Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Obligatory Luke Fickell reaction

Exactly two weeks after naming him head coach, Ohio State rolled out clean-cut Buckeye lifer Luke Fickell on Monday, presenting him as its new and younger and more likeable version of Jim Tressel.

Although I'm not intimately familiar with the inner workings of OSU's coaching hierarchy under Tressel, the assumption was always that Darrell Hazell (who left at an extremely inconvenient time to become coach at Kent State) and Fickell were the fast risers and the Tressel clones, the guys who might actually have a chance to ascend to the job whenever Tressel retired with his 78 Big Ten championships and 1,000-1 record against Michigan. And the fact that Fickell (who's only 37, BTW) was entrusted with the job even temporarily while Tressel was supposed to be on his slap-on-the-wrist suspension answered any questions about Fickell's philosophy: Nothing will change. A guy who was mentored by Tressel, promoted by Tressel, trusted by Tressel would not be in the situation he's in if he didn't think like Tressel.

His awfully sweaty but respectable press conference performance was more proof of that: He talked a lot about "toughness" and "effort" and moving forward, which are all things people love to hear and will respond to by posting on message boards with slappy comments like "this guy is awsome he totuly gits it" even though it was all scripted and meaningless in the big picture. He learned from the master.

Believe it or not, I actually kinda like Fickell (from purely a "likeable guy" standpoint). Sort of like Brady Hoke, he busted his ass off to one day have a shot at his "dream job," and now he's getting it at a time when said job is probably less desirable than at any point in modern history. The big difference: Hoke actually, you know, has the job. Fickell's chances of keeping the job past this season are somewhere between slim and none, and slim is over at Jack Maxton Chevrolet looking for a loaner (I hear there's a Nissan 350Z available).

He made a comment during his presser about how this team "will not be about comparing and contrasting what we did before," apparently trying to recalibrate expectations given the obvious ... ummm ... challenges (his words, not mine) he's about to plow into. I suppose that's a logical goal given the pure insanity of the last few months, the suspensions, etc., but it's not realistic when Tressel has established 10-2 or 11-1 as the benchmark for a reasonably successful season -- that won't ever change at OSU, at least not until the NCAA brings the hammer and people start to readjust their goals when they see the diminished product on the field (and probably not even then).

Even more interesting was this not-exactly-off-the-cuff statement:
"I was not informed of any information until it became public knowledge."
Considering that there's a 1,000 percent chance that was scripted (or at least approved) by somebody in legal/compliance before he ever stepped to the podium, the wording there provides an intriguingly large loophole. At no point did he say he was not "aware" of the violations -- simply that he was not "informed" until it became public knowledge. And there's a reason for that: If/when Fickell is implicated in the extra-benefit shenanigans (and the odds of that happening aren't low), OSU might save itself from an extra level of NCAA tongue-lashing by being able to say "well, he didn't technically lie" and then cutting him loose after the season along with everybody else who was even tangentially involved.

Maybe I'm reading too much into things, but I'd have to be more than a little naive to think OSU's top recruiter -- a guy who was undoubtedly involved in organizing on-campus visits and camps (you know, the ones Tressel allegedly used to rig when he was an up-and-comer) -- had no idea half the guys on the team were driving around in sweet cars and gettin' inked up at crazy discounts. On a related note, Braxton Miller's massive block "O" begs some questions.

I'm not the only one who's skeptical:

The beauty of delusion.

Anyway, a LOT is gonna have to go right for Fickell to still be employed at Ohio State seven months from now, part of that being good news (in the form of no news) from the NCAA and part of it being on-field success at least comparable to what Tressel could/would have achieved this season. Obviously he doesn't have control over what the NCAA finds; the only thing he can do is win.

That'd be a lot easier if, like, half the offense weren't missing for the first five games and he had a QB with any relevant experience, but nobody will care about minor details like that if he goes 7-5. It's win or go home -- or maybe win and go home.

So yeah ... it's not exactly the ideal first-job scenario, but as a wise man once said, it is what it is.


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