Wednesday, October 19, 2011

AN ENDORSEMENT FOR COACH LUKE FICKELL'S FUTURE AT OHIO STATE

Luke Fickell
The Buckeye Times/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
COLUMBUS — It hasn't been an ideal season for the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes. With the team sitting in the middle of the conference pack (4-3, 1-2 in Big 10), there has been quite a bit of heat on interim head coach Luke Fickell.

Every other day I seem to run into speculation on who the next coach SHOULD be (I'm guilty, too. Although I speculated back when Jim Tressel was still preparing for last season's Sugar Bowl). It's as if the fans and the media have already booted Fickell from being considered for the full-time position.

Those speculators have their reasons, too.

Through the first seven games of the Fickell era, the team has really struggled to show consistency. The offense has been under the spotlight with ugly performances against Miami (FL) and Michigan State, along with Fickell's mishandling of the quarterback situation involving senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller. Defensively, there was the last 20 minutes of the Nebraska game where the Cornhuskers put up 28 points. So, yeah.

The head coach deserves most of the blame when the team performs under par, but what was actually considered par for the Buckeyes in 2011? Considering the amount of change that occurred from '10 to '11, I believe Fickell deserves a little patience from the end of Buckeye Nation.

After Tressel was given the axe last Memorial Day, athletic director Gene Smith turned to the 38-year-old Fickell. He had spent the previous nine seasons on the OSU coaching staff, including the past five as co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. So with such a strong defensive background, you'd think the Ohio State defense would be downright mean to its opponents. Well, we seem to forget this defense lost seven starters, including five All-Conference players. But Fickell and his staff continue to put a quality product on the field as the Buckeyes are ranked 13th nationally in points per game and 19th in overall defense.

Offensively, the Buckeyes are bad. Stinky bad. With Fickell's inexperience on the offensive side of the ball, the first-year head coach has relied heavily on offensive coordinator Jim Bollman. Bollman had run the offense during Tressel's entire tenure, though he sat in the backseat as Tressel ran most of the playcalling. Bollman has received plenty of criticism himself, and rightfully so.

The departures that hit the Buckeyes have been well-documented thanks to the suspensions of Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams. Ohio State also waived bye-bye to Terrelle Pryor and saw three seniors graduate. So with all of this turnover on offense, what were the honest expectations in 2011?

Remember when I said this offense was stinky bad? Through seven games, the Buckeyes rank near the bottom of nearly every offensive category. While searching for just how awful this offense has been, Ohio State found itself surrounded in the rankings by the likes of Western Kentucky and Akron.

So Fickell was given a defunct hand right off the bat. Not only has the roster been decimated by suspensions and graduation, but the expectations were unbelievably high and unrealistic. I think it's safe to say Buckeye fans were spoiled. Every season seemed to bring an expectation for nothing less than a conference championship and a shot at the national title game. A decade had past since a massive amount of excitement and optimism hadn't surrounded Ohio State football. And I believe that excitement and optimism had been carried over to the Fickell era without good reason.

We should have expected some sort of fall off, right?

In 2001, a little-known football coach from Youngstown State had taken over a proud and impatient program in Columbus. That guy's name was Jim Tressel. During his first season, the Buckeyes started the year 4-3 and finished with a 7-5 record. The next season, Tressel and the Buckeyes won a national title and he was officially a campus legend.

I'm not trying to imply that Fickell will win a national title next season, or even that this team will win seven games this year. But what we should realize is that Fickell deserves a little patience from our end.

Look, the man knows what he's doing. Coaching isn't new to Fickell. Though he has proven his management skills need work and he needs to find a comfort with the offense, this guy is as much of a Buckeye as you're going to find. He's spent the past decade studying under Tressel, and before that he spent four years on the field becoming possibly the toughest player to ever wear the scarlet and gray.

I think the least we can do is show a little bit of patience for Fickell and this 2011 team. The roster is filled with so much youthful depth that this team is going to be scary good in 2013. I don't think a little composure from Ohio State fans is too much ask, but then again I'm not old enough to remember the John Cooper era.

So while you dream of Urban Meyer on the sideline of Ohio Stadium, I'll be waiting with calmness and understanding.

Waiting for Fickell to prove everybody wrong.