The NCAA is set to determine the fate of the Ohio State football program on August 12 and while no one knows exactly how hard the Committee on Infractions will come down on the Buckeyes, it is safe to say a number of sanctions are well within the realm of possibility. Couple the upcoming hearing with the fact that Ohio State will be headed into the 2011-2012 season without their head coach of the past decade, their former starting quarterback headed to the NFL (CFL UFL?), and their No. 1 wide receiver, running back and starting offensive tackle gone for the first five games of the season and you have what we in the biz like to call uncertainty.
By: Jeff Beck
However, what is not uncertain is regardless of NCAA sanctions, the head coaching position at Ohio State remains one of the premiere positions in all of college football. The university has tabbed Luke Fickell as the head coach for the entire 2011-2012 season, but you can be assured that come January 2012 a number of big names in the coaching world will be floated in connection with the position. Four candidates are already being bandied about on the interwebs and what follows is a breakdown of why each individual might be a good fit for the position.
Luke Fickell: Fickell is already being written off by many as a one year band-aid. But what is lost in those discussions is that Fickell has earned the right to be named head coach of the program for this season. Just last year, he was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association. He has been with the Ohio State program since 2004, first as a linebackers’ coach and then as a co-defensive coordinator in 2005.
He is hands down Ohio State’s best recruiter, helping the Buckeyes reel in top talent like Kurt Coleman and Thaddeus Gibson year after year. This quality might be the best argument for Fickell to remain head coach, as the NCAA could slap Ohio State with a loss of scholarships or a post-season ban, both of which will make recruiting arduous at best.
Already Fickell has been on damage control, snatching five-star recruit, OT Kyle Kalis, from the jaws of decommitment. Kalis called Fickell the day after Tressel resigned to say that he would be taking his talents elsewhere. During a 45-minute phone-call, Fickell was not only able to bring Kalis back on board, but also schmoozed so well that Kalis later proclaimed the reason he was recommitting to OSU was because Fickell is now head coach. There’s no doubt Fickell’s got the goods when it comes to recruiting.
Fickell is also an Ohio native and played for the Buckeyes from 1993-1996 where he made a school record 50 consecutive starts at the nose guard position. He gets Ohio State and he was able to study under one of the winningest coaches in Buckeye history. If he wins 9+ games this season he should be given the opportunity to keep the job for the long haul.
Urban Meyer: Meyer is on the wish-list of many in Columbus who hope to see the former University of Florida coach roaming the sideline for the scarlet and gray. It’s not hard to see why Meyer gets the Ohio State faithful excited. Buckeye nation got an up-close and personal look at a gem on Meyer’s resume during a 41-14 drubbing at the hands of Florida in the 2007 BCS National Championship. Meyer went on to win another championship at the end of the 2008-2009 season, cementing his status as one of the greatest college football coaches in the nation.
Meyer is from Ohio, played defensive back at the University of Cincinnati and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Ohio State. Meyer took his first head coaching position at Bowling Green in 2001 where he earned MAC coach of the year honors. He went 17-6 in two seasons before leaving for the University of Utah in 2003 and then the University of Florida in 2005.
Meyer has won consistently at every level and understands Ohio’s recruiting landscape due to his early coaching career in the buckeye state. If that isn’t enough to woo Ohio State fans, Meyer wore the No. 45 at Cincinnati in honor of Archie Griffin, his wife says she carries a buckeye in her purse for good luck and Meyer says Ohio State coaching legend Woody Hayes is his idol. In much the same way Brady Hoke is a “Michigan man”, Meyer is an “Ohio Man”. Many in Columbus hope his roots will be enough to sway him to the banks of the Olentangy.
Meyer has retired from coaching and is working for ESPN as a college football analyst. In a statement recently released by ESPN, Meyer said he would “not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall”. Those last two words have given a lot of Buckeye fans hope as the Ohio State faithful would be just fine with him pursuing coaching opportunities “next fall”.
Bo Pelini: Pelini, the current coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers, is also a name being thrown out as a possible candidate for the Ohio State position. Like Meyer, Pelini is very much an “Ohio Man”. He was born in Youngstown Ohio, and played free safety for Ohio State from 1987-1990. In his senior year, he was a co-captain for the Buckeyes and graduated from OSU in 1990.
Pelini is one of the better defensive minds in college football, which fits well with Ohio State’s penchant for stout performances on that side of the ball. Pelini bounced around in various defensive roles for NFL teams until 2003 when he was hired as the defensive coordinator for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. In 2004 he was hired by Oklahoma as a co-defensive coordinator and in 2005 he was hired by LSU as their defensive coordinator. In his three years at LSU, Pelini’s defenses were ranked third nationally and his schemes helped the Tigers win the SEC in 2007 and go on to defeat Ohio State in the 2008 BCS National Championship game.
Now that Nebraska has moved to the Big Ten, it might be harder for Ohio State to score Pelini. You can be assured that Nebraska has no intention of giving up their budding young coach to an in conference rival. But, if the price is right, the urge to coach his alma mater might be enough to pull Pelini away from the Cornhuskers.
Mark Dantonio: Dantonio is currently the head coach at Michigan State, but he truly made a name for himself as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator from 2001-2003. During his tenure as the head man on the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State fielded some of their most talented defenses of all time.
In 2002 the Buckeye D was scoring almost as much as their offense, ranked second nationally in scoring defense. The unit also ranked third nationally in rushing defense. The end of the 2002 season ended with the Buckeyes winning the BCS National Championship. Any individual who watched that campaign would tell you Dantonio’s defense was the reason the Buckeyes became the first team in college football history to finish a season 14-0. During his three-year tenure, Dantonio was able to groom six All-Big Ten defenders, 13 defensive NFL draft picks and two first round picks.
Dantonio went on to coach Cincinnati from 2004-2006 where he led the Bearcats to their first winning season in 23 years. In 2007 Dantonio took the head coaching position at Michigan State and led the Spartans to a share of the Big Ten title in 2010. He has posted a 33-19 record in his four years with the program.
Dantonio has shown he has what it takes to lead a program to the top. If hired at Ohio State, he would have the opportunity to do so with far more talent than any team he has headed before.
As summer turns to fall and fall turns to winter, the hunt for the next Ohio State coach will be as big a story as any in college football. Rarely does a team lose a coach after riding a tidal wave of success like the one seen under Tressel. Fair or not, the next head coach will be expected to win at or above the level of Tresselball (82.8%) almost immediately. The hope in Buckeye Nation is that one of the aforementioned names will be able to do just that while also pulling the program out of these uncertain times.
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