Thursday, October 6, 2011

AS OF NOW, FICKELL FACING UPHILL CLIMB TO REMAIN BUCKEYES' BOSS

Luke Fickell
The Buckeye Times/Joe Stueve
Some people have placed a minimum win total that Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell must achieve if he is to remain boss of the Buckeyes football team beyond this season.

I think said criteria is flawed in many ways. I mean, Fickell has inherited a team in Columbus that was decimated by suspensions, resignations and graduations. He's been dealt a hand that consists of first- and second-year players with little or no collegiate football experience. He's also heading a team and staff that was heavily dependent on former head coach Jim Tressel.

I don't think a certain win total can accurately determine the coach's success level, certainly not in this situation.

However, there are other ways that Fickell can — and should — be judged.

How is he developing players? How is he managing his staff? Is he decisive? Does he have command of his team?

Through the first five weeks of the regular season, I'm sorry to say, Fickell's been lacking in each of the aforementioned areas.

His development of true freshman quarterback Braxton Miller has been handled about as poorly as one could imagine. Instead of allowing Miller the opportunity to do what he's comfortable doing — zone-reads, boots, quick-hitters — he's trying to implement Miller into a system that doesn't fit his game, at least as of yet. He should be building a system around Miller, not vice versa.

To make matters worse, Fickell's many mind-games he's played with the youngster during the first five weeks — pulling him out of situations instead of allowing him to play through them — has made him so tightly wrapped under center that he's terrified to take a chance down field in fear that he'll be yanked out of the game.

Fickell has insisted numerous times that he wants Miller to know that he has confidence in him, but his actions say something to the contrary.

"Things were happening fast for (Miller)," Fickell said, following Saturday's 10-7 loss to Michigan State. "I think maybe he didn't see the field real well. We thought we're going to have to throw the football with as many people as they were putting in there and as much heat as they were bringing.

"So we thought our best option was to go with a guy that probably could see the field a little better and maybe throw the football a little better in some of the formations or spreads that we needed to get into."

Sounds like a ringing endorsement there, huh? The confidence in Miller was just dripping from his sentiments.

Now, I can't say it's completely Fickell's fault. His offensive staff — most notably coordinator Jim Bollman and quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano — are just as much or more to blame for the egregious handling of Miller than Fickell.

As I'm writing this piece, I gaze above my computer at the book shelf on the wall, and on it is a hardback by author Jeff Snook titled, And then Tress said to Troy ... 

The cover shot is of Tressel instructing former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith on the sideline during a game back in the 2006 season. Seeing the book makes me say to myself, "Who is the Tress to his Miller's Troy?"

Sadly, there's absolutely no answer to that question.

This takes me to the next part of the criteria: How is Fickell managing his staff?

So far, it appears as if the staff is managing him. It's apparent Bollman's fingerprints are all over this offense. There are no adjustments being made throughout the games — other than replacing quarterbacks — and the predictability of play-calling is mind-numbing.

It doesn't appear Fickell is comfortable overruling certain coaches. In fact, he admitted earlier in the season that vetoing coaches who have been his superiors for so long prior, could be difficult for him to do. That's a sign he's not ready to be a head coach.

Another criteria going against Fickell thus far has been his indecisiveness. From not being able to name starters at key positions like quarterback, tailback and receiver — usually littering the depth chart with a plethora of 'OR' spots — to his unwillingness to name season captains, Fickell's inability to pull the trigger on issues is quite alarming.

That's what a head coach is for, making tough calls and decisions.

Perhaps the biggest aspect where the coach has been less than satisfactory is his lack of command. It's becoming more and more obvious that players aren't buying in to what Fickell's selling, and that's usually the death notice for a reeling team.

Following Saturday's loss to Michigan State, there were a few comments from Buckeye players that were a quite concerning, like how they missed their former coach and that their horrid play wouldn't be happening on Tressel's watch.

Fickell's prospects of remaining head coach beyond 2011 doesn't look too promising. But, believe it or not, there's still plenty of football left to play, and a lot of learning and adjusting that can still be made from the Buckeyes' boss.

Fickell's prospects have by no means flatlined, they're just in the I.C.U. at the moment. Of course, progressing in those aforementioned areas can help resusitate things. And winning can remedy any situation.

"Criticism I handle a lot better than I do praise," Fickell said this week. "It makes me mad and it makes me work harder and makes me do things a little bit more."

Well then, coach ... I hope I've been of assistance.