May 30, 2011
There's no doubt that Meyer, who retired from Florida for health reasons or to spend more time with his family or to live out a lifelong dream to be a college football analyst on ESPN, is Ohio State's prime target and president E. Gordon Gee and athletic director Gene Smith are going to throw everything they have at the 46-year-old ex-coach.
But Meyer has already gone on the offensive, issuing a statement that he has no plans to pursue any coaching job. Well, not this fall anyway.
I am committed to ESPN and will not pursue any coaching opportunities this fall. I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the people at ESPN this spring and remain very excited about my role with the network this fall.
Jim Tressel has been a respected friend and colleague for a long time. I wish Jim and his family the very best now and in the future.
The "this fall" line, which is used twice, is important because Ohio State doesn't need a coach for this fall. It has one in Luke Fickell, who will interim coach the team during the 2011 season. So the door is open for Meyer to sign on in one of the three remaining seasons of winter, spring and summer or bowl, recruiting and off.
So why all the conspiracy theories with Meyer?
Well, for one, he's an excellent coach who quit the game in his prime. He won two national championships at Florida and made Utah the first-ever BCS buster. Not to mention he's originally from Toledo, Ohio. He started his head coaching career at Bowling Green and he still has family in Ohio.
And let's be honest, Ohio State needs a win here. There's no telling when the NCAA hammer will drop, so it would behoove the university to make a big splash while it still can. While Fickell might be a great and upcoming coach, he certainly doesn't command the kind of respect (yet) and pure name recognition that Meyer does. If Ohio State can land Meyer, the future doesn't look nearly as bleak.
But in case the whole Meyer thing doesn't work out, here's a quick list of a couple other guys who could fit the bill. Of course, all of these coaches have perfectly good jobs, so we should all get used to hearing the famous line, "I'm the coach at (fill in the blank school) and that's where my focus is."
Bo Pelini: One of the other coaches to issue a statement after Tressel's resignation, Pelini did not acknowledge rumors that he could be in the coaching search mix, but instead the former Buckeyes safety praised Tressel.
"Jim Tressel is an outstanding football coach and a good man. I've followed and respected his career since his days at Youngstown State, and through his tremendous success at Ohio State the past decade. He will be missed in college football."
Pleasantries aside, Pelini is an ideal candidate because he grew up in Youngstown, Ohio, represents the Ohio State brand and is the kind of defensive football coach that players and fans get excited about. Sure he's a fiery guy and that fire gets him in some hot water, but he's got the type of energy that could keep the fans excited regardless of the NCAA ruling.
Mark Dantonio: Dantonio is a Tressel protégé, which might make for an uneasy situation, but he was the defensive coordinator for the Ohio State team that won the national championship. He's turned Michigan State into a legitimate Big Ten power. Last season the Spartans went 11-2 and shared the Big Ten title.
Gary Patterson: You can't have a major job opening without Patterson's name attached to it. And while Gee might dismiss him because he is the coach of one of those Little Sisters of the Poor teams, there's no doubt that Patterson would whip the Buckeyes back into national championship form. Similar to Pelini and Dantonio, Patterson is a defensive mastermind whose TCU teams have been the top defensive unit for the past three seasons.
Lane Kiffin: Because why not?
Gary Pinkel: Pinkel has turned Missouri into a legitimate collegiate program after it spent years as an afterthought. Pinkel came to Mizzou after making his name at Toledo and he played at Kent State. Unlike the other candidates on this list, Pinkel is best known for his offense and Missouri's spread system, which often produces one of the most prolific scoring attacks in the collegiate game. Pinkel would be about as far away as Ohio Sate could get from "Tressel Ball" and perhaps that's a good thing.
Mark Stoops: The Stoops' boys were born and bred Ohio, and Mark is the up-and-comer that's poised to make the next great move. His brother Bob has a comfortable situation at Oklahoma and Mike Stoops could turn Arizona into something special, leaving young Mark to make his impression on the coaching world. He's already fared well as the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Arizona and at Florida State.
Jon Gruden: There isn't a college coaching search unless Gruden's name is involved. He's as good a coach as he is national television analyst, but is he the right fit for Ohio State? That's hard to say. The man knows his X's and O's. He's a master at breaking down systems and his television demeanor will make him a widely recognized figure while recruiting. If Ohio State is just looking to bring in a name and Meyer turns the job down, Gruden might be next on the radar.
Obviously, names are going to appear and disappear from this list as the season starts and some coaches do better than others. It's also important to note that Fickell is getting an entire year to prove he's the man for the job. If he can make something of this season despite the five-game suspension to Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron, Devier Posey, Mike Adams and Soloman Thomas, Fickell might gain enough fan sentiment to make a serious run for the position.
But for now, the favorite in the stable is Meyer. Even the online sportsbook BoDog is backing Meyer as the 3/2 favorite. Stoops is 5/2, Gruden 3/1, Pelini 10/1, Dantonio 12/1 and my darkhorses Pinkel and Kiffin are not on the list.
The good thing about Ohio State taking the year to find its new coach is that it can spend time courting. It can take a couple "no's" from Meyer and, if necessary, use the ol' surefire standby: go to his house, stand outside his window with a boombox and blast "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel. After all, when no one thinks it will work, you've just described every great success story.