'Jim Knowles is an evil genius': 5 things to know about Ohio State's new defensive coordinator

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Ohio State football hired Jim Knowles last month as the new defensive coordinator as the Buckeyes try to bounce back from missing the College Football Playoffs for the first time in Ryan Day's three-year tenure as head coach.

And Knowles has a different background from the coordinator he's about to replace.

Kerry Coombs, who lost his defensive play-calling duties following a loss to Oregon in Week 2, is a lifelong football coach. From Southeast Ohio, Coombs built one of the most successful Ohio high school programs in his hometown of Colerain before moving to college and the NFL and back to the college ranks.

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Knowles' path is different as he hasn't always been a coach and he's not coached in the state of Ohio before.

Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is reportedly set to receive a large pay bump in moving to Ohio State.
Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is reportedly set to receive a large pay bump in moving to Ohio State.

Here are five things to know about Jim Knowles, Ohio State's new defensive coordinator.

OSU defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is a vegan from Philadelphia

Jim Knowles was born on April 16, 1965 in Philadelphia.

"I'm just a kid from inner-city Philly who went to an Ivy League school, wears plaid blazers, smoke cigars, doesn't wear my shoes all the way," he said in an Oklahoma State promotional video.

Knowles added that, like Justin Fields, he is vegan.

As many of his Oklahoma State players commented in the video, Knowles has a different approach.

"Jim Knowles is an evil genius," Oklahoma State linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez said in the video.

Jim Knowles went to Cornell and worked in Wall Street before coaching

Knowles played football for Cornell in the 1980s and was a three-year letterman and All-Ivy League selection.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from Cornell's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Knowles went to work on Wall Street.

"I used to wake up from nightmares that I didn't get into coaching," Knowles said. "So (10 years later) I gave it all up to make $3,000 and get free meals from the cafeteria."

2008: Cornell Football Head Coach, Jim Knowles, gives the team a pep talk during their first practice Tuesday at Schoellkopf Field on the Cornell University campus.
2008: Cornell Football Head Coach, Jim Knowles, gives the team a pep talk during their first practice Tuesday at Schoellkopf Field on the Cornell University campus.

Jim Knowles was the head coach at Cornell

He began his coaching career at Cornell working with both offensive and defensive position groups. He was hired as Western Michigan's defensive coordinator in 1997 and left to be the linebackers coach at Mississippi in 2003.

In 2004, Knowles became the head coach at Cornell and went 26-34 from 2004-2009, his best season coming in 2005 when the Big Red went 6-4.

Duke's David Cutcliffe hired Jim Knowles as defensive coordinator

Knowles became the defensive coordinator at Duke in 2010 where he helped coach David Cuttcliffe turn around the struggling Blue Devils football program.

His best unit came in 2017 when Duke finished No. 21 nationally in scoring defense and total defense while averaging 20.23 points per game, the lowest at Duke since 1977.

“Driven, excited, maybe bizarre at times,” former Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who hired Knowles as his defensive coordinator in 2010, told the Oklahoman. “But that is a bizarreness about him that you learn to love quickly.”

Jim Knowles, OSU defensive coordinator, walks on the field before a Bedlam college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Oklahoma State won 37-33.
Jim Knowles, OSU defensive coordinator, walks on the field before a Bedlam college football game between the Oklahoma State University Cowboys (OSU) and the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Okla., Saturday, Nov. 27, 2021. Oklahoma State won 37-33.

Jim Knowles a Broyles Award finalist as DC at Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy hired Knowles in 2018 to help slow down the high-powered offenses of the Big 12.

The 2020 defense allowed just 379 yards of offense per game, the fewest by a Cowboys' defense since 2009.

The unit continued to improve in 2021 as OSU nearly made the College Football Playoff by holding opponents to 20 or fewer points nine times and limiting them to an average of 278.4 yards a game.

As a result, Knowles is a candidate for this year's Broyles Award, which goes to the top assistant in college football.

According to the USA Today coaching salary database, Knowles made $800,000 this season.

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Jim Knowles, new OSU defensive coordinator: What to know