While 109 miles of interstate and city streets separate Ohio Stadium from Cincinnati’s Nippert Stadium, there are deep ties connecting the programs that play in each arena.
From Ohio State coach Urban Meyer to junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, there are numerous Buckeye coaches and players who have, or could have, spent time on the Bearcats’ sidelines.
After a brief stint in minor league baseball, Meyer played defensive back at Cincinnati before graduating in 1986. OSU cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs was on the Cincinnati staff from 2007-11, tight ends coach Tim Hinton was an assistant with the Bearcats from 2004-09 and Washington — one of four Cincinnati natives on the team — received his first collegiate scholarship offer from the Bearcats as a freshman in high school.
Meyer described his ongoing connection to Cincinnati as a “very strong, emotional attachment,” even beyond his own experience at the school.
“My sister is associate provost at Cincinnati, my other sister was a homecoming queen there,” he said Monday. “Obviously my dad, my grandfather, just a strong history at UC.”
While he played college ball at Nippert Stadium, Meyer never spent time on the sidelines as a coach like Coombs and Hinton.
Coombs said the personal and professional connections he and his wife have to Cincinnati led to his turning down offers from other major college football programs before Meyer came calling.
“When we had the opportunity to go to Notre Dame, we were staying in Cincinnati,” Coombs said. “Cincinnati is our home.”
The Colerain, Ohio, native said he and his wife, Holly, grew up within miles of each other and added the draw of coaching at OSU under Meyer was the only thing that could have torn him away from Cincinnati.
“When Urban called, I called my wife and said ‘Hey, I just wanted to let you know I got this phone call today, and kind of before I tell him no I just wanted to let you know that,’” Coombs said. “She said ‘Don’t you tell him no,’ and I said ‘Is that right?’”
Coombs said his wife told him “let’s go do this, we can make it work,” with the simple reasoning that Columbus is less than two hours away from their lifelong home in Cincinnati.
While his wife made the decision easier, Coombs called the conversation “terrible” that he had with then-Cincinnati coach Butch Jones to tell him he was leaving for OSU. He said conversations with others were just as bad.
“It was hard for me to tell anybody,” he said. “I mean, that’s my hometown, and I grew up on the Reds and the Bengals and the Bearcats.”
Coombs said growing up with exposure to the Buckeyes made his transition easier, but added that telling the players he recruited to Cincinnati was the hardest part about leaving. He said some of the players he recruited still play for the Bearcats, but one player he tried to get to Cincinnati is set to be on the OSU sidelines when the two teams play on Saturday.
Washington said he took an official visit to Cincinnati and had the Bearcats just behind the Buckeyes on his final list.
“It actually was my second choice,” he said. “Coach Coombs, when he was there, did a great job of recruiting me, but I just felt like Ohio State was the best place for me.”
Like Meyer and others around the OSU program, Washington’s connection to Cincinnati goes beyond recruiting letters and official visits.
“I went to basketball games (at Cincinnati), because my granddad worked there for like 35, 40 years,” Washington said. “He was a janitor and he would get tickets and we would go to basketball games there.”
Just like Coombs said the draw of coaching under Meyer was a key to his decision to move to OSU, Washington said the chance to play for the two-time national champion was too much to pass up.
“Didn’t know a lot about him (Meyer), but I knew he had won two national championships (at Florida),” Washington said. “So I figured I could probably get one under my belt in the four years he was there.”
While the draw of potentially winning titles contributed to Washington’s decision to pick OSU, Hinton said he was fortunate to be at Cincinnati — which has yet to win a national championship — for some of the program’s most successful seasons.
“It was a phenomenal run, you’ve got an Orange Bowl and Sugar Bowl,” Hinton said of his time with the Bearcats. “And how special was that when you’re a UC guy? It was very, very special.”
Whether Washington will win the national championship he hoped for is yet to be seen, but he is set to at least have a shot to win one game against the school he nearly attended on Saturday.
Coombs said the matchup will be fun for him, but because of his deep-lying connections with the Bearcats, he said the game will be more difficult than his average Saturday on the sidelines.
“Football is always fun, I don’t have any days that aren’t fun,” Coombs said. “But it’s harder, for all those reasons, I think it’s harder.”
The Buckeyes and Bearcats are set to kick off at 6 p.m. at Ohio Stadium.