As my wife will tell you, I'm a glass half full kind of guy. I also subscribe to the belief that experienced, well-trained individuals in executive level positions are generally better at their jobs than the emotional, irrational, lay-critics that second guess them. In other words, it takes a lot before I'm ready to call for anyone's head.
Having said that, there's a time and a place for everything, and the best way to minimize the short and long term effects of the 2010-2011 scandal at Ohio State is to make a clear break with the past.
Here is how to fix Ohio State football in five easy steps:
STEP 1: Fire Offensive Coordinator Jim Bollman
Why: Jim Bollman needs to go sooner rather than later. He isn't developing athletes and his playcalling is prehistoric. Ohio State currently ranks 108th nationally in total offense. The Buckeyes were 13 seconds away from being shut out at home on Saturday for the first time in almost 30 years. Of all the bottom barrel offenses, Bollman's is the only one loaded with elite talent. An offensive line stocked with 5-star recruits and one of the best centers in the country in Michael Brewster is pillow soft. Meanwhile, as Along the Olentangy notes, Bollman "has forced Miller into a pro-style offense, bludgeoning his athleticism and inexperience into a natural, experienced passer's hole. The routes being run-- square-ins, deep posts, fades-- are vestiges of Ohio State's 2010 playbook, and they reveal an offensive staff unable to adjust. TerrellePryor, now an Oakland Raider, rarely threw these routes his first two seasons, yet the Buckeye coaches somehow deem Miller capable." (emphasis added.)
Just as importantly, Bollman's departure will help quell staff and player tensions. It's no secret that the offense and defensive coaches don't get along. The internet was swirling this morning with rumors of a September confrontation between Linebackers Coach Mike Vrabel and Bollman. At a press conference after Saturday's game, running back Carlos Hyde openly criticised the offensive game plan, and at least one defensive starter dissed the offense. Luke Fickell is one locker room argument away from losing control of his team, and the risk of mutiny increases each week that the feuding coaching staff is kept together.
So bite the bullet. Fire Jim Bollman today, and give someone (anyone) else on the offensive staff a shot at calling plays.
The Possible Downside: None. I really mean it. We're already ranked in the bottom 20 nationally in offense, and Bollman refuses to change his ways. There's really nowhere to go but up.
STEP 2. Fire Head Coach Luke Fickell
When: If Ohio State fails to make a bowl game or is ineligible... Monday, November 28th, after the conclusion of the regular season. If Ohio State makes a bowl game... Announce on November 28th that Fickell isn't coming back to give the Athletic Department an entire month to conduct a coaching search. (In other words, don't follow the Michigan model.) Allow Fickell to coach his team in the bowl, while the new coach gladhands on the sidelines.
Why: You would be hard pressed to find anyone in Columbus that doesn't respect Fickell's attitude, committment, or work ethic. And everyone knows he's been put between a rock and a hard place. But let's face it, coaching FBS football -- like any one of a number of specialized professions -- is experience dependent. Just as a junior litigator (like myself) can't first chair a big trial right out of law school, a first time head coach lacks the experience to make important decisions on the fly. Of course, promising coordinators take head coaching jobs every year, but they don't go to powerhouse programs where public scrutiny is unavoidable -- they set up shop in sleepy college towns like Bowling Green and Muncie, establish a system through trial and error, and develop chemistry with their staff before they take the plunge.
Want proof that Fickell is no exception? Look at his clock management in the final minute of the first half against Michigan State. Down 7-0, with 39 seconds on the clock, Carlos Hyde rushed for 13 yards for a first down at the MSU 49-yard line. Although Fickell had two timeouts, he let five seconds run off the clock before he called one of them. Two plays later, on 2nd and 6 Braxton Miller was sacked for a loss of eight yards to the Ohio State 47. There were still 13 seconds on the clock. (There should have been 18.) Rather than use his last time out to stop the clock to set up a quick pass, spike, and field goal attempt, or jump ball in the endzone, Fickell conceded the half. The Buckeyes went on to lose to the Spartans by 3 points.
A big time coach cannot afford to make that kind of mistake. It's the kind of thing other coaches use against you in recruiting -- where we're already getting killed because of Fickell's lack of proven ability.
The Possible Downside: Again, this is really a no brainer. Other than alienating a talented alumni who could blossom into a elite coach five to ten years down the road, there really is no reason not to replace Fickell at the end of the season.STEP 3: Hire a Nationally Recognized Head Coach
Why: Pay close attention here. I didn't say hire an experienced head coach. I said hire a nationally recognized head coach. This means no Jim Tressel-esque hires. But wait, you protest, Tressel became one of the best coaches in the program's history. True. But for every Tressel there are ten Tim Brewsters. Of course, popular candidates don't always work out either (see Rich Rodriguez), but we can't afford to worry about on-field results right now. We need a guy that people think will be successful.
Why is that? Because above all else, the purpose of this new hire is to force the mainstream media to change their talking points. In case you haven't noticed, Ohio State has spent the last nine months getting gang-raped by the national press. You can't read a single article about Buckeye football without running across the words "tattoo" "scandal" "Tressel" "Pryor," "cheat" "lie," etc. Although most of the accusations have turned out to be garbage, the general narrative -- of a greedy, rogue, program that lied and cheated its way to success -- has taken hold.
As long as coaches with ties to the former administration are in control, the Woody Hayes Athletic Center will remain tainted. The only way to clear the air is to clean house.
But any new coach and staff can do that. So why do I want a big fish? It's simple. The goal isn't to just get the media to stop talking about the past, it's to force them to start a positive dialogue in the present. You do that by bringing in a squeaky-clean coach that's kicked ass and taken names everywhere he's been.
Picture this: A relaxed and confident Urban Meyer, Bo Pelini, Gary Patterson, Jon Gruden, etc. steps up to the podium at his introductory press conference wearing a well-tailored suit and scarlet and gray tie. He acknowledges the program's struggles, then explains why he's there: it's Ohio State, for crying out loud. There's the people. The tradition. The excellence. There isn't a better job in college football. Then he does the unthinkable. He puts the Big Ten and the rest of college football on notice that the Buckeyes are back.
You're a staff writer that is tasked with covering the new hire. Go ahead, comment on Urban Meyer's heath problems, question whether Bo Pelini really returned Nebraska to prominence, speculate on whether Gary Patterson can repeat the success he had at TCU in an automatic qualifying league, ask whether Jon Gruden is too much of an NFL guy to succeed at the college level.
It's all water under the bridge, because people everywhere, including elite recruits, are excited.
Win or lose, a nationally recognized hire flips the national conversation about Ohio State from an embattled program to one to watch. That kind of forward momentum will ensure that our cupboard stays stocked with elite talent for years to come.
Okay, I know what you're thinking. That's all well in good, but how do you get a national coach to commit to a program that's squarely planted in the NCAA's crosshairs? That depends.
If the NCAA hands down its decision before December, and Ohio State avoids a bowl ban or crippling scholarship reductions... it's easy as pie. Dig deep into booster pocketbooks, and offer an elite coach a salary that's far and away the best money in college football.
If the NCAA still hasn't ruled, or Ohio State receives a bowl ban and/or crippling scholarship reductions... do the same thing as above, but this time offer the elite prospect a long term contract with a hefty buyout. Make sure that no matter what happens, the prospect won't have to work another day in his life if he takes a chance on Ohio State.
In other words, make them an offer they can't refuse. It may seem financially irresponsible, but it's not just the future of the football program that's at stake. It's the reputation of the entire university. When Ohio State football is on the radar, it brings students from all around the world to Columbus. It also encourages wealthy alumni to open up their checkbooks. Alabama gets it. So should we. A twenty-five million dollar investment in our future is money well spent.
STEP 4: Fire Athletic Director Gene Smith
When: This is a little tricky. Unless the Committee of Infractions charges us with Failure to Monitor or Lack of Institutional Control, or makes it clear that the NCAA won't reach a final decision until December, we should maintain the status quo for as long as possible. That's because our entire defense is centered on the fact that our athletic department and its officers did nothing wrong. Nothing screams wrongdoing more than canning your AD in the middle of an investigation into his conduct.
Having said that, firing Smith before the NCAA process is finished might be unavoidable, since I believe the university should have a new Athletic Director in place in time to complete the hire described in Step 3. An athletic director is a new coaches' best friend, and no coach wants to see his closest ally hit the road.
Why: I talked above about the importance of airing the program out. To ensure that the ghost of the scandal is completely exorcised, Gene Smith must take the fall. Even if Smith and his department were really in the dark about tattoogate, there's still the fact that they grossly mismanaged its after effects, staging bad press-conference after bad press-conference.
STEP 5: Promote Ohio State's New Compliance Protocol Nationally
When: As soon as possible
Why: Ohio State has already taken the wise step of hiring an outside law firm to audit its compliance protocol. Once the new systems are in place, the University should invest time and money into making sure they become the national standard. Why is that? Becuase it makes it much less likely that this kind of thing ever happens again. And ultimately that should be the goal of all of this.