Opinion: Fickell faltering in Tressel aftermath

Nick Shook

The Ohio State University’s football program has a long-standing tradition of winning. From Paul Brown, to Woody Hayes and more recently Jim Tressel, the Buckeyes have consistently resided near or at the top of the college football rankings.

With the departure of Tressel following a highly publicized memorabilia-for-cash scandal involving several players, the Buckeyes were undoubtedly wounded heading into the 2011 season. However, no fan of college football imagined that Ohio State would perform so poorly in the national spotlight in the third week of the season.

The Buckeyes were downright awful on a muggy Saturday night in Miami, Fla. The Hurricanes quickly scored on the fourth play of their first possession and never looked back, defeating Ohio State, 24-6. The game was ugly and frustrating to watch as a fan, as head coach Luke Fickell couldn’t make up his mind on which player he wanted to play at quarterback.

He first started with fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, but then switched to true freshman Braxton Miller midway through the first quarter. After two successful runs by tailback Jordan Hall, Miller dropped back to pass on 2nd and 9. His first pass of the game was intercepted, and he quickly returned to the bench. Bauserman was inserted early in the second quarter and the offense returned to its previously anemic state. The Buckeyes simply couldn’t move the ball.

Meanwhile, Miami continued to excel offensively, putting points up on the board and extending their lead over the Buckeyes. Fickell further mishandled the quarterback situation by swapping quarterbacks periodically throughout the rest of the game. Neither quarterback was given the opportunity to establish a rhythm on the field and with their teammates. It was clear that the team just wasn’t performing cohesively.

This evidence of a lack of successful teamwork on the field reflects directly upon the coaching staff. ESPN spared Fickell of multiple sideline shots as the clock ticked down toward the Buckeyes’ demise, but in the few close-ups that did focus on him, Fickell looked completely lost. He seemed to be unfocused on the game, and it was especially apparent in the final minute of the game, when Miami moved the ball inside Ohio State’s five-yard line. Instead of using one of his three timeouts to stop the clock and try to preserve any small chance of a comeback, Fickell stood with a blank stare on the sidelines as the Hurricanes let the clock run down. To top off this embarrassing scene, Miami scored soon after, and Buckeye Nation felt another sucker punch.

Ohio State does not operate like this on the football field. The Buckeyes are a proud program that is overflowing with tradition and success. A no-name, first-year head coach is taking the flight controls and sending the team into a nose dive. This problem must be fixed as soon as the season ends. The Big Ten schedule offers no rest for Ohio State, and fans will have to sit back and try to make it through what appears will be a very long, frustrating season.

Only two options can right the ship, and push the program in the right direction. The first is to choose one starter and stick with him. I don’t care how long Bauserman has sat the bench in Columbus; if Miller is the quarterback that will give Ohio State the best chance to win, then Fickell must go with the freshman. Forget about loyalties and all of that, because if Fickell remains loyal to Bauserman, he will soon learn just how very little loyalty The Ohio State University has toward his job. This leads us to the program’s second option: if the Buckeyes finish any worse than 9-3, Fickell will be gone in an instant. He may have already sealed his fate with his handling of the Miami game.

In the aftermath of the Miami game, much, if not all, of Buckeye Nation was calling for Fickell’s job. Ohio State fans worldwide desperately want to see one man, and one man only on the sidelines in Columbus in 2012 — Urban Meyer. The former Bowling Green head coach led Utah to its first Bowl Championship Series bid in school history, and then went on to coach the Florida Gators to two national championships, one of which came against Ohio State in 2006. Who better to replace Tressel, the living legend, than the man that defeated him on college football’s biggest stage?

Here’s a simple message to athletic director Gene Smith: Stand behind Fickell for the rest of the season, out of respect to him, his family, and the players. Nothing will tear down a team faster and shoo away future recruits than in-season instability at the head coaching position. Once the season concludes, take a few days or so to evaluate Fickell’s performance. My guess is that it will likely result in the suggestion by many to terminate the coach’s contract. Then, make a strong push for Meyer. It is common knowledge that Meyer has wanted nothing more in his career than to coach at Ohio State. He currently resides in Columbus. He’s practically in the palm of your hand already.

Make the switch, but not until after the season. Be swift and strong with the decision, and leave no doubt in anyone, including ESPN analyst and Ohio State detractor number one, Mark May, that Ohio State is determined to return to the top of the college football world.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].