COLUMBUS – In the 1960s, future major college football coaches like Gary Moeller, Larry Smith and Jim Young were high school coaches in western Ohio.
More recently the trend has gone in a different direction with most college coaches getting their start as graduate assistants at the college level.
Ohio State, though, has three assistant coaches who spent decades on high school sidelines, including tight ends coach Tim Hinton who was Van Wert High School’s head coach in 1989.
Overall, Hinton coached 14 seasons in high school – 11 at Marion Harding, two at Zane Trace and one at Van Wert.
OSU’s cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was a high school coach in the Cincinnati area for 24 years and defensive line coach Larry Johnson spent 20 years as a high school coach in Maryland and Virginia.
All three also had several years of coaching at the college level before Ohio State, but it is somewhat unique at OSU’s level to see so many coaches who worked the high school sidelines for so many seasons.
Hinton says coming up through the high school ranks gives a college coach a perspective he might not have if he worked only at the college level.
“One thing about a high school coach, we’re the guy who didn’t really have the silver spoon growing up in the business. We’ve had to paint lines a football field before, we’ve had to fund raise and get our hands dirty on a construction project. What happens is you have no ego going into it, you’re not afraid to go to work, you’re not afraid to roll up your sleeves,” he said.
“Also, the one thing about college football compared high school football is every decision I made I had to walk into the grocery store the next day, I had to go out to eat in a restaurant in that town. You learn how to communicate. Not everyone is going to be happy with your communication, but you’d better learn how to be part of that community and how to communicate with parents. You’d better have communication skills. I’m a little biased but I think those two things make high school coaches a little different.
“We came up a different way. I wasn’t the Division I athlete who was always very talented and got a job because he was a great player. Trust me, I didn’t earn it by playing. It was a very hard road and a tough way to get here but it was worth every second of the process,” he said.
Hinton actually has experience both as a graduate assistant and as a high school coach.
He was a graduate assistant at Ohio State in 1985 and 1986 before going into high school coaching. After five trips to the playoffs in 11 seasons at Marion Harding, Mark Dantonio hired him as an assistant at Cincinnati.
When Dantonio went to Michigan State after the 2006 season, Hinton stayed on as an assistant at UC for Brian Kelly and moved to Notre Dame when Kelly was hired there.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy in America since then. I got a chance to work with Mark Dantonio, to work with Brian Kelly at Cincinnati and Notre Dame and now with Urban Meyer. And the guy who interviewed me and hired me as a GA at Ohio State was Jim Tressel,” Hinton said.
Coombs also began his college coaching career at Cincinnati when Kelly hired him after a long and very successful run at Colerain High School, where he won a Division I state championship. Johnson, who spent 18 years at Penn State, won three state championships in Maryland before being hired by Joe Paterno.
He also is a big fan of getting some experience at the high school level.
“You do it all,” Johnson said. “I tell people all the time the greatest time I had in coaching was Friday night football. Friday night football is really special because you get the whole community involved. I really embraced that as a high school coach.”