For Kerry and Brayden Coombs, the family business is good
There are games this weekend — really big games, in fact — that lots of people will be watching. The Coombs Family is used to this.
These big games bring long hours, weeks and months, too. Ohio State cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs has been mixing recruiting trips with bowl preparation over the last four weeks. Bengals assistant Brayden Coombs went through a cram session this week on short notice; he had a baby waiting at home each night and tries to get home in time to see her awake.
Friday night, Kerry Coombs coaches in his first bowl game with Ohio State when the Buckeyes take on Clemson. Sunday afternoon, Brayden Coombs coaches at home with the Bengals as they host the Chargers in an AFC Wildcard game.
Things are going well with the family business.
For 16 years, Kerry Coombs was the head coach at Cincinnati Colerain High School. Business was good then, too, as Combs turned Colerain into one of Ohio’s top programs. He won big — at an 82 percent clip overall and at better than 91 percent over his last seven seasons — and sent players to big-time college programs in the process. His 2004 state title team was not only his best but one of the best Ohio has seen.
Brayden Coombs played defensive back on that 2004 team. He was a productive player, a smart player — and a real pain for the head coach.
"He was a great, great kid — but the hardest kid I’ve ever had to coach in 31 years," Kerry said of his oldest son. "He wasn’t just another player to me. My expectations for him were incredibly high and he didn’t match them all the time. We battled. I wouldn’t trade it for a minute, but I think there was a real risk of us suffering long-term damage to our relationship because of it.
"Now, we have talks on a professional level that other fathers and sons don’t get to have. That’s very special. But going through it was very, very hard."
Brayden played wide receiver at Miami (Oh.) from 2005-09. He said he never really gave much thought to coaching — or to how much he went out of his way to needle his father — until he was away from his father.
"Choosing football was an automatic choice — I was the water boy for my dad at Colerain when I was five years old," Brayden said. "Getting into coaching was different. I was well into college before I even thought about it, but I got the itch. I fell in love instantly.
"My dad and I have a lot of things in common and we are both very, very competitive and very, very stubborn. I could give specific examples of him telling me one thing and me doing it another way (when I was a player). There were blowups. It got nasty.
"But we got through it, we won a state championship together and I don’t think either of us would have had it any other way."
The Kerry Coombs who roams the sideline like a madman during Ohio State games and burns two days of energy during a two-hour Ohio State practice is the man Brayden, Cortnety and Dylan Coombs knew as dad.
Always up early, always full of energy, always choosing loud and direct over the alternatives.
"If you called him ‘Madman’ to his face, he’d take it as a compliment," Brayden said. "When people see it during games, that’s him. That’s not his style or any kind of act. That’s genuinely him.
"As a coach, that’s not me. During games I get fired up, but I don’t have that 24/7 bouncing off the walls. I guess it’s a different way of going about it. It works for him."
Brayden Coombs joined the Bengals as a coaching intern at the end of the 2009 season, then spent the last three seasons assisting with various facets including game-plan construction and advance scouting. He worked with defensive backs first, then moved over to helping receivers. He became a full-time coach before 2012, and in 2013 his role was changed and expanded to include special teams responsibilities.
Just like he’d done many times as a Colerain player, Brayden Coombs did this against his father’s wishes.
"When you have a job that requires this much of you — your time, your everything — to do it, you really don’t want your children to do it," Kerry Coombs said. "And I advised Brayden of that. I just wanted him to understand…the impact, the hours, the strain on your family.
"And he just looked at me. He had a mission. This is what he wanted to do, and I give him credit for that. I think he’s a fine coach. I’m excited to see where his career goes."
Kerry Coombs had made plenty of contacts in the college coaching business while at Colerain. Many of the big names in the business came into his Colerain office to recruit kids, but shortly after being hired as head coach at Cincinnati in Dec. 2006 Brian Kelly called to recruit Kerry Coombs.
After 2008, he was promoted to assistant head coach. In early 2012 he got another recruiting call, this one from Urban Meyer.
Like the first offer from Kelly, it seemed too good to be true. He was on board.
The coaching life often means the nomadic life. Kerry Coombs’ only major move has been all of 100 or so miles up Interstate 71 to Columbus. Being at Colerain for 16 years, then at Cincinnati for five, allowed the family to establish roots.
"When we were growing up, he never missed anything," Brayden said. "So many coaches can’t say that."
Brayden’s foray into the coaching business started by simply asking then-Bengals assistant Kevin Coyle if he could somehow help. Four seasons later, he’s still in his hometown while trying to move up the coaching chain.
"We’re Cincinnati people," Kerry Coombs said. "For Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis to have hired him and allowed him to work there, that’s so special. It means a lot to our family."
Being the 20-something guy taking Bengals playoff ticket requests from friends instead of the guy making them is "pretty cool" for Brayden, too.
"Marvin Lewis was the coach of the Bengals when I was in high school watching on TV or going to the game," Brayden said. "Now, he’s my boss. That’s kind of crazy."
Both being in Ohio came in handy last August when Brayden’s fiance gave birth; Harper Coombs was a training camp baby.
— Kerry Coombs (@OsuCoachCoombs) September 6, 2013
With a push from Meyer, Kerry Coombs left immediately following an Ohio State practice and headed to the hospital in the Cincinnati area to meet his first grandchild. He arrived by 9:30 p.m., stayed until after midnight and was back in Columbus by 6 a.m.
"He doesn’t sleep anyway," Brayden said.
Brayden is learning all about that. He now looks at being Kerry Coombs’ son as an honor and hopes to have a career "with nearly as much success as he’s had.
"His reputation speaks for itself. His enthusiasm shines through. Is he a legend in Cincinnati? I don’t know. He’s one of a lot of great coaches and great football people that have made Cincinnati football so special…so important.
"I was very fortunate I never had to do the college coaching moving circuit. He was able to be himself, have jobs he wanted and ones he could do very well in. When the time came to leave Colerain, the right people noticed how genuine he was.
"For me to be here, coaching the Bengals, this is a dream come true. I’m very lucky. I don’t take it for granted."