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Buckeyes’ demise has plenty of Irish subplots

May 31, 2011, 2:25 PM EDT


It’s been a riveting 24-hours watching the implosion of Ohio State’s football program (and likely its athletic department), as Jim Tressell’s resignation has cratered one of the most storied programs in all of college football.

There are plenty of wonderful articles to read on the subject, namely the Sports Illustrated article that’s been credited for Tressell’s resignation. But as this is a Notre Dame blog, I’ll keep my comments at least focused on the Irish connections to the meltdown in Columbus.

* The new man leading the Ohio State football program is Luke Fickell, a Columbus native and former Buckeye that’s spent nine years with the football program. Fickell was also an Irish coaching target in 2009, when Charlie Weis aimed to bring Fickell in to replace defensive line coach Jappy Oliver. Fickell has long been seen as a up-and-coming coach, but it was likely Jon Tenuta’s connection to his former player that had Weis interested in a coach also known for his recruiting abilities. The Irish ended up hiring Randy Hart and bringing in Bryant Young as a very high profile graduate assistant.

It’s still amazing to see the mishmash of defensive coaches that Weis had under his watch — each coming from different systems with different backgrounds, and — in obvious hindsight — the group struggled to unite and explain one common goal to its players, something the defensive staff led by Bob Diaco has done.

It’d be amazing to see where Fickell would be if he did decide to take a job coaching in South Bend before the 2009 season. I think it’s safe to say he wouldn’t be the new leader (however temporary) of the Buckeyes.

* Of course, if head coach Brian Kelly decided to turn down Jack Swarbrick’s overtures at the end of the 2009 season and stay in Cincinnati, he’d likely be at the top of a very short list for the job in Columbus. Obviously, the timing of Tressell’s resignation makes replacing the head coach with an internal candidate preferable, but there’s little doubt that Kelly would’ve likely had his chance at two very important Big Ten jobs that start 2011 with new coaches. Kelly’s ties to both Ohio and Michigan would’ve likely put him on the very same shortlist that Notre Dame had a year earlier.

* While the spotlight is on Jim Tressell right now, it might shift to his boss, athletic director Gene Smith, a former Notre Dame football player who won a national title with the Irish in 1977 as a defensive end. Smith’s spent 25 years in athletic administration, servings as AD at Eastern Michigan, Iowa State and Arizona State before heading to Ohio State in 2005.

Smith’s in charge of one of the NCAA’s largest athletic departments and while he oversees more than 1,000 student-athletes, the actions of a few very high-profile football players and a coach working directly under him might be too much to recover from, even for a man as highly respected in the industry as Smith. The systems and protocols under his direction clearly failed, especially if the NCAA starts to wonder if there’s a lack of institutional control.

The story by SI and the previous one by Yahoo! are only just the tip of the iceberg, and if guys like Terrell Pryor are still driving pimped out sportscars with dealer tags to meetings announcing his coach’s resignation, well… this might not end well for Smith.

* If you’re wondering, the Irish are chasing over a dozen recruits from the Buckeye State, including running backs Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn, current Buckeye commits. A handful of other recruits that have Ohio State offers like Greg McMullen, Se’von Pittman, Dwayne Stanford and Tom Strobel are high on the Irish’s watch list.

It’s widely regarded as a strong year for Ohio players, which can only help an Irish coaching staff with a ton of local roots in Ohio against a Buckeye program staring at serious instability for the first time in over a decade.

* Final note: That was Notre Dame graduate and Pulitzer Prize winner George Dohrmann doing the investigative work for SI that ultimately led to Tressell’s resignation.


  1. 1historian - May 31, 2011 at 6:23 PM

    If this is a strong year for Ohio players and we have recruiters in the state with lots of local roots this can only be good.

  2. bernhtp - Jun 2, 2011 at 8:18 PM

    This is just the first shoe to drop. The NCAA appears to be doing a full investigation. They interviewed Pryor and his mom today about the cars he has been driving.

  3. pdmjr - Jun 2, 2011 at 8:52 PM

    Pryors mother financed the 2007 Nissan, the guy made some mistakes. He is paying dearly.

    Dont forget ND has a dead video guy on their conscience. People in glass house should not throw stones. And yes I am ND fan since 1964.

    • bernhtp - Jun 2, 2011 at 9:41 PM

      I guess I don’t get the comparison between a tragic accident and an apparent pattern of breaking the rules. The SI article and several others I’ve read paint a far more damning picture than your description suggests. We’ll have to wait for the results of the NCAA investigation to really know.

  4. pdmjr - Jun 2, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    Tragic accident because of lack of institutional control, sound familiar to OSU situation. This kind of stuff happens at most college campuses.

  5. notredave - Jun 2, 2011 at 10:36 PM

    Sorry, while I agree we shouldn’t throw stones(and I won’t) what appears to be eight plus years of looking the other way(read: pattern) and a one time tragic accident are not the same at all. Not at all.

  6. kappy32 - Jun 3, 2011 at 4:09 PM

    Ok, this is why so many people hate the Irish. As a huge fan, I am embarrassed when people attempt to put the Irish in the middle of EVERY college football story. The first few issues you mentioned are marginal, at best. Fickell was NOT leaving Ohio State, as the behind-the-scenes coronated Head Coach in waiting, to come work for Charlie Weis and his .500 Irish teams. OSU is a perennial top-10 school in a major conference, always knocking on the door of the BCS with an automatic Big-10 Rose Bowl bid. ND hasn’t been to the BCS since we were destroyed by LSU in the Sugar Bowl 6 years ago. As for Kelly being on the short-list of coaches for the OSU job, I guarantee you that had he not come to ND, he’d either be at Michigan starting this season or at USC starting last season.

    The biggest gripe I have with your article is your thought that the Irish have a shot at some of OSU’s hometown recruits. First off, OSU is bigger than one man; players go to OSU for the legacy more so than who is coaching the team and I would be surprised if any more than one or two of these commits actually leave. People in Ohio live, breathe and sleep OSU football. The further north you get, the more there is a Michigan/OSU divide amongst the players, and that brings me to my second point. If anyone is going to benefit from Tressel resigning is going to be Michigan. Michigan is the second powerhouse school who uses Ohio as a pipeline state. The ranking in Ohio is #1 OSU, #2 Mich then WAY down the ladder is ND at maybe 3 or 4. I am sure that if any one of those commits leaves, they will be wearing Maize and Blue before Blue and Gold. The most likely commits to back out are going to be those from other big school states such as Texas, California, Florida, etc. Regarding those recruits, ND has little to no chance to take them away from the big names like USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, FSU, LSU, etc. Wishful thinking, but completely biased thinking. Just because ND made a list of a player’s top 5 schools does not mean we are going to snag him away because Jim Tressel is gone.

    It’s great that you think ND is as important as you obviously do, but we have absolutely no ties or nothing to do with the Tressel/OSU fiasco except for fringe issues. Focus on aspects of ND football that really matter.

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