The Coaches They Are A-Changin'

By Alex on August 21, 2011 at 6:00a
2011W Ohio State Football Preview

Well, not all of them are changing, but things are certainly a lot different for the Ohio State coaching staff after a whirlwind off-season. The domino effect that took place after Tatgate went down caused a big time shake up for the Buckeyes, giving the team a new look and different attitude for the 2011 campaign.

The theme of OSU's off-seasonPlaying in Luke Fickell's house all summer long.

As you know by now, Luke Fickell was made a stand-in head coach once it was determined Jim Tressel would be suspended for the first five games of the year. That "stand-in" tag was changed to "interim" once Tressel resigned retired on the morning of Memorial Day, and the interim tag has since been removed, for now. With the fiery Fickell now in charge, Buckeye fans knew changes would certainly be coming, especially after the buttoned-up Tressel was no longer the guy calling the shots.

While most things have stayed pretty steady in terms of actual football activities, some things, such as more aggressive play calling on both sides of the ball, more intense practices, tougher weight room workouts, shorter team meetings occurring more frequently, and more freshmen seeing the field, are definitely straying away from The Senator's way. Outside of the day to day activities of the players, the structure of the coaching staff, in terms of shifting of responsibilities and the addition of a new coach, has also gone through some change.

One of Coach Fickell's first order of business was to bring his longtime friend and former teammate, Mike Vrabel, in to take his old spot as linebackers coach. While that hire was out of need, Fickell also took initiative in making a shift of responsibilities on the staff in order to improve a glaring weakness of the 2010 OSU team and award a longtime coach for hard work and impact on the program. Those two moves were making Doc Tressel special teams coordinator in addition to his role as running backs coach and making Paul Haynes co-defensive coordinator in addition to his role as safeties coach.

These three moves should not be overlooked, as they will be extremely important to the overall success of the 2011 Ohio State season. In this edition of our 2011W Season Preview, we take a look at the impact Vrabel, Tressel, and Haynes will have on the team in their new roles and what you can expect from these new changes made by our fearless leader, Luke Fickell. 

Mike Vrabel

A few months ago, Mike Vrabel was leading the locked out NFLPA as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs in its fight against the NFL. Fast forward to today and he is haunting the OSU linebackers in their dreams, as they fear the wrath of their new coach for missing tackles, blowing coverages, and not shedding blocks fast enough. 

Vrabel, a former Buckeye defensive end and three time Super Bowl Champion, certainly knows what it takes to be successful on the football field. In addition to his playing resume, Vrabel fits in nicely to this coaching staff, as he is best friends with the head coach and is familiar with the off-field things the players go through as someone who was once in their shoes as a student-athlete at OSU. He also has always had a desire and knack for coaching and got a pretty nice recommendation from someone who knows a thing or two about the profession.

Linebackers worst nightmareVrabel has brought some intensity to OSU.

Vrabel brings an assortment of benefits to Ohio State in his new position as linebacker coach. The first thing to point out, and the most transparent if you get the chance to hear him speak, is his intensity and passion for what he does. Don't get me wrong, I loved Jim Tressel and the way he ran this program the last decade, but if he was missing something it was the intensity that a guy like Vrabel brings to practice each and every day. We've told you that the new coach got at it right away from the start of training camp and has "lit a fire" under the rear ends of his young linebackers. Sometimes that attitude can be a little bit too much for 18-22 year old kids, but it looks like so far the players are responding well to their coach's style of teaching and the more they grow accustomed to it, the better off they will be when it comes time for the season to start.

The second benefit of having the former pro-bowler on staff comes from the recruiting aspect. Ohio State has traditionally been one of the top factories for linebackers over the years, but it will certainly be hard for any school (yes, including you "Linebacker U") to beat out the Buckeyes for the services of a top linebacker recruit with Vrabel on board. In addition to being able to flash his championship bling and show off some other hardware earned over the years, Vrabel can speak to prospects and their parents on how he can use his personal experiences in collegiate and professional football to not only help make the player as successful as possible on the field, but also successful off the field. I couldn't imagine being a high school linebacker and turning down the chance to learn from a guy who did it at the highest level possible for nearly a decade and a half.

Finally, the last benefit Vrabel presents is the ability to bring his influence to the Ohio State playbook. Mike has been around the block a few times and surely has picked up a thing or two from those great Bill Belichick teams that he played on in New England. While the Bucks are not going to totally transform their playbook, there are probably a few different formations or schemes that can be incorporated into what Jim Heacock and Paul Haynes plan to do with the Silver Bullets this year. Also, as a successful goal line tight end (10 career catches for 10 touchdowns), Vrabel could provide a wrinkle in the goal line offense for the Buckeyes. Could you imagine Big Hank lining up at tight end?

These are just some of the positives on the surface that Vrabel can bring to the table. The more we get to learn about him, the more fans will appreciate this hire. Mike Vrabel will soon become a fan favorite once again in Buckeye Country and it will be exciting to see the impact he has on this Ohio State team.

Paul Haynes

Many position coaches are just coordinators in training, but that has not been the case with Paul Haynes since he joined the OSU coaching staff in the spring of 2005. While he did get the coordinator role finally tagged on this season, anyone who has watched Haynes in action during practice or team workouts knows that this coach has had a tremendous impact on the way the defense has played the last six seasons.

Jim Heacock is still the mastermind behind the Silver Bullets, but Haynes, taking Fickell's old role as co-defensive coordinator, should be able to bring a little bit of his own style to this year's unit. Haynes has always been known to preach a tough, fast, and aggressive style of play to his safeties, much like what you saw out of CJ Barnett pre-injury last season, and is expected to bring that same mentality to the entire defense.What you can likely expect is for Heacock to basically control the base defensive calls and rotation of the front seven players and for Haynes to have more of a say on coverage schemes and secondary personnel. That say in coverage will likely call for a lot more man-to-man coverage and less zone than what you've seen in the past from OSU, leading to what Haynes hopes is a generation of more turnovers created by the Buckeyes.

In addition to contributing to the play calling and style of play the defense will employ, Haynes will be tasked with the role of developing the young talent in the secondary, focusing on the safeties. With talent like Tyler Moeller (STAR), CJ Barnett, Orhian Johnson, Christian Bryant, Jamie Wood, Scott McVey (STAR), Nate Ebner, Zach Domicone, Jeremy Cash, Ron Tanner, Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown and others in that group you think that task would be easy, but if you look at the personnel, there is a lot of youth and inexperience to work with. Haynes has gotten the most out of his players year after year, and with Moeller, Johnson, Barnett, and Bryant at his disposal, I expect this to be the best Buckeye safety group since Donte Whitner and Nate Salley roamed the secondary in Haynes' first season.

The move of Haynes to co-defensive coordinator should be both a seamless and successful change on the coaching staff. I look forward to seeing what little twists he can bring to the defense and how he can influence the group known as the Silver Bullets.

Dick "Doc" Tressel

When Jim Tressel's tenure ended as head coach of the Ohio State football program, many felt his brother would leave with him. Just as The Vest would want, that was not the case, and Doc Tressel remained on the staff as running backs coach. It was not long after little brother stepped down that Luke Fickell assigned the job of special teams coordinator to the elder Tressel, who has over 40 years of coaching experience in a variety of different positions, leaving him well suited for the job.

Last year, with the help of Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall, the Buckeyes were finally able to get some production in the return game, but took about 10 steps backwards in all other aspects of special teams. In 2010, the team had two field goals (both Drew Basil) and a punt blocked (Sugar Bowl "game that never happened"), and also surrendered a punt return average of 10.4 yards and a touchdown (Miami game) and a kick return average of 21.4 yards and two scores (Miami and Wisconsin). The woes on special teams haunted the team all season long and the new Buckeyes head boss wanted to take control of the situation right away, thus leading to the decision to name a full times special teams coordinator.

In the past, various coaches have taken control of the different units involved in special teams, but by naming just one coordinator Fickell hopes there is more of a consistent process and flow to the unit. Tressel has a ton of football knowledge and experience under his belt and if a main responsibility of his is to study opponent film and break down strategy in how to avoid last year's mistakes, the special teams should be much more efficient in 2011. I fully expect things to be fixed and while it may take a little bit of time to get exactly where they want to be, I have full confidence you will see a much more effective and successful special teams unit this upcoming season.


Comments Show All Comments

GoBucks713's picture

To be honest, I do and will miss JT, but with Fick at the helm and the addition of Vrabel, I don't think I've been more excited for OSU football in my life. This is going to be a brand new team with new philosophies. These are exciting times, my fellow dubsters.

-The Aristocrats!

O-H Kee Pa's picture

+100000. Sorry, but I'm not going to miss under utilizing our talent and letting teams hang around in the fourth quarter (especially teams that have no business hanging around). I'm not going to miss having to defend OSU after close games by saying, "Hahaha! That's just Tresselball!" We deserve some damn killer instinct for once.

741's picture

Let's just see if our new guys, as great as they are, can earn their first 10 wins (let alone 100+) before we go proclaiming their approach to better than JT's. 

O-H Kee Pa's picture

I'm not proclaiming that Fickell is going to make us instantly forget about Tressel. I'm very well aware that this might be a one and done deal. However, we have the talent to beat the Akrons of the world of the world 50-0, not 31-13. I know that a W is a W, but I'm excited to see our talent with a dose of killer instinct.

741's picture

You are probably one of those who is still mad at JT for allowing the 4th team DEF (and special teams) to let Eastern Michigan to put 20 points on the board, even though we scored 73.

I keed.

What will the JT haters do now that JT is no longer here I wonder?

O-H Kee Pa's picture

I never was a JT hater, nor do I necessarily care about running up the score for the sake of running up the score. We all remember the difference (with many being jealous) in physicality between OSU and USC in 2008 because USC goes full contact every practice. Now that the aggression has been turned up a full notches (not to mention the increased contact during practices), I'm simply looking forward to seeing how that translates onto the field.

acBuckeye's picture

I agree with both of you. Football is an emotional game, something JT just didn't do much was show some damn emotion on the sideline, whether winning or losing. I also momentarily thought about the 31-13 wins against MAC schools, but chalked it up to JT respecting his opponent and calling the dogs off. A W was a W in my mind. However, there were times when i wanted that 50-0 win, not gonna lie. Then my brain would take me to nightmarish flashbacks of the John Cooper years, when we routinely had the 50-0 wins, only to follow them up with the 13-9 loss to a conference opponent. JT almost never lost games like that. If he was the favorite, and the other team wasn't in the top 10, it was almost an automatic W. I always said, put Cooper and JT together, and you'd have the perfect Ohio State coach. Coop's recruiting and aggressive style, combined with Tress's calm demeanor and game-mgmt skills.

GoBucks713's picture

All I'm saying is that after all that we have gone through since right after Thanksgiving, and what these kids are saying, I don't think I have been this excited for football season. It was never a knock on JT and the excellence that he brought to the program over the last decade. Last week I bought the man a frosty Coors Light at Yogi's and thanked him for all that he did for us.

When I started to watch OSU football I had to fall in love with a team that was coached by the dad of the first girl I kissed on the playground two days after my family moved to Worthington. Mr. Bruce was a very nice guy, and even showed up to some of our soccer games growing up. I grew to be a Buckeye fan while dealing with 8-4 and 9-3 seasons. Now people would call that a down season.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to see what the new coach can do. How many people remember how mad the majority of the fanbase was when the announcement was made that our new coach was from Youngstown State, and probably the AD's third or fourth choice? This time we get a chance to be coached by someone that grew up in Columbus and grew up a Buckeye before our very eyes. O H

-The Aristocrats!

741's picture

OK - I respect your sense of optimism and excitement. 

I O!

JakeBuckeye's picture

Gotta love what I call "the spoiled bratt section" of our fanbase. Sometimes I think some real struggles on the field would do some of our fans well. But then again I don't know if I could handlle some real, consistent struggles on the field.

Doug T's picture

At least this is "change I can believe in" 

buckeyedude's picture

Amen brotha! Hope and change. To believe in. How could any Buckeye fan NOT be excited as hell about this season? The cupboard is full. Extraordinary coaches in place. Favorable schedule(for the most part).

I still think it is going to be VERY important for Fickell to win the game vs. TTUN, in order to keep his job.



Denny's picture

Vrabel's shirt is about 2 sizes too big but at least it's not an Affliction shirt


theDuke's picture

just another cover for Bob.  This one is the cherry on top. cue music..." on the cover of a'leven warri-ors"..  


SouthPlainfieldNut's picture

Sabino has a broken hand. Meh.

Peter Pete Peterson's picture

I too am very excited about the changes! These guys not only get it, they live and breathe it!! Add to that the youth of the coaching staff and we could very well see a long reign of Buckeye football! Just can't wait for the season to start!

Peter "Pete" Peterson

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


Chris Lauderback's picture

I asked Sabino how long he'd be out and he said, "seven days". Not sure I buy that but that's what he said. 

btalbert25's picture

I'm not nearly as excited about the new coaches as everyone else.  I don't think JT squandered the talent he had like others do.  Quite honestly I'm glad he allowed bench players to get meaningful minutes in games that should have been blowouts.  All beating people by 70 points does is get you hyped when you don't deserve it.  I loved Tressel led teams, and while Tresselball sucked at times, over 80 percent of the time it worked.

I'm interested to see how many people jump on Fickel this year when he plays freshman routinely and they Eff up.  Tressel always took a beating because he played guys who were perceived to be worse than young talented guys.  I wonder how many of the same people will blast Fickell for letting those Freshman play this season. 

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

How can you predict how Fick will react to players messing up? or were you giving a hypothetical situation to bring home your point?

I enjoyed Tress's dominance over Michigan, his B1G championships, the National Title and great talent he and his coaches recruited. I also enjoyed watching the type of leadership he deployed. I did not enjoy every play call but could understand why they made those calls (save for the Florida loss). I too think they lacked some passion and fire and weren't aggressive enough, but I have no clue how this regime will be any different. My gut tells me they won't.

I am excited and afraid all at the same time. We could come out on fire and just "shock the world" or we could fall flat and crumble. My guess is we will be somewhere in between.

btalbert25's picture

I wasn't talking about Fickel, I was talking about the fans.  The same people who would bash Tressel for not playing talented freshman are going to rip Fickel for playing them (out of neccessity) and those Freshman screwing up.

Is it Saturday Yet's picture

We could win everygame and someone will find something to complain about.