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OSU's Next Coach: Who Picks Up The Pieces?

Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
Is it over now--do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home.
--Fleetwood Mac

At some point, maybe after the August NCAA hearing, Ohio State will be able to concentrate on football, and this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad scandal will be over.  Well, at least in the rear view mirror.

So, who picks up the pieces and is forever known as The Guy That Replaced Tressel?  Well, that depends on several things.

On the field, Jim Tressel set a standard of excellence that will be close to impossible to replicate.  Depending on how much the NCAA hammer falls on OSU, his replacement could run the gamut from rock star to the rockpile.  For 2011, it's going to be Luke Fickell, so let's talk a little bit about him, and then the guy that might replace him in 2012 and beyond.

After the jump. 

Interim Coach Luke Fickell:  Fickell has a few things going for him in his season long audition to have the 'interim' tag removed from the label.  He is Ohio State through and through, having played there, been a captain there, set a school record with 50 consecutive games started, and has been on the coaching staff for a decade.  His name has been rising in the coaching circles in the last couple years, and as an OSU follower you got the feeling that Fickell would move on to become a defensive coordinator at a big program, or head coach at a smaller school.  He turned down a promotion to go to Notre Dame in 2009, but you could talk yourself into Fickell going somewhere for the right job.  He has steadily moved up the ladder, and was co-defensive coordinator last season after serving as the linebackers coach.  He has been referred to as OSU's best recruiter, and has the 'rising star' feel about him in the coaching ranks.


For all the things he has going for him, those very things may also work against him at OSU.  Longevity on the staff?  Not a good thing to be known for right now, because it was that same staff that many people feel turned a blind eye to a lot of shady goings on for the last decade.  Best recruiter on the coaching staff?  Well, with all the stuff that's swirling around players and improper benefits, that might not be a resume enhancer, either.  Now that the NCAA Compliance Department will be renting office space in Columbus, and an extra room for their electron microscope, OSU might be forced to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were, and just get rid of everyone and everything associated with Jim Tressel.  It's unfair to paint Fickell, or any of the other coaches currently on staff, with the Tressel paint right now, but it may be unavoidable.

Fickell is also a young guy, under 40, and has never been a head coach at any level.  He's being asked to guide one of the premier programs through arguably it's darkest days, and he has no previous head coaching experience to fall back on.  Oh, and he'll probably be without five very important pieces of his offense for the entire year--really, do you see any of the Tat 5 coming back at this point?

All of that said, If Fickell can guide OSU to 9 or 10 wins and a spot in the B1G Championship game that they probably won't be able to participate in and a solid bowl that they might not be able to go to, and the program keeps it's nose clean, it will be tough to ignore FIckell as the permanent guy.  Personally, I think Fickell has the deck stacked against him, and will have to do quite a bit above and beyond what another guy in a normal situation would do to have to win the job on a permanent basis.

But he also has a couple aces up his sleeve--he will be a fresh face, even with the suspensions he will still have a loaded roster, and other than road trips to Miami and Nebraska, he has a very navigable schedule.  And he will still have a suffocating defense that will allow the new offensive players time to get their sea legs under them.

I think it's 55/45 in Fickell's favor that he stays on as coach, because there's a 55% chance OSU gets absolutely hammered by the NCAA.  If that happens, no one will want the OSU job for a couple years.

The Rock Star List: 

If Ohio State is hit with hard sanctions, I would be skeptical if any of these guys took a job that would be a temporary dead end, but if the penalties aren't too harsh and Fickell doesn't do well, these guys will be lining up for what is still one of the three best jobs in the country.

Urban Meyer:  This is about the only guy that Ohio State could hire that would make the Buckeye crowd go 'whew', while simultaneously infuriating every other B1G fan base in the conference. 

So naturally, I'm all for it.  Meyer is the rock star of rock stars in coaching circles right now, and he's going to be tied to just about every big time job opening in the country.  When you're from Ohio, went to school there, and carry around a buckeye in your pocket as a good luck charm, you're going to be tied, taped, and chained to the Ohio State opening.  He brings instant creditability, is one of the best recruiters in the country, and is the one guy who could keep the high level of success that Tressel established at the same level.  Meyer's health problems are the big concern here, and the Florida pressure cooker is as intense as the one he would face at OSU.  He also has a sweet analyst gig on ESPN, and he might like the life he has now, and I wouldn't blame him.  But he's a coach, and  And what bigger spotlight than OSU?  I think if it's dangled, Meyer would have a very, very difficult time saying no.

If I was a Conspiracy Theory Guy, I would wonder whether or not Meyer heard about all the trouble heading OSU's way, and decided to jump from a sinking Cornelia Marie to get a chance to run the Northwestern (2011 Deadliest Catch reference, for your viewing pleasure).  A Conspiracy theorist might think that a guy as plugged in as Meyer would get an inkling as to what the NCAA would mete out in punishment, might have already had feelers out to OSU to see if they were interested, and would coincidentally be available to ride in on a Scarlet and Gray horse to save the program he has loved since he was a kid. 

But I'm not a conspiracy theory guy.  Just to be clear.

Bo Pelini:  I want Bo Pelini on the sidelines in Columbus, because I love...LOVE...his Scanners-like head explosions on guys that are playing like they have their head up their ass.  Someday, Pelini is going to go on a rant that makes the Taylor Martinez rant look like the opening to Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood, and if anything could put the Tat 5 scandal WAY in the rear view mirror, that would do it.

Okay, I'm kidding on that.  I think.  No one should have to take that kind of abuse on national TV, but you have to think no one would break the rules with a Bo Pelini at the helm, because he'd go all Keyser Soze on said offender, and their head would be placed on a spike and placed outside outside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, with assorted remaining body parts anonymously mailed to car dealerships throughout the greater Columbus area.  That tolerate no bullshit mentality is sorely needed now, and as an alum and former player I think he'd come in and clean house in a way that more than likely is sorely needed.  Pelini is a rising star, and brought Nebraska back from the Callahan years.  Like Fickell, he's a former player at OSU, he can recruit, and he can turn around programs that have fallen on hard times. 

And his F-bomb tirades are more like napalm carpet bombing, and I can fuckin' respect that shit. 


Mark Dantonio:  I don't think Dantonio would, or should be, Ohio State's first choice, but he makes the rock star list because of his ties to OSU and the job he has done as a head coach at Cincinnati and Michigan State.  If Pelini or Meyer say no, however, he could be the new #1 guy.  Dantonio was the defensive coordinator on the national championship team in 2002, and parlayed that into success at Cincinnati and Michigan State.  But Michigan State has had discipline issues off the field, and something like 306 players were suspended for their bowl game against Texas Tech a few years back for getting involved in what could be described as a mini-riot as much as it was called a fight.  Dantonio's ties to OSU mean a lot, but if OSU wants to make a clean break from the Tressel era, then I would think Dantonio would be a long shot.  Dantonio's health is a question as well.  He's had heart problems as the MSU coach, and although MSU is Big Boy football, the coach at OSU is a whole different level of stress, especially if you consider the situation that he could be walking into.  I like Dantonio, I've always admired his aggressive defensive schemes and I like his swagger as the MSU coach, but I don't know if he would be the right fit in Columbus.

Bob Stoops:  Is it even fair to put Stoops on this list?  I mean, why would he go to Ohio State?  He's already at a premier program, he only has one obstacle to a yearly BCS game/potential national championship appearance (Texas, who is in a down cycle) and is in a conference that no longer has to play a conference championship game.  I'm not sure the 'yeah, but it's Ohio State' argument holds up here.  Yes, Stoops is from Ohio, but really, he's approaching Barry Switzer status (the good parts) in Norman, and the sales job to get him to leave there and come to Columbus, even if the sanctions and bowl bans are minimal, would have to be a sales job of epic proportions.  Still, I think he'd at least listen, and once you've got someone's interest anything is possible.

Chris Petersen:  Petersen's name comes up whenever a BCS job becomes available, and he's resisted leaving Boise, where he has set up a football empire.  He has repeatedly said he likes it there, he likes the lifestyle that it allows for his family, primarily because it's generally absent the pressure cooker of a big BCS school.


Although places like Stanford and Minnesota couldn't draw Petersen out of Boise, could Ohio State?  It's gotta chafe him, at least somewhat, that people don't take him or his program seriously because of what conference they play in, and that damn, goofy ass blue field...that is one of the best home field advantages in college football, but it's still a blue field, in Boise.  With respect to Stanford and Minnesota, they aren't Ohio State, and maybe the Buckeye job might be the one that gets him to leave Boise. 

The Rock Pile List: 

If OSU is toxic, like some people seem to think will be the case after the NCAA is done with the Buckeyes, I don't see them getting a top tier coach right away.  No 'Big Time' guy will probably want the gig until the sanctions and post season ban are over, and if that happens, this list becomes almost null and void because I see OSU going with Fickell, assuming he doesn't spit up on himself.  There's no point going through two coaches in three or four years, so I think they stay with Fickell until he coaches his way into an extension or unemployment, which will coincide, amazingly, when the NCAA sanctions expire.  But if Fickell is an unmitigated disaster, they'll need someone to be the bridge to The Next Big Thing.

Each guy has a track record, but they each have baggage, and it seems these guys would jump at a gig like OSU, no matter how damaged the brand might be, be it to get back in to coaching and redeem their name, or get the ultimate dream job.  Now, I'm not saying these guys are rocks, nor undeserving of a head coaching gig, but they would be...underwhelming...if they were named as the head coach at OSU; a swing and a miss, if you will, and Buckeye fans would rather roll with Fickell.  Well, at least this Buckeye fan would.

Turner Gill:  Gill turned around a terrible Buffalo program, arguably the worst in the country, and got them to a bowl game.  He was mentioned for the Nebraska job that Pelini eventually got, and instead was rewarded, if you want to call it that, the Kansas job.  Kansas is a plum job if you're a basketball coach, but in the post-Mark Mangino era, it really isn't.  Gill doesn't have a lot of experience, but he's squeaky clean, he is a guy who is on the rise, and he very well could be the next Gene Chizik, as in a WTF? hire from a bad BCS program that turned it around at a Big Boy school.  Plus, if he turned down the OSU job to stay at Kansas I think I'd eat a gun, because shit would be baaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

Charlie Strong:  Strong earned his reputation as a defensive coordinator wunderkind, most notably at South Carolina and Florida.  He took over a Lousville program that was still reeling under the loss of Bobby Petrino, and turned around a program that was teetering on the brink of irrelevancy with Petrino's immediate successor Steve Kragthorpe.  Louisville seems like a pit stop kind of place for Strong, who seems on track to get a big time program, and you would think that he would take an opportunity like OSU, even if they were under post-season bans and scholarship reductions for his first year or two.  I put Strong in the rockpile category simply because he's still relatively unknown to a lot of casual college fans.  Folks in the know really like Strong, but the reaction would be, for the most part, is 'who the fuck is Charlie Strong?'  Personally, I think if Fickell doesn't get the job, he'll be looked at hard for the gig, but that's just me.

Paul Chryst:  The Wisconsin offensive coordinator has been mentioned for a couple of jobs, most notably the Minnesota gig that went to Jerry Kill.  Chryst is a Big Ten guy, as he played at Wisconsin, worked his way up the coaching ranks in college and the NFL and became the offensive coordinator there in 2005,  For the most part, Chryst is very good at knowing what his team's strengths are, and formulating his gameplan around them.  Except, inexplicably, in the freakin' Rose Bowl.  Chryst's strengths are he would be an absolute clean break from anything Tressel, and he understands the Big Ten.  But he's never been a head coach before, and stepping into the maelstrom that will be Ohio State might be too much for anyone who's never been a head coach before.  At least for Fickell, he's familiar with OSU, and I think that helps tremendously.

Phil Fulmer:  I'd puke if Fulmer was named the coach.  He's old, he's tainted with scandal, and by the end of his tenure in Tennessee, seemingly half his team got arrested.  But he's got a proven track record at a big time school, and took over a Tennesse program from a coach that had been very successful (Johnny Majors) under controversial and turbulent circumstances.  Granted, it's nothing like the controversy and turbulence in Columbus right now, but his hiring/Majors firing was controversial, and Fulmer would be a guy that could stabilize a reeling program for a couple years until the Next Big Thing in coaching comes along. 

Mike Leach:  Arrgh, bring on the pirate, ye scurvy dog!  Leach and OSU might be a match made in toxic heaven.  Leach is untouchable because of his antics at Texas Tech and his follow-on lawsuit where he sued said school for wrongful termination.  Ohio State is toxic because, well, we've hashed that out enough.  Leach has been successful as a head coach, and it would be a great storyline if he was the guy who restored his reputation while at the same time bringing OSU back from the brink.  Unless his version of the Chuck-n-Duck offense failed as miserably as RichRod's did at Michigan, then you'd be shoveling dirt on OSU's graveyard for quite awhile.

So there you go.  I know people are quick to dismiss Luke Fickell, but they shouldn't be.  Granted, if the whole Tressel era needs to go, to include AD Gene Smith, Fickell probably can't survive--no one could.  But if he does well, isn't tainted with the unfolding scandal, and the big kahunas aren't interested, I think the Buckeyes would be wise to keep Fickell over one of the rockpile guys, except maybe Charlie Strong.  He provides some semblance of continuity, stability, and he just talked one of the 2012 commits out of de-committing.  So if nothing else, he's putting his head down and heading straight into the shitstorm that's heading his way, seemingly ready to accept the challenge.

And that counts for something.