Withers to JMU; change coming for OSU

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
7:35
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The first change to Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Ohio State is coming.

The two-year commitments all have been fulfilled, and Everett Withers became the first assistant to leave for a head-coaching job elsewhere on Friday when he accepted the position at James Madison after serving as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach for the No. 7 Buckeyes.

The move perhaps comes as no surprise, since Withers has made it well known even before coaching a down and helping lead a 24-game winning streak at Ohio State that he'd like to take over another program after leading North Carolina on an interim basis in 2011. But now that it's official, there's a chance it might benefit both parties as Meyer evaluates a defense that struggled mightily against the pass last season and looks to make his first new hire since taking over the Buckeyes.

Meyer indicated Wednesday, as Ohio State practiced for the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 12 Clemson, that changes could be coming, both because the defense needs to make improvements and because his staff was stocked with coveted commodities after stringing together two consecutive regular seasons without a loss.

"Whenever you have a season, the last two seasons like we had, they're hot guys," Meyer said. "I've gotten a lot of phone calls about our guys, head-coaching opportunities. What happens -- nothing has happened yet."

That changed when James Madison dialed Withers gave him an offer he's wanted since getting passed over by North Carolina.

Meyer asked all of his initial hires with the Buckeyes to give him two years with the program, and Withers held up his end of the deal while serving as one of the top recruiters on the staff. He was highly praised by Meyer for his work in landing touted safety Vonn Bell a year ago, and Withers long has been respected by his peers as one of the top defensive minds in the country.

And despite some rough patches this season as the Buckeyes fell to No. 102 in the nation in pass defense and never could quite overcome a significant injury to senior safety Christian Bryant, he still emerged as a viable candidate for a Football Championship Subdivision program that has won a national title as recently as 2004.

"[Ohio State] was the best opportunity for me going into this year," Withers told ESPN.com last season. "That's why I feel like I'm here. But I do want some day to have that opportunity to be able to lead a program and be the guy.

"That's something that I'm truly, truly working to do -- as I try to help Ohio State win a national championship."

The Buckeyes came up one game short this year, and the late-season defensive woes that popped up certainly contributed in the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.

That side of the ball obviously wasn't the only reason for the loss, but the defense certainly has been in Meyer's crosshairs since the season ended. Now it's official that there will be a change in personnel to get it fixed.

"Yeah, obviously we didn't play very well the last two games," Meyer said. "Tweaks might be the appropriate word.

"We're still working through that and working at the changes."

For the first time since he arrived, the next step for Meyer is finding a new assistant to fill out the staff.

Austin Ward | email

Ohio State/Big Ten reporter

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