he'll be just fine."
Coleman also took time to extract his own lessons from his sneak preview of coaching.
"I aspire to be a coach and a teacher, so every time you get a chance to go out there and learn from somebody, you kind of learn about yourself," said the son of a former high school basketball coach. "You kind of want to get out there and teach yourself. It's a learning point when I can get out there coaching and I can learn some things on my own."