June 28, 2011
For a novice head coach who was just tossed into the deep end, new Ohio State boss Luke Fickell cooly on-point this morning in an eight-minute turn on the Dan Patrick Show, during which listeners learned that Fickell a) Failed to return Terrelle Pryor's phone call before the embattled quarterback's exit from the team because he was at a Taylor Swift concert*, and b) Is confident he could take the rest of the Big Ten coaches in a cage fight. He also hasn't spoken to his old boss since he was promoted.
Oh, and Ohio State actually dropped the "interim" tag from Fickell's title a couple weeks ago. He's just the head coach, period. So: Does that mean he's the full-time guy, like, full-time?
Despite the semantics, the official answer is still "no." An Ohio State spokesman told a Buckeye website, the-Ozone, that "Luke is our head coach this year," but the arrangement remains temporary: "At some point, either during the season or after the season, a decision will be made on who will be our coach going forward." Depending on how the season goes — and how attractive the job still looks to bigger names once the NCAA is done with it — that could still be Fickell.
More likely, the title is to give some semblance of stability to would-be recruits, who are beginning to shun the Buckeyes en masse. Since Jim Tressel was forced out on May 30, Ohio State has lost a 2011 signee and watched hyped in-state targets in the 2012 class — guys who were once considered Ohio State locks — turn them down in favor of Wisconsin (Cleveland offensive lineman Kyle Dodson), Michigan State (Canton defensive end Se'von Pittman) and Michigan (Mentor defensive end Tom Strobel). Last week, five-star Lakewood, Ohio, offensive lineman Kyle Kalis backed out of his commitment to OSU and immediately began flirting with the Wolverines; another touted commitment, Canton running back Bri'onte Dunn, may not be far behind. Including Dunn, the current crop of Buckeye commitments for 2012 doesn't have anyone who ranks among Rivals' top 100 overall or among the top 10 nationally at his position. The last thing Fickell needs is an in-your-face reminder that he's probably going to be bounced by the end of the year.
For his part, Fickell probably wasn't too crazy about that, either. But he does have two legitimate chances to survive the instinct to purge the program of all remaining traces of the Tressel era. The easy way is to win: Another top-10 finish or Big Ten title — with a defense ravaged by graduation, an offense ravaged by suspensions and morale ravaged by the unbroken string of success. The hard way is to take a hit from the NCAA so devastating that no other remotely attractive candidate is willing to come anywhere near the crater.
In either case, whether OSU fans accept Fickell in the top job will depend on the record. But if the fallout is toxic enough, they may have to put their Urban Meyer and John Gruden posters under the bed and learn to live with the local kid made good, anyway.
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* With his daughter, man. Shut up.
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.