In Which We Avoid Our Own Rodriguez

By Jake on June 3, 2011 at 6:00a
What could go wrong?The Gold Standard for Epic Fail

The ink is barely dry on Jim Tressel's resignation letter and Luke Fickell is already warming the big chair in the head office for at least one season, but there's little doubt that Ohio State is already putting together a list of candidates for the Head Coaching position in 2012. Every coaching search is a gamble at best. Some teams bag the sure-bet, others pluck a nobody who turns the program around, still more slowly fade into obscurity, while the worst spectacularly implode. Before you start renovating the house, you make sure you're not blowing it up instead. 

Ohio State hasn't had a bad coach since they stopped wearing leather helmets, an unbroken string of competence that no other school can truly claim. When you've had four coaches in 50 years, you're doing something right. Like a comet passing through Earth's orbit, an Ohio State head coaching search is both momentous and rare. It's inevitable that the topic of the next coach be among the most discussed questions, both nationally and around the watercooler. With that in mind, here are some of the possibilities facing Gene Smith (or his successor).

The headliners

Some coaches immediately jump to mind when a coaching position opens up. Ties to the school, a very successful history, and availibility all combine to make them the focus of most speculation. These are your "Les Miles to Michigan" or "Brian Kelly to Notre Dame" candidates. 

Urban Meyer

Urban regularly sees images of Tim Tebow in his toast
Top Job Held Florida Gators Head Coach
  Conference National
Record 36-13 65-15
Win% 73.47% 81.25%
Championships 2 (3 Division) 2

First on just about everyone's list, Urban Meyer offers a compelling list of traits: an Ohio-Born lifelong Buckeye fan, under 50 years of age, dramatic success at the highest levels, and an impeccable record as a recruiter. While it's true that Meyer won his 1st championship with a team largely made up of Zook recruits, the 2nd was all Meyer, and largely on the back of a sterling defense. 

Still, Meyer did resign due to health concerns, something unlikely to subside any time soon, and he's currently holding down a cushy position with ESPN. Ohio State fans may have trouble accepting the coach on the opposite end of The Horror, and Meyer's teams liked to hang out in jail as often as the local Children's Hospital

Jon Gruden

Top Job Held Tampa Bay Buccaneers Head Coach
  Regular Season Post-Season
Record 95-81 5-4
Win% 54% 55.6%
Championships N/A 1

Gruden is talked about in conjunction with just about every major coaching position that opens up, and it's no surprise. With a superbowl win an impressive post-season record in the NFL, and still under 50 years old, it's hard to imagine Gruden staying out of coaching forever. Having tamed Al Davis and brought victory to Tampa, Gruden would bring quite a change of pace with his west-coast offense and NFL-style management. Plus, Ohio State probably offers the single most likely destination for the native-Ohioan to return to the game. 

Despite all the positives, Gruden has shown that he's more than capable of resisting the siren song of the headseat. Like Meyer, Gruden seems content with the role of commentator, and he's shown a commitment to that role that Meyer hasn't yet. From a coaching perspective, NFL coaches have usually had trouble at the collegiate level, dealing with their team as a CEO more than a mentor, throwing out overly-complex playbooks, and generally treating 18-22 year old kids like they're professionals. Gruden has no experience at the collegiate level, and it's no stretch to imagine he'd flame out just as others before him did. 

Bo Pelini

Top Job Held Nebraska Cornhuskers Head Coach
  Conference National
Record 17-7 30-12
Win% 70.83% 71.43%
Championships 0 (3 Division) 0

Born in Youngstown, Bo Pelini was an Ohio State team captain at Free Safety, playing for Earle Bruce in the 80s. It's safe to assume that if Ohio State asked him to come, barring significant sanctions, he'd probably say yes. While he's not reached the heights of the legendary Tom Osborne, Pelini has brought Nebraska back to the upper-echelon of the Big XII, where it belongs, two heartbreaking losses to Texas from claiming a pair of Conference Championships. While not boasting the stellar portfolio of Urban Meyer or the Super Bowl cred of Jon Gruden, Pelini can currently boast being the only active coach of the three. Finally, Pelini brings an acute defensive mind to a football program that prides itself on defense. There's little doubt he'd fit right in.

He is still the least proven of the three big names, however. Plus, not only would he be leaving a bon-a-fide blue blood in Nebraska, but jumping ship in conference as well, a not particularly common occurance. Temper is an issue as well, with a highly publicized meltdown during a game against Texas A&M the most visible example. While tOSU is no stranger to tempermental coaches, a dramatic flameout is the last thing the Buckeyes need from their head coach. 

The safety-valves

While the first three coaches offer the coaches likely topping the list of the Ohio State wishlist, there are also those candidates who offer plenty of upside, but little of the downside facing the top 3 choices. These are the candidates for stability; those who may not be the right choice, but definitely won't be the wrong choice. 

Luke Fickell

Top Job Held Ohio State Buckeyes Co-Defensive Coordinator/Asst. Coach
  Conference National
Record N/A N/A
Win% N/A N/A
Championships N/A N/A

Fickell doesn't yet have any record as a head coach, but his is a name that's been spoken highly of for years by both staff and other other coaches. A powerhouse recruiter and groomer of some kickass linebacking corps over the years, Fickell would provide the most seamless transition from the Tressel-Era. He would be a coach in the mold of Pat Fitzgerald: a very young, defensive minded coach steeped in his school's traditions. Most importantly, Fickell gets a season-long test drive to prove that he has what it takes to lead the Buckeyes.

His closesness to Tressel is both a blessing and a curse. It may be that the athletic department will decide that no matter how well Fickell does this season, it's too risky to keep a coach so connected to Tressel at the helm. And even if they don't tie him to Tressel's anchor, it's unlikely this season will provide the sort of ringing endorsement necessary to beat out established names and eliminate the "interim" tag from his title. Nevertheless, Fickell, despite his inexperience, has to be considered a serious possibility for the head-coaching gig in 2012. 

Mark Dantonio

Top Job Held Michigan State Spartans Head Coach
  Conference National
Record 20-12 33-19
Win% 63.5% 63.5%
Championships 1 0

Say what you will about Mark Dantonio, but the man knows how to beat Michigan. Then again, so does everyone these days. But Dantonio has shown he can coach with the best of them, turning the sad-sack Spartans of John L. Smith into legitimate B1G contenders, winning their first conference championship in 20 years. Perhaps even more impressive, he's done so despite leading the #2 school in a state not known for it's local talent. There's little doubt Dantonio would jump at the chance to lead the Buckeyes, boasting both the connections and history to tie him to the university. There's also little doubt he would quite easily adjust to the move, as he and Tressel have often been called clones of one another. 

On the downside, Dantonio has been eviscerated in bowl games, a result most Buckeye fans have little desire to see repeated. While button-downed conservatism can be a refreshing change of pace in an ego-driven climate like College Football, it also leads to plenty of groans after yet another 50-yard fieldgoal. Plus, as we've seen, low-profile does not mean no scandals.

The pipe-dreams

Next are those coaches who would undoubtedly be home-runs. Succesful, high-profile, young, and currently leading top programs in their conferences, these candidates would likely never leave their cushy positions no matter who came knocking, but their names will pop up nevertheless.

Bob Stoops

Big Game Bob gets tied to just about every major coaching search, despite never having sniffed another program. An Ohio native, tOSU is probably the most likely candidate for a defection, much in the same way as Bo Pelini. Unlike Pelini, however, Bob Stoops is already coaching a national power, not building one up. While Nebraska may have been on the same level as Oklahoma in the 90s, there's little doubt that Stoops currently helms one of the top programs in the country, primed to compete for the MNC every year. Having never played football for Ohio State, nor been an assistant there, he lacks the deep-rooted ties to the university itself that Pelini has. Bob Stoops is a more proven, less controversial Bo Pelini that we have very little chance of coaxing from Norman. 

Gary Patterson

The coach of a small-conference team with a track record of upseting the big dogs, Patterson provides a read candidate for writers looking for a dark horse. Patterson's Horned Frogs upset a very, very good Wisconsin team in the 2011 Rose Bowl, stonewalling an offense that looked to be the best in the country through most of the season. While his 4-2-5 defense is unconventional, it's results are undeniable, and he would bring an element of change to a school known for it's conservatism. 

Unfortunately, Patterson looks to be quite comfortable where he is. A native of Kansas, he's spent his entire life far from the fertile recruiting grounds of Ohio and deeply rooted in the Big XII/Mountain West region. Perhaps an even larger impending obstacle is TCU's move to the Big East. Patterson would face a much more difficult path to the BCS at Ohio State, while facing much more pressure for success. 

Chris Petersen

Not since Urban Meyer has a non-BCS coach had such a record of success. Chris Petersen boasts multiple BCS victories, a record-long winning streak, and plenty of media-love from across the country. Boasting an innovative offensive mind, he's helped reintroduce the trick play into American Football. If ever there was a perfect "get", it's Chris Petersen. 

But getting Chris Petersen is about as likely as getting Bill Bellichek. He's turned down offers to the biggest schools, for contracts worth far more than he currently earns. With absolutely no Ohio State connection, the spectre of possible sanctions, and a distinct lack of blue turf in Columbus, the chances of a Petersen regime are essentially nil. But a man can dream, can't he?


Comments Show All Comments

slippy's picture

Boise St is one of the dirtiest teams I've seen play.  No thanks to Peterson.


Pelini just doesn't do it for me.  I can't find any really tangible to explain it.  Just don't get good feeling from him.


I like Stoops but it seems like a parallel move.


I'd really love to see someone like Malzahn or Mullen in charge of the offense while our defense keeps on chugging.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

But he was an offensive genius.......

I will admit to being very skeptical of the Tress hire, but got over that real quick when he sd we'd be proud of our boys in Nov. With that I wil do my best not to judge whoever it may be until they get through a game first. Luke included.

LeeNorthbrook's picture

If not Luke, Peterson or Patterson. But really, LUKE.

Denny's picture

Just want to commend your image selection for Bro Pelini.


OHIOinME's picture

This is a real exciting time.  I was young kid stationed in Hawaii when Cooper was fired and Tressel was hired and I had no computer.  I missed out on that discussion.  This is a huge opportunity for whomever is going to get the head coaching title.  Wow! 

Maestro's picture

I want Fickell to succeed.

Would take Meyer happily or Stoops. 

No interest in Pelini.  He will have a heart attack on the sidelines or assault a kid before his career is over.  TOOOOO high strung.

Gruden is too happy being a TV personality and is basically a caricature at this point.

vacuuming sucks

Arkansas Buckeye's picture

I want Fickell to be our future.

Barring that, Meyer would bring the wins though he's not a likeable guy. Not like Woody and JT.

Malzahn may leave the SEC fo his first coaching job but he'll return for his next.

No love for Mike Leach?

Win Luke Win!

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

SonOfBuckeye's picture

Mike Leach or Dan Mullen, please.  Preferably the former.

cal3713's picture

Remember how we're trying to avoid that whole Richrod thing?

Kurt's picture

I'm almost on board here. But not at all with Leach. I think Mullen is prime to move on from Miss St. Everyone talking about Meyer is missing a key detail: Dan Mullen was his OC. When Mullen left they're offense slowly went down the tubes. I'd be interested even in having Fickell as HC then poaching Mullen's OC for us.

Morgan's picture

i really wish dantonio were healthier. saw him at a basketball game earlier this year, and he looked old and battered. i guess maybe that was right after his "episode" or whatever, but ive always liked him and i think he could be a hell of a coach at ohio state.

yrro's picture

Casting my vote for either Fickell or Dantonio.

I would have a really hard time cheering for Urban Meyer. I massively respect what he's done on the field, but between whining to get Florida into a national championship and verbally assaulting a reporter for writing a story that was unfavorable to one of his players... just don't like his image.

It's too bad the Appalachian state coach is too old for the job - at least he knows how to beat Michigan.

NC_Buckeye's picture

I've liked Fickell for the job for a couple of years now. If he can prove himself, he'll likely be contending for Paterno's record in 30 years.

Dantonio is a great coach and we'd be lucky to get him but he would never stab Tressel in the back like that. He's way too classy to even consider the job in Columbus at this point. Tressel and him are very close friends.

Here's a thought. We might only get ten years out of him (he's 60) but if Luke appears not to be working -- why not see if Fred Pagac would be interested? The guy has shown he can coach with the Vikings. Unlike Gruden he has plenty of experience recruiting at the college level. Plus, he has the Buckeye credentials both as a coach and player. 

LeeNorthbrook's picture

Meyer & Dantonio - health issues.

Pelini & Gruden - mental health issues.

Stoops - probably not interested but not a bad choice.

Peterson & Patterson - excellent young coaches who stay calm while going for your throat.

LUKE might be like Paterson and Patterson. I hope so.


O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

Would anyone else love to see Spielman as linebackers coach?

NC_Buckeye's picture

Would anybody like to see Vrabel as a linebackers coach? Fickell and him are close friends.

BuckeyeChief's picture

Ditto on BSU; great team but dirty.

Here's to 20 years of Luke.

"2014 National with it!!!"

btalbert25's picture

There is absolutely no way I can honestly say, Fickel is my ideal coach.  Sure he's a Buckeye, and he's been around the program a long time, but there's no way I want a guy who has Zero experience as a head coach.  Maybe this season he will prove to be the man.  I just worry the team loses like 4 games and that'll be good enough to get him hired on, then we are stuck with someone who may not be that good.  I want someone who is proven as a head coach.  Maybe he'll prove he's deserving during this season, I just want to see that before I'm all in on this guy.

Irricoir's picture


I don't always take names when I kick ass but when I do, they most often belong to a Wolverine.

cal3713's picture

Yeah, not exactly a West Virginia situation, but let's hope we don't copy their last emotional coaching move.  I'm glad Fickell has an entire season to audition, and we'll probably be suspended from post-season play, so as long as Michigan doesn't have 10 or more wins there won't be a super emotional win to cap the season. 


M Man's picture

Every coaching search is different; I really wonder whether there are any "rules" at all.  If it were me, I'd want to take the position that at The Ohio State University, there are no "rebuilding years," and I'd be focusing on 2011, with high expectations, and only after the season, could anyone judge whether Luke Fickell is another Lloyd Carr.

If "hiring somebody that Michigan reeeeaaally hates" is your idea of a job qualification, you might as well sign Dantonio.  Which is fine, because we're kicking Dantonio's recruiting ass right now.

btw:  IMHO, the two best unemployed football coaches in America right now are Jim Tressel and Rich Rodriguez.  Notwithstanding Urban Meyer, John Gruden and anybody else you can think of.

NC_Buckeye's picture

You don't think Mike Leach is a better coach than Rodriguez? Not saying I want him to coach the Buckeyes. Too big of an ego. It would be a train wreck.

Johnny Ginter's picture

i love gary patterson, he's a defensive genius and the 4-2-5 is almost exactly the same thing as the star formation we've been using for the past three years  or so. the problem is that TCU would probably hold his family hostage to keep him there

Ethan's picture


If it's not Fickell, then it's Patterson for me. Urban has retired two straight years -- clearly there is something going on that makes him want to step down. Gruden isn't a college coach. 

Patterson and Fickell would both bring strong defenses to the Shoe, and are both young enough to steer the ship for many years to come. 

Jake's picture

I think Patterson is an amazing coach, but I think at least nominal ties to Ohio are a must in any future coach. Ohio is a recruiting battleground, and while tOSU will always have an edge in-state, a Buckeye Head Coach needs to be able to fence off the rest of the Big Ten and big names from outside the conference. I worry that a Patterson Regime will lead to a RichRod situation, where local coaches don't particularly trust the guy and recruits slowly bleed to our rivals. Michigan State is the #1 recruit destination in Michigan now. 

Brutus's picture

I think we're fortunate that Fickell gets a dress rehearsal before we have to make a final decision. I for one hope he's as good as we're all expecting and locks up the job and becomes the next Ohio State coaching legend. I've encountered Fickell many times when I was younger. We were the same year in school and our high school teams played each other frequently. He was a standout in football and wrestling, I was the opposite of standout in both. Nevertheless, I always had a high opinion of him then as he seemed pretty well grounded and I took pride in watching him be successful as a Buckeye player and coach because I liked the idea that we were keeping it in the family. He is as Ohio State as you can get, therefore, I'd have no qualms about him locking up the position full-time, provided he's ready for that.

Some of the other names that have been mentioned are intriguing, but I am strongly opposed to Meyer. Seems like a likeable guy in the studio, but everything about him as a coach was slimy. True, he hasn't been caught lying to the NCAA like JT has, but then again, neither has Saban. Meyer and Saban strike me as the same guy: win at all costs, players be damned. Meyer may have run a clean program as far as NCAA violations go, but his players' arrest records speak for themselves. He recruited these guys, he coached them, and in my opinion, their off the field problems with the law are a direct reflection of the coach and program. Ramzy gave us a beautiful illustration of what some of JT's players were like off the field. I admittedly didn't pay that close attention to all the good deeds that Meyer's players did off the field (except for the messiah of course), but I just don't get the impression that Meyer's coaching philosophy focuses so hard on who the players are outside of football. You could guarantee me a NC every two years with Meyer and I still wouldn't want him. I guess winning just isn't that important to me (as evidenced by my impressively lackluster athletic career).

Pelini is going to have a stroke on the side line. His rants are almost as embarrassing as Mike Stoops at Arizona. Gruden would be interesting. Patterson too. But Luke is my pick for now.

cal3713's picture

I guess winning just isn't that important to me (as evidenced by my impressively lackluster athletic career).


Ha! I suppose that is one possible reason why people have lackluster athletic careers.

BuckeyeMark's picture

Anybody who saw Pelini go nuclear on his QB in the A&M-Neb game knows that we want no part of someone who is basically the Bob Knight of college fb.  His chewing on the refs in that game led, I believe, to a late game penalty by the zebras that cost Neb the game and said "So there, Mr. Screamy, take that!"  I don't want someone that out of control ... ever.

Further, what has Pelini done?  Championships won?  Not so much.

His temper is an embarassment.  He's a ticking time bomb - eventually he is going to hit a kid, or hit an official or something worse. 

I'm all for fire and passion but Pelini is over the top.  No thanks.

And I pray that this next guy is not Mr. Conservative.  Haven't we all had enough of that (hello second half of the Sugar Bowl).  Let's find someone who can coach a great defense but also has a petal-to-the-floor offense that can take the pressure off that defense by lighting up the scoreboard.  NO MORE DAVE!

BuckeyeMark's picture

Here is some (emphasis SOME) of Pelini in the A&M game:

Mike's picture

The ideal situation, imo, goes like this:  Urban Meyer takes the gig in 2012.  He coaches for however long he can.  Fickell makes his bones at a MAC school, then a BCS school.  Meyer steps down.  Fickell steps in for the long term.

cal3713's picture

Yeah, we should remember that if the timing were a bit different and we were hiring a permanent replacement immediately, Fickell would have somewhere between 0 and 1% chance of getting hired.  He's really only being talked about as a potential candidate because of his upcoming 1 year test drive.

Kyle's picture

My hope is Fickell performs well and gets a real shot at the job along with Urban.  Unlike some of you his Florida team giving us a whooping, while a painful memory, doesn't make me hate the man.  He handled himself well and was respectful.  It was their awful fans who made me hate that school.  I do have concerns about his health.  If he does have issues I worry about him being able to commit long-term.  He's a young guy and I think we'd all like our next coach to be around for a long time.


I don't see Pellini moving inside the conference.  He just got a new contract and pay raise and you just don't see coaches move inside their own conference.  I know he has strong ties to the school but I don't think it happens.


With all that being said, I don't think many (any?) of us thought Jim Tressel would replace Coop.  Just goes to show these things can be unpredictable.  I do hope they can persuade Andy Geiger to serve on the search committee.  I know a lot of OSU fans have no love for him but he did hit home runs in the hiring of Thad and JT.

M Man's picture

Why would Geiger not be loved?  I thought he was one of the finest AD's you have ever had.

buckeyedude's picture

I've heard Gary Pinkel mentioned too as a possibility. He turned a decades long crappy Missouri team into a contender in the Big XII. He has ties to Ohio(coached at Toledo and Akron). I remember him as a relatively quiet guy, but knows how win, the right way.

I still love the idea of Urban Meyer coaching OSU, if his heart is into it. We know he can win, and he definitely could recruit Florida, a BIG +.

 As far as Dantonio is concerned: I am concerned about his heart.  Would he coach every game from the press box?

I think Gruden would use OSU as a stepping stone. 

I don't like the idea of Pelini for his hot-headedness and I don't like hires from inside the B1G, unless it is an assistant coach. 

I think it's important to get a coach with Ohio ties. My choice is either get Meyer, or give it to Luke.



btalbert25's picture

I don't think Gruden would need Ohio State for a stepping stone.  He could walk right into an NFL job if he wanted to.

Arkansas Buckeye's picture

Pinkel would be interesting.  He has Ohio roots and he's done about as much as he can do at Mizzou.  They were owful before he got there. And this is about as good as they are going to get.  Mizzou has had its share of off-the-field bad boys though. Yeah, I like that - only if Luke drops the ball.  Still my guy.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time."

cal3713's picture

There's a big problem with shifting to the offensive scheme's Pinkel favors.  I mean, shit, go back two years ago and watch MU play Nebraska in a torrential downpour.  They were still playing 4 and 5 wideouts and probably ran the ball 10 - 20 times... all on QB runs and WR handoffs.  Too Richroddy for my taste.  And, as I posted a while back, I saw Pinkel's MU team fail to score a second half touchdown for 5 straight games that year.

buckeyedude's picture

You are right about Pinkel being an offensive minded coach. But to compare him to RichRod is, well, way off(for lack of a better word). If Pinkel were given the nod, Fickell, hopefully, could go back to defense, and be happy about it.



vitaminB's picture

If anyone has seen the Gruden QB camps on ESPN, then you know he can work with young people.  He's probably one of the smartest football minds not coaching today.  I'd rather have him over Meyer.  I've been complaining publicly about his gimicky offense for too long to have to try and root for it now.

Rooster Buckburn's picture

That some folks are saying they wouldn't want Myer because he beat us while at Florida is sort of, I hate saying it - but it's stupid. If he had lost to us that would make him more desireable? He's an excellent coach that did what he was supposed to do - win. Having said that - talk of him as our next HC may likely be moot as he probably decides, like Gruden, that being a commentator is a pretty nice gig.

bcWEcouldn'tGOfor3's picture

Why do you think OSU fans wouldn't want Meyer because of the "The Horror" in 2006?  I think that would be a reason TO hire him.  He took Tressel and the Buckeyes out back to the woodshed in that game. I'd love to see him as the next coach.  All the SEC ties that he has.  He could do some wicked recruiting.

I just don't see how OSU can stick with Fickell...unless he wins a NC.  I think they are going to be pressured by a lot of people to clean house. I think the whole staff would be gone had Tressel resigned earlier in the year.  That is OSU's only saving grace for keeping Fickell on board. They will plead with the NCAA that they have no time to bring a new Head Coach in for the 2011 they had to go with Fickell.


NW Buckeye's picture

Hence my caption for pic of the week - a Fickell coach for fickle fans.....

Buckeye Black's picture

Meyer is a good pick, if he can get an offensive coordinator.  When Dan Mullen left for Miss. State UF tanked it.

Denny's picture

Wait, why are we avoiding our own Rodriguez when we can hire THE Rodriguez?


buckeyedude's picture

Don't even JOKE about that Denny. Next thing you know, it will be all over, then to, and then national.



Kurt's picture

Honestly, we have all of the right pieces for him to come in and light up score boards. With a Fickell or Pelini defense we'd be in great shape. RichRod should forever be an OC.

Another Jason's picture

You know what?  Imagine if we actually succeeded with RichRod.  Could there be a bigger knifetwist for Michigan?

That said, no RichRod plz.

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

Fickell. He get's it. Could be the longest lasting and greatest coach in Buckeye history! is your destiny!

Peter "Pete" Peterson

"Recruiting is like shaving, if you don't do it everyday, you look like a bum!"  -Jim Tressel


Doc's picture

I'm torn on my pick.  I've stated before both Luke and Urban would be my picks, with the nod to Meyer.  I am afraid Urban would only be with us for 4/5 years.  Fickell, on the other hand, could be the coach for a very long time.  He isn't going to look for another gig.  My stomach turned a little reading the Fitzgerald analogy above.  Do we really want that?  Granted tOSU is different than NW, but do we want to settle for the safe pick and not be the dominate team in the B1G/Nation?

Fickell is in a no win situation.  He can win 10 games this year, get the HC job and then be mediocre.  Which will eventually get him fired.  Or, not get the job and STILL get fired.  I know he could go on to be the best coach in school history, but does anyone really think that is going to happen?  I truly am pulling for him, but the odds are stacked against him.

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