Two days after news broke that the Texas Longhorns were set to hire former Rutgers Scarlet Knights head coach Chris Ash as the replacement for fired defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, the school made the hire official on Tuesday.
“After taking a hard look at a lot of options at defensive coordinator, Chris was the one that continued to stand out,” Herman said. “We couldn’t be more excited what he’ll add to our staff. I’ve witnessed firsthand Chris’ skills as a game planner, his attention to detail and ability to develop players. He gets the best out of every one of them and has a history of building physical, fundamentally sound, winning defenses. He has done it at the highest level, is a tremendous all-around coach and an awesome person. I know he’ll do great things, and our players, coaches and staff will really enjoy working with him. We look forward to his arrival in Austin, getting to work, and him and his family joining our Longhorn family.”
Ash’s first day with the Longhorns is on Wednesday, but he will not coach in the Alamo Bowl against the Utes — Craig Naivar, the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, will remain in charge of the defense.
“Number one, I’m humbled and extremely honored to be able to coach football at The University of Texas,” Ash said. “I want to thank Tom Herman and Chris Del Conte for this opportunity and for their professionalism throughout the process. My family and I are very excited to move to Austin and become part of Longhorn Nation, and I’m ready to lead and serve our student-athletes.
“I have a great deal of respect for Coach Herman as a coach and a person. If I didn’t believe in him, I wouldn’t be making this move. I have complete confidence and faith and trust in his ability to lead and to coach, and I’m excited to be a part of this program.”
In addition to a year together in Columbus leading Ohio State to the national championship in 2014, Herman and Ash also spent the 2009 season on the Iowa State staff.
Those stops were part of a 19-year career as an assistant that led to Ash taking the head coaching job at Rutgers in 2016. He went 8-32 with the Scarlet Knights before he was fired this season.
Now he’ll return to his roots as a defensive coordinator, where he has a significant track record of success that includes four Big Ten championships during his five seasons in the conference. Ash also spent a year as the Arkansas defensive coordinator under Bret Bielema.
Four of those five defenses ranked in the top 25 nationally, including a top-10 unit in 2015 at Ohio State. At Wisconsin in 2011 and 2012, Ash’s defenses ranked in the top 20 in scoring defense and No. 15 overall in total defense.
“Texas is a place with a lot of history and tradition,” Ash said. “It’s synonymous with success. There are great players that have been in this program, there are great players in this program, and I’m really excited about what we can do in the future. I’ve recruited in the state of Texas. When I was at Ohio State, I had been in the state to recruit, and as a young coach at Iowa State in the Big 12, I always thought Texas was the gold standard and would be a place you would want to be at and work at, and I’m thrilled about this opportunity.”
Herman’s reasoning for firing Orlando helps illuminate what he wants from Ash’s defense — Herman wants to simplify things, get better in technique and fundamentals, and better feature the defensive ends.
Basing out of a 4-3 Under front with quarters coverage behind it, Ash will almost certainly have to morph into a nickel defense to face Big 12 opponents, but is known for accomplishing the goals that Herman highlighted last week.
Ash also turned around the Ohio State defense quickly, something that he’ll have to do next season at Texas in order for the program to reach the goals that it fell short of accomplishing this season.
Before Ash arrived in early 2014, the Buckeyes were coming off a season in which the defense ranked 110th nationally in pass defense and 46th in total defense. The results were quick and apparent — Ohio State’s defense ranked No. 19 in total defense (342.4 ypg), No. 26 in scoring defense (22.0 ppg), No. 13 in pass efficiency defense (108.2) and No. 28 in pass defense (201.1 ypg).
The Buckeyes also ranked No. 4 nationally in interceptions (24), No. 5 in turnovers gained (33), No. 16 in third-down defense (34.4 percent), No. 13 in sacks (3.00 pg) and No. 14 in tackles for loss (7.3 pg) on the way to Big Ten and national championships.