Monday, December 20, 2010

Former Player Turned Coach: A One-On-One Interview With Former Ohio State Buckeye Rob Harley

For those of you who don't know former Ohio State Buckeye, Rob Harley, he was a walk-on in 2001 and ended up impressing his coaches to the point where they gave him a scholarship during his fifth year with the team.

He was a member of the 2002 national championship team and was a three-time letter winner. Buckeye fans might also know his last name, and rightly so. Rob Harley is the great-great nephew of Chic Harley for whom Ohio Stadium is knicknamed "The House That Harley Built."

After his playing days were over, he went on to become a college football analyst for 'The Football Fever' on the local ABC affiliate in Columbus, OH. and is now in his second season at Ohio Dominican University as the linebackers coach.

I talked to him about how he translates his playing days to his coaching, how they can turn a 2-8 team into a competitor, and about something called "Harley Helping Hands" which benefits adults dealing with brain cancer.

If you want to know more about Harley Helping Hands, you can visit

Todd Kaufmann (TK): You go from being a former strong safety and knickelback at Ohio State to a college football analyst and now to a linebacker coach at Ohio Dominican University. Talk about this new experience and how excited are you to be back on the sidelines?

Rob Harley (RH): The experience of coaching is something special. It's not something you can get at every job.  Coaching gives you the unique ability to impact young peoples' lives every day, and to help teach the fundamentals of football while teaching skills for life after the game. 

Being around the game I love so dearly on a daily basis is like a dream come true. There's nothing quite like a group of individuals coming together with one goal and one purpose. It's an impressive sight to watch players take your teachings and put it to work in the game. It's even more impressive to watch the way my players carry themselves in a first class manner off the field.

Watching my players compete is my drug, and I'll never get enough of it. It reminds me a bit of that scene in Field of Dreams, once you set foot on the sidelines you can never go back. One of my former coaches said that coaching is like "Hotel California" where you can check in any time you'd like, but you can never leave. I'm enjoying my time too much to even thinking about checking out, in fact I'm treating this hotel like an extended stay for life.

TK: What's the biggest thing that needs to change for a team that finished 2-8 last season?

RH: One thing's for sure whether you're 2-8, 8-2, or 10-0 you've always got to be focused on the taking the NEXT step.  A team that doesn't "change" is a team that gets left behind. For Ohio Dominican this season we took a giant step up in divisions from NAIA to Div. II. Not only did we step into a different level of football, but we joined the toughest DII conference in the country in the GLIAC.

Our next step as a football program (players and coaches) is the ability to consistently match the intensity and attention to detail that the other teams have in our conference. We were the new guys and didn't what to expect so we were surprised a bit by how much different the level of play was coming from NAIA. Now that we've got a taste of what's expected, we must meet the challenge head on and become the consistent performers.

TK: Playing strong safety at a big time school like Ohio State isn't exactly like playing the same position at Ohio Dominican. Do you use your playing experience to coach these young men or do you have to change your mindset a little bit?

RH: I've learned a lot of valuable lessons being a first year coach last season. The biggest one is that football is football wherever you play the game. The fundamentals don't change no matter what level you play at or which school you play for.

I don't draw on my actual playing experience as much as I pull from the teachings that I was privileged to experience from coaches like Mark Dantonio, Jim Tressel, Jim Heacock, Luke Fickel, Darrell Hazell, Bill Conley, Mark Snyder, Mel Tucker, Paul Haynes, etc. It would be a crime if I didn't share the knowledge that I've picked up along the way from those top notch coaches, and I'd be doing a disservice to my LB's if I didn't give them the best coaching possible.

The one thing I bring with me wherever I go, player or coach, is my will to compete. I don't ask my players to be something they're not, but rather to find it within themselves to give everything they've got and then give me a little more.   

TK: What excites you the most about being a college football coach?

RH: Competing. Plain and simple, it doesn't get any better than that. The chance to compete on the football field, in the classroom, and in the community. What a great opportunity we coaches have to positively impact young peoples' lives in every aspect.

I like to tell my players to approach everything as a competition.  How good can we be on the field? How good can our grades be in the classroom? How much can we give back to our community? It's exciting when a group of people buy into that way of thinking because it makes every day enjoyable. For me coaching gives me that opportunity to be around a team atmosphere, one heartbeat for a common goal. I wouldn't trade it for anything right now.

TK: You know I'm not going to let you escape about breaking down a few of the BCS games taking place after the new year and especially when your alma mater is one of those. The Buckeyes are going to face a stiff test from Ryan Mallet and the Arkansas Razorbacks. What are your keys to the game for Ohio State?

RH: If I'm Ohio State I want to do what they do best...pressure. The Buckeyes must look to pressure Mallett and make him win the game. He's already going to want to put the team on his shoulders and bring home a victory, so the Buckeyes need to see if he can do it in the middle of a fire storm. He's made mistakes this season and creating confusion is how you slow down the Hogs' explosive attack.

On offense for Ohio State you keep it simple, whomever wins the rush battle with win this game. The SEC and the Big Ten are cut from the same cloth, the games are won in the trenches. Ohio State's ability to pressure Mallett and establish the run game will give them the best chance to win.

TK: The next one I want to ask you about is Wisconsin, another Big Ten team, taking on TCU. What do the Horned Frogs need to be on the lookout for in this one?

RH: Hey TCU here comes the run game!! Most notably the power play. Wisconsin has dominated the trenches and dominated opposing defenses. TCU has to find a way to slow down the Badger rushing attack otherwise Dalton and company won't be on the field enough to score any points.

Wisconsin wants to run the football, eat up the clock, and take your pride as a defense. If TCU can take some punches, get back up, and get some stops on 3rd down they'll have a shot. Failure to stop the Badger run attack means failure to win the game.

TK: The big game everyone is going to be watching and talking about is the BCS title game between Oregon and Auburn. Besides Cam Newton (Auburn) and LaMichael James (Oregon), give me three players who are key for each team.

RH: For Auburn it'll be WR Darvin Adams, DT Nick Fairley, and the Tiger secondary. The Auburn receivers have made some huge plays along the way for Cam Newton and Adams has been the main playmaker. Newton has been great all season long, but he'll need a supporting cast to step up to win the title.

Fairley has been a beast all season long and this game can be no different. It's up to him to maintain gaps in the middle and cut off running lanes against this spread attack of Oregon.

Lastly the Auburn secondary has to be mistake free. They can't afford to give the Ducks big plays and let Oregon's offense set the tempo of the game. Limit big plays, slow Oregon's attack, and you've got a major chance. 

For Oregon it's on QB Darron Thomas, LB Casey Matthews, and LB Spencer Paysinger. Darron Thomas is the fuel that keeps this spread option engine running and he'll have to make great decisions all game long to give the Ducks a chance. His job as it's been all season is to get the ball to his playmakers, and then make at least one big play when he's called upon.

Matthews and Paysinger will be charged with the task of keeping Cam Newton in check. If they can harass the Heisman winner enough and force a couple early mistakes, the Ducks' offense is explosive enough to pull away.

TK: I'll finish up with this. You started something called Harley Helping Hands which benefits adults dealing with brain cancer. Can you talk a little bit about that and how did that get started?

RH: Harley Helping Hands was started in honor of my brother Kit Harley as he was battling brain cancer from 2007-2010. Sadly he lost the battle this past March, but the charity lives on in his name with the chance to help other families struggling through the same fight.

So many times we only think of cancer's debilitating affects on people's bodies, but there's a heavy cost financially for each family. Obviously medical bills can get outrageous, but it's also the every day bills that can add up if someone can no longer work due to brain cancer. The mortgage payments, rent, utilities, travel, groceries, and day care, unfortunately these bills don't get put on pause while someone is fighting brain cancer. 

Harley Helping Hands is designed to relieve some of that burden by supplying families battling brain cancer funding to help the patient focus on their fight.  One family has been chosen already and hopefully there will be many more to come as more and more people join the cause and join the fight. 

Big thanks goes out to Rob Harley for taking his time to do the interview. If you want to know more about 'Harley Helping Hands' please log on to

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