Ohio State football: Knowles embracing high expectations as Buckeyes’ new defensive coordinator

COLUMBUS -- Why is Jim Knowles the new defensive coordinator at Ohio State?

He loves a challenge.

“You want to be able to play and compete for a national championship on a regular basis, and when anyone thinks of the best in college football, they think of Ohio State,” he said Monday in his first public appearance as a member of coach Ryan Day’s staff.

That’s a message often repeated in recruiting players from the high school ranks (and increasingly college with the rise of the transfer portal), but Knowles said it also applies to coaches.

“You want to be the best. You want to be at the best place. You want to compete against the best,” said Knowles, a Philadelphia native who spent the last four seasons at Oklahoma State and has had stops at Duke, Cornell, Mississippi and Western Michigan.

“You want to be at a place that is 100 percent supported by the university, by the community, by the alumni and has a rich tradition,” he said. “When you put all those things together, it’s Ohio State. So for someone who has worked his way up in the profession, it’s really for me the culmination of a professional dream to get to Ohio State and to be with the best in the business.”

Of course, Knowles would haven’t changed addresses in the offseason if he had not been invited to Columbus.

Day decided a wholesale change was needed after the Buckeyes struggled on defense for the third time in the last four years.

He said he settled on Knowles because he admired the system he ran at Oklahoma State, where the Cowboys steadily improved in his four years to be one of the top defenses in the country last season.

“You watch the film of how his team plays — they play hard, they have a system, they have answers and they’ve done a great job of developing,” Day said. “When you combine all of those things, he seemed like the best fit.”

His task at this OSU is similar to the one he found waiting for him at the last one.

Cowboys head coach Mike Gundy — like Day a former college quarterback and current offensive guru — has had the scoring unit humming in Stillwater for many years, but defense was another matter.

While it prevented the Cowboys from joining the ranks of true College Football Playoff contenders, defense has been the difference between competing for and winning national championships at Ohio State three of the last four seasons.

That means whoever is running the unit is going to be the target of criticism whenever things go bad, and Knowles has no problem with that.

“That’s not lost on me. This is not an entry-level position,” he said. “To those that a lot has been given, a lot is expected. I went into Oklahoma State really believing that when we could get the defense to rise to the level and culture of the offense and the things that they did off the field in the weight room, that we’d be able to compete for a national championship.”

With Knowles’ defense as the backbone, the Cowboys nearly made the CFP last season, but their chances evaporated with a goal-line stand by Baylor in the Big 12 Championship game.

That was the culmination of four years of development, a luxury Knowles knows he does not have at Ohio State.

“This program is ready to win every single game right now, and we have to get the defense to that level,” he said. “So what coach Day expects of me is to have a system that’s accountable, that I have to have answers, that the players have to understand why I’m teaching what I’m teaching. You just need to be able to wrap the whole thing. You need to be able to come in and say, ‘Here’s what we do. Here’s why we do it. Here’s why you should buy into it.’”

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