The beginning of the end has passed, but the trouble is far from over for the Ohio State Buckeyes' football program. Jim Tressel has stepped down and Luke Fickell has been named interim coach for now, shouldering a responsibility only a few of us can even imagine.
Not only will Fickell have to try to steer the ship that is the Scarlet and Gray throughout the 2011 season (while fighting for a job of his own nonetheless), but he will also have to put his best efforts forward in the area of damage control, where the blood life of college football, recruiting, could be the most at risk of taking a big hit thanks to the events that have transpired in Columbus this week.
Fickell passed the first test when he spent an hour on the phone with and persuaded Kyle Kalis to remain committed to the Buckeyes when the star tackle's intentions were to de-commit upon calling the new OSU coach after Tressel resigned Monday. That was likely the first of many similar conversations Fickell will have with the eight current players committed to Ohio State for the recruiting class of 2012, as well as the many high school sophomores and juniors that are still considering the Buckeyes as their future college choice.
Fickell's job in the recruiting world is not only difficult because of the mess the school currently finds itself in, but also because his title of interim head coach leaves a tremendous amount of uncertainty when it comes to the future in Columbus. Both of these issues will be on the minds of the recruits that still have OSU in mind, a reason why things may drag out more than ever before on the recruiting trail during the next six months or so.
Adding to the burning pile is the fact that this year's class of Ohio players is possibly the best of all-time, all the more reason the Buckeye coaching staff needs to be on its "A game" when it comes to recruiting strategy during the upcoming football season.
The 2011 class is going to go one of two ways. The first possibility is that Luke Fickell can weather the storm and keep distractions out of the locker room, en route to another successful year for the football program. Assuming a 10-12 win season, OSU might take the "interim" tag off of Fickell and the recruiting front will most likely its their course.
While Ohio State won't likely snag any big time out of state players this year, they are sure to re-gain the trust of players in their backyard who likely would have committed by now had Tatgate never exploded. It would take some time for the Fickell-lead staff to gain the same national respect that Jim Tressel has built up over the last few years, but winning cures everything and if the new regime can reflect a winning aura, then they will be back in good shape with the top talent from around the country in no time.
The second scenario is one where Gene Smith, or whoever the decision maker is at the time, decides Fickell is not the guy they want moving forward, and hires an outside coach in late December or early January after a national search. In this situation, the Buckeyes are in a tough spot, as all the players who have currently committed are likely to at least temporarily backtrack on their pledge, and the new coach will have to win back their hearts, as well as finalize the remainder of the class with very little time.
National Signing Day is the first week in February and we have seen far too many times how this strategy has impacted recruiting for the year at hand (looking your way, Rich). Obviously, a superstar coach like Meyer or Gruden would likely be able to turn things around for the better, but from a recruiting standpoint, you don't want to be in this position if you don't have to.
The bottom line in both scenarios is that things won't be easy for the Bucks on the recruiting trail this upcoming year. They face an uphill battle in that the program is at risk of getting slapped with sanctions and the coaching staff will probably have some lame ducks within it. In either situation things can turn for the better or for the worse, but once again the fear of the unknown is baggage on the recruiting trail.
That same unkown is the reason why you aren't likely to see much activity in terms of verbal commitments from now until a final decision is made on Tressel's permanent replacement. It was nice to see Tyvis Powell go with his heart yesterday, but don't count on that happening too often as many of the recruits left on the board don't bleed Scarlet and Gray the way he does and will wait until the dust settles to make a decision on the Buckeyes.
I personally feel that if Fickell successfully holds the team together through this season and proves that he is capable of running a program like Ohio State's for years to come, he should remain the head coach. I think this would be the best possible scenario for recruiting, as he was already OSU's best recruiter, would have the trust and respect of the players already on the roster, would have the support of the 2012 verbal pledges, and most importantly would bring stability to the position that was lost on May 30, 2011.
The positives won't mean much if the administration decides to clean house, even if that staff is headed by a coach with a successful track record, like Meyer. It will be interesting to see how things play out in the second half of 2011, as the future is uncertain but the events that transpire during that time are indeed certain to have a long lasting impact on The Ohio State University and the lifeblood of the program that is recruiting