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.