Hope You Find Your Paradise

By Johnny Ginter on November 1, 2013 at 2:30p
We hope you kill it, coach.

Tomorrow Ohio State will be staring across the field at a familiar face, and not for the first time. Though Jim Tressel understood the necessity of a cohesive coaching staff that sticks around for year after year, even he wasn't able to prevent several of his coaches from moving away from Ohio State and on to more lucrative positions.

Not that anyone really faults guys like Darrell Hazell and Mark Dantonio for doing this. First and foremost, coaching FBS football is a cutthroat business. If you're upwardly mobile, then you need to grab at opportunities when they come your way. Dantonio and Hazell both had aspirations of being head coaches, and when they were presented with that chance, they took it.

As much as Ohio State fans (or any fan of any team) might rankle at the idea of potentially getting beat by a former Ohio State coach, most of the time we root for these guys in their new positions because that makes the Buckeyes look good by proxy. Jim Tressel may not be coaching right now, but his coaching tree is, and that helps to cement his legacy.

Still, ultimately this is a high wire act for any assistant or coordinator to pull off, and now that Luke Fickell and Tom Herman are both staring down this particular tightrope, it might be a good time to see how their predecessors have done it and done it well.

It's weird now to think of Mark Dantonio as the coach of the University of Cincinnati Bearcats, but that is in fact a Thing That Happened.

Dantonio was hired by UC after the 2003 season, and for some it was a bit surprising seeing as how he was working for his old boss at Youngstown State, and would end up having to play said boss in his final year as the Bearcats' head coach (a game he'd lose somewhat handily). Dantonio was seen as a solid, predictably good hire, and then-athletic director Bob Goin put it this way:

"The university wanted a man that wanted us, one that will stay and build a solid program in the Big East"

Dantonio predictably left after his second year when Michigan State came calling, and his record since then has been up and down but it's hard to deny his talent as a head coach. Dantonio has led Michigan State to six bowl games in six years (in the previous six years Michigan State had been in just two), beaten rival Michigan with regularity, and most importantly, he has stepped out of the Jim Tressel shadow. He's not the best coach in the Big Ten, but a Mark Dantonio coached team has his stamp on it, characterized by poor offense, incredible defense, and an acute willingness to go for the gusto when the situation calls for it.

I think that's what Tom Herman wants for himself.

Dantonio and Herman are both Texas guys, Dantonio because he was born there and Herman by way of college and his first coaching jobs. Both also steadily worked their way up the ranks of college football, never spending too much time in any one place in an effort to move up in the world. As much as we remember Dantonio's 2002 Ohio State defense, that was only one of three seasons he was at Ohio State, and that was just as long as his layover in Cincinnati before moving on to coach Sparty.

Most people expect Herman to be gone after this season. It'll suck, given that he's one of the brightest minds in college football today, but it will also be incredibly predictable and as long as he stays out of the Big Ten, I wish that dude all the best.

Darrell Hazell has, to me, the more interesting story. Hazell had bounced around numerous college programs in the 90s, never landing a coordinator position with anyone. The tea leaves I'm reading says that this was an attempt to get that coordinator position that Dantonio eventually used to land a head coaching job, but Hazell never got that.

“If you really want to go places, it starts with a foundation of hard work, treating people the right way and always learning.” – Darrell Hazell

He eventually ended at Rutgers under Greg Schiano, who in 2003 made him an assistant head coach. Hazell is a Jersey guy, and the connection made sense. It was considered a career move, then, when Hazell ended up at Ohio State in roughly the same position.

For some reason Hazell always struck me as a "cog" kind of dude, despite the obvious talent and upward mobility. I thought that maybe one day in the 2020s Hazell might take over for an elderly Jim Tressel at the tail end of the greatest coaching career in college football history but, uh, that didn't exactly transpire the way in which I thought it would.

Hazell made the jump to Kent State, where he immediately won over the college with his drive and enthusiasm. Hazell is almost 50 but seems 15 years younger, and in his second year at Kent State he coached the Golden Flashes to an 11-3 record and their first bowl appearance since the 70s. After Danny Hope's firing, he landed the job at Purdue and is currently guiding them through a miserable season that still isn't really indicative of Hazell's abilities as a head coach.

Hazell's experience should be instructive for Luke Fickell, who is now being presented with overtures from Florida Atlantic. Fickell's rise is a bit different then just about anyone's, of course; he actually has some (very weird) head coaching experience, and was respected enough by Ohio State writ large that Urban Meyer kept him on staff despite some reservations.

And honestly, I think this video makes my point better than words ever could:

Listen to the love that Luke Fickell gets at 1:56. That was Ohio State fans showing their appreciation for a dude who took on an impossible situation and did the best that he could, without complaint or any other issues.

Now, less than two years later, there's a ton of members of the Buckeye faithful wanting to push the dude out the door for perceived failure as a defensive coordinator. The screw turns quickly, whether we want it to or not, and we're all a part of it.

As college fans sometimes we can have this weird idea that a football staff is like family. This notion is reinforced by the sometimes incestuous or nepotistic nature of sports in general (for instance, Darrell Hazell was coached in college by Jim Heacock's younger brother Jeff), but Jim Tressel played a part in that by purposefully selecting coaching cabinet members that he knew would be unlikely to leave easily.

But college football is now more about transition than ever before. The era of Paterno-like reigns over a program for 30 plus years is all but over, and that's never more true than for coordinators and assistants. And in Urban Meyer's shark tank of a staff, it's doubly so.

Urban Meyer once fretted about losing staff members like Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen, but both he and us need to understand that this is a fact of life now. The only real solution is to enjoy coaches while they're here, and then crank the Supertramp.


Comments Show All Comments

gwalther's picture

Not that anyone really faults guys like Darrell Hazell and Mark Dantonio for doing this.

But Tim Beckman and Mark Snyder we can fault...amirite

Class of 2008

gwalther's picture

It was a joke... 

Class of 2008

Seattle Linga's picture

Nice write up Ginter - I'll will be rooting for Hazell in games and years to come, just not tomorrow. Hopefully he can get some good recruits in there and they will start to see some traction.
Looking forward to a dismantling of the Boilers tomorrow. 

Spider1944's picture

Wow how times change. My senior year, Purdue and Leroy Keyes were leading Ohio State 35-0 AT THE HALF. That's right, at the half. The very next year Ohio State was crowned National Champs and started what is now Ohio States longest winning streak. 
Us old timers all remember how that streak ended. Let's not make Brady Hoke a legend. 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

zbd's picture

I'm rooting for all ex-Buckeye coaches for every game except when they play OSU.  Not package AD Smith and Fickell to go anywhere out of town. Both are bad.

gobucks5413's picture

Hate this stuff. Obviously Gene has made mistakes, but I'd say he hired a pretty good coach. And people who hate on Luke are the worst. Programs don't want "bad" coaches. This is the negativity that drives me insane. 

stevebelliseeya's picture

Man, can we give this a rest?
At the very least during the week after a decidedly dominant performance by our defense. How about some praise for the possibility that, after battling youth and injury for half the season, the players and staff have made mid season adjustments and just may have turned the corner?
No reason to consistently bring everyone down on every single article with "fire fickell" or "fire smith". 
We get it....the horse is dead dude.

"We are eternal. All this pain is an illusion." - Tool

CowCat's picture

... And Fickell is fighting scholarship restrictions on a team that has arguably overstocked on offensive skill players -- I love having all of our RBs, but we're paper thin at LB.

That and retooling 6 of the front 7.

Fickell is a heck of s coach and a true Buckeye!

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Spider1944's picture

Amen! It gets tiresome. I think one thing you have to take into account, the source. Anyone can leave a comment on these sites. I was on one site and their were bloggers still calling for Kenny G, love the young man, after Braxton's torching of Penn State. And it hit me. These guys have to be from Michigan. And I think everyone else agreed, because there was not one rebuttal. 
Like I say, consider the source. I for one am going to enjoy what is left of this quickly vanishing season. 
GO BUCKS!!! Bring on the Boilermakers! 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes

buckskin's picture

Excellent write up.  We always want ex Bucks to do good whenever they don't play us.  

Michael Citro's picture

crank the Supertramp.


Advice I can get behind.

vitaminB's picture

So the next ElevenDubCast is going to be tramp heavy, huh?

harleymanjax's picture

I will root for Hazell cuz the man can wear a hat like nobody's business!

"Because I couldn't go for 3"

dlb72osu's picture

sorry you feel that way. Gobucks and steveb have said it best. Man, you are simply barking up a dead horse's ass!
Crank the Supertramp! The party continues...

I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.

- Invictus

Alhan's picture

I agree with everything except hoping that Herman leaves the B1G. We need the conference to land some great coaches so our schedule doesn't continue to look so crappy!

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

EDUGOON's picture

Great article!!! If Fickell leaves who fills the spot? Any early ideas? 

"We Don't Believe You, You Need More People"- Hova #GOBUCKS #FreeElGuapo #Famthik

TMill's picture

Thank you for the post.
Here is to a good game tomorrow. Purdue and OSU have played some unexpectedly fun games over the last 15 years or so. They are often closer than expected and from a Purdue perspective, you have often brought out our best.
If we do get Purdue Harbor II (very unlikely) it would be one of our best wins ever. I am mostly looking for improvement, however, because we've been awful all year long.

Your friendly site manager of SB Nation's Purdue site, Hammer & Rails.

darkhorse3d's picture

Fine work Mr Ginter. Dam fine work. 

AngryWoody's picture

I was really enjoying this article until I got to this.

I think that's what Tom Herman wants for himself.

Because I know it's true and he's gonna be gone soon.

Our Honor Defend!

Poison nuts's picture

Last week Johnny said be prepared for a loss & OSU won by it's largest margin against PSU ever, this week, he says Fickell & Herman could be gone after this season...so - Fickell & Herman are staying!!!

"Do not pass me, just slow down - I can move right through you" Superchunk - Precision Auto.

vitaminB's picture

Great writeup Jonny.  I just finished this weeks dubcast.  Great work there as well.  We all appreciate the 7 to 8 hours a week you bring it around here.

CowCat's picture

Great article, and I'm 100% behind Hazell succeeding (not against us).
However, the alarm bells start ringing when you read that
"Team A hired coach C.   Due to the nature of the program under coach B, it will take at least a year until coach C can get HIS players for system D."
Bulls--t.  The great coaches adapt to the talent on hand and win as much as possible.
Example 1:   Urban Meyer chasing 20+ players off of BOWLING GREEN and still going 8-3.
Example 2:   Jim Tressel taking one of Cooper's least 'loaded' teams and going 7-5 and winning at TTUN with a green QB.
Example 3:   Bo Shembechler chasing away players and beating TOSU his first season. 
When you make excuses, you get:
Counterexample 1: John Cooper.  "If he just gets better players we'll finally beat TTUN."
Counterexample 2: Rich Rodriguez
Counterexample 3: Will Muschamp
Counterexample 4: Al Borges

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Spider1944's picture

Outstanding! Loved it. I would have hit the like button, but I don't know how. 
GO BUCKS!!! Bring on the Boilermakers! 

"There are 3 things that can happen and 2 of them are bad" - the Curse of Woody Hayes