Meyer Assistants in Crosshairs of Athletic Directors Nationwide

By Kyle Rowland on November 12, 2013 at 9:15a
Wanted: head coach.

Urban Meyer has been here before. No, not the winning, although that’s become the norm during his dozen seasons as a head coach. What’s once again imminent, and by some accounts already taking place, is a revolving door of athletic directors inquiring about his assistant coaches.

Ohio State is the lone school Meyer’s led where one of his staff members hasn’t become a head coach. That is all but guaranteed to change this offseason, and it could be a mass exodus. Reports surfaced last week that defensive coordinator Luke Fickell interviewed for the vacant Florida Atlantic job, but Meyer disputed those claims.

Whether it happened on Nov. 5 or occurs on Dec. 21, a Buckeye assistant will interview, be offered and accept a head-coaching job. In the process, he’ll become the 11th branch on Meyer’s coaching tree, which is quickly evolving into a California Redwood.

The success of Meyer-coached teams is one attraction for schools seeking a head coach – two national championships and two undefeated seasons will do that – but the number of wins those 10 former assistants have compiled is another factor in the pillaging of coaching talent from Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and, eventually, Ohio State.

“Continuity is a high priority, but I also understand the profession,” Meyer said. “I understand guys taking care of their families, and it is that part of the game that’s a business.”

So far, Meyer’s protégées – Steve Addazio, Gary Andersen, Tim Beckman, Gregg Brandon, Doc Holliday, Dan McCarney, Dan Mullen, Mike Sanford, Charlie Strong and Kyle Whittingham – are responsible for 318 wins, four conference titles, three division titles and 15 bowl victories.

The lone outliers of the group are Beckman and Sanford who sport a combined record of 43-84. Meyer will see Beckman Saturday, as the Illinois head coach attempts to end a 19-game Big Ten losing streak.  

At the conclusion of the 2013 season, the two-year commitments Ohio State’s nine assistants pledged to Meyer will be fulfilled. Following last season’s undefeated run, four coaches – Fickell, Tom Herman, Stan Drayton and Everett Withers – became top candidates for head coaching gigs. Some were finalists, while others declined the overtures.

“I hope [opportunities] happen for some of them, but I’m kind of glad it doesn’t happen after just one year,” Meyer said in the spring. “I always ask for just a two-year commitment. I think that’s fair.”

How much longer is Herman in scarlet and gray?Tom Herman is one of the top young offensive minds. 

Herman pointed to the two-year commitment as the reason why he elected to stay in Columbus, according to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel. The group can add more wins, production and possibly conference and national championships to resumes that could be delivered in December and January. Fickell, Herman, Drayton, Withers and Ed Warinner are the five most realistic candidates.

Fickell’s Rodney Dangerfield status with fans – no respect – makes the possibility of leaving a curious subject. When the Sun Sentinel first reported Fickell interviewed with FAU, 50 percent of fans were happy. After all, Fickell only guided the Buckeyes during the ill-fated 2011 season and has since molded the defense into the ninth-ranked unit in the country.

Luke Fickell’s contract runs through April 2015 and contains these terms regarding other potential coaching jobs:

“Coach agrees that he shall not, under any circumstances, discuss or negotiate directly or indirectly his prospective employment with any other institution of higher learning except between the final day of the regular football season and January 15th of each year in which this agreement is in effect. Coach agrees to provide the Head Coach and Director with written notice prior to engaging in such discussions or negotiations. It is particularly understood that on-going rumors or media reports of such negotiations are damaging to Team morale and recruiting, and therefore the parties expressly agree that time is of the essence as to the provisions of this Section 4.5, and that the same shall be strictly construed.

Coach shall not, under any circumstances accept employment as a coach at any other institution of higher learning or with any professional athletic team, requiring duties prior to the expiration of this agreement, without the prior written approval of the Director.”

Note: Fickell's buyout is $30,000.

He seems destined to be a head coach. The main question is when? The same logic applies to Herman, the baby-faced offensive coordinator who’s taken Ohio State’s offense from 107th to eighth in a span on 21 games. Aside from his already notable work at Rice and Iowa State, Herman’s ability to shape Braxton Miller from inconsistent and erratic freshman to Heisman Trophy candidate is akin to bolding, highlighting and underlining an important passage in a book. It won’t go unnoticed when ADs are jotting down names on a shortlist.

The creativity, flair and accumulation of eye-popping stats are all indicative of the new-age style in college football, making Herman a coveted asset.

Drayton was interviewed by Temple last season and believed to be presented with an opportunity to leave Ohio State, though the position or school is not known. He stayed and earned a new title – assistant head coach for offense. Drayton is a longtime Meyer assistant who’s seen many co-workers go on and excel as head coaches. The mental notes he’s prepared bode well for his own coaching future.

The lone assistant without Ohio connections, Withers, does have prior head coaching experience. In the same 2011 season that Fickell was thrust into the top spot at Ohio State, Withers undertook the same role at North Carolina, leading the Tar Heels to a 7-6 record. His resume is littered with positive stints on defense in both college and the NFL. Twenty-five years of experience make Withers an obvious contender to be a head coach.

Perhaps the coach who’s generated the most encouraging results at Ohio State is Warinner. He’s doubled as the least appreciated and most under the radar. Warinner turned a mediocre and sometimes below average offensive line into the best in the Big Ten. For two seasons, the line has been a catalyst in the Buckeyes’ offensive growth. Warinner has familiarity at different levels and in various offensive systems, which could make him an appealing candidate.

“The one negative thing about success and hiring good coaches is that they’re hot items.”

Staff continuity is a big source in team success. It’s a formula that all coaches would like to achieve, but good programs turn out prosperous assistants. It’s college football’s circle of life. Meyer would prefer not to fiddle with what’s perfectly intact, but it will be broken eventually.

When silly season arrives, dominoes will fall.

“I had a turnstile down at Florida of guys leaving, going to become head coaches,” Meyer said. “I’d like to think at a place like Ohio State, you would only leave here to become a head football coach. If a guy is leaving here to become an assistant somewhere, I’d kind of look and say, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

At his introductory press conference, Meyer promised Ohio State fans that he’d build the best coaching staff in the nation. It can be debated on end who has the best collection of coaches. But what’s known is for 22 months the Buckeyes’ gang of nine has bonded and over time solidified into a group that gets the most out of its players and enters each Saturday having won the previous game.

The decision will be theirs on if a certain job fits or if it’s the right time to go. So when is it appropriate to chat with potential employers?

“The AD calls the head football coach, the assistant comes in and says they have an interest in me, when would be the right time,” Meyer explained. “My answer is, don’t do anything to disrupt this team. I get the whole thing. But there’s absolutely no interviewing going on during this time. No chance.”

But the questions won’t stop. Ohio State’s national brand and Meyer’s capacity at manufacturing coaches will continue the chatter. Then there’s the fact that two former longtime Ohio State administrators are athletic directors searching for head coaches – FAU’s Pat Chun and Eastern Michigan’s Heather Lyke.

In fact, on Monday Meyer revealed he and Chun had conversation last week about a profile for what Florida Atlantic should look for as a head coach. Their talks included names of current Buckeye assistants.

“The one negative thing about success and hiring good coaches is that they’re hot items,” Meyer said. “If I had five guys that people never call me and want to hire them, that means I’ve probably got bad coaches.”


Comments Show All Comments

niblick's picture

If we somehow get one more year out of Herman we should consider ourselves VERY lucky, but don't count on it.

CC's picture

Thank you captain obvious.

Alhan's picture

Someone's feeling chippy this morning!

"Nom nom nom" - Brady Hoke

AAStagg's picture

I agree we're very lucky to have Herman, but am not so sure he's only here another year.  He's a smart guy, obviously, and smart enough to know you don't jump at the first offer that comes your way.  As a top lieutenant for UFM, he'll get plenty of opportunities.  He should stay, learn, plan and then leave for the right opportunity at a time right for him and his family.
Fick should take the first legit offer he gets.  Herman can be a lot pickier.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

Moephius's picture

Nice article Kyle.
Between the BCS/Bowl Season and the potential coaching changes, this will be an interesting couple of months.
Oh and lol at UofM fans. Remember when they were making fun of our staff??

MassiveAttack's picture

Look who's staff is being made fun of these days. 
<looks over the Ohio border to the east, north and west>

The Ohio State University - "Haters love us!"

RedStorm45's picture

Fickell is a curious case.  He was on a short list for the Pitt job last year.  He started out here under Heacock, and helped lead some stout defenses in the 2000's.  We all loved that he stepped up in '11, but as the full-time D.C., fans haven't been entirely pleased with the defense.  I think everyone appreciates what he's given to the university, but there are a good amount of fans who wouldn't complain about a new D.C. if he leaves.
I wonder if Herman would stick around one more season to coach up a Heisman winner in Miller.  He's obviously destined for a H.C. job, but does he stay one more season to take a job in say the Big 12 over the MAC or something like that.
Anyone know the word on Coombs?  Heard he was in consideration for the UC job.  He has high school head coaching experience, and is building his resume as a S.T. and DB guy.

45has2's picture

Fick and Withers both like to blitz. Urb likes to affect the QB with the 4 defensive linemen just as he did at UF. Luke and Everett are just starting to get a little free reign to blitz more.

"I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people." -W.W. Hayes

CC's picture

The real question is, if Fick is gone, does Heacock come back full time?

Chief B1G Dump's picture

I would welcome back Heacocks daughters...

bux_booster's picture

Well, Shannon Heacock is now Shannon Boeckman.  Congrats Todd and Shannon!

DannyBeane's picture

And where does Withers fit into this? Does he take a job somewhere else? Is he given his walking papers or does he still maintain his Co-defensive Coordinator job? Or does he possibly take over as the sole Defensive Coordinator and Heacock coaches in some other capacity? 

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

This may be a completely homeristic comment but I would think Tom Herman would stay put for a few more years at such a fantastic university under the mentoring of Urban.  The coming years will be an incredible opportunity to shine in the NC game(s) and that should enable him to greatly enhance his status.  Again, that is just my myopic opinion, I could be wrong!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

JasonR's picture

I would agree, but there could be some big-time openings (USC for one, maybe Texas, Florida?) this offseason and I would have to think he would at least be a candidate for a some of them. Don't think he would say no to Texas if they called.

dlb72osu's picture

I get this queasy feeling whenever I hear of the impending departure of Mack Brown in Texas. Has anyone else thought about the possibility of Tom Herman being offered this opportunity? Tom Herman has strong ties in the Lone Star State and is a very proven commodity. It is public knowledge that he came here with a two year commitment and whereas UT admin keeps maintaining this big name college coach search, someone in-the-know has got to be looking very hard at Coach Herman. He's young, innovative, a winner, etc., etc., etc. What's not to like?
I read his earlier presser about how he liked Columbus and his job and his boss, but, damn, Texas? Could you say no to a $5 million gig at the highest revenue producing university in the land? Everyone thinks he would stay here until the right job came along. Would we all agree that this would be the right job?

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

- Invictus

hcazualcc's picture

Great article.
One exception is that I don't believe UFM manufactures great assistants, I think he has an uncanny ability to find very talented coaches and persuade them to join his staff.  

Chief B1G Dump's picture

I think its both.
Firstly, Meyer identifies great ambitious minds. They coach hard, recruit hard and seem to be fairly cerebral.
Secondly, I think the assistants being looked at speaks highly to the regard of Meyer. You take good young coaches and cultivate them under Meyer and the knowledge the gain from being in his program...and you make a helluva coach. These guys see first hand what it takes to get to the top.

I mean, look at coaching trees. Theres a reason a few guys have large coaching trees...and other coaches dont have one aat all.

hcazualcc's picture

meyer's experience being a CEO of a football team is invaluable for his assistants to see and absorb - that's true.  re: large coaching trees - you're on to something, but how much of that is from clout and momentum?  once you're at the top it's a lot easier to bring in top notch assistants right?

Chief B1G Dump's picture

No doubt. Program prestige and being able to pay top $$$ goes a loooong way. You throw in Meyers tree and the ability to bring in talent to make you look good and the rate his assistants get promoted - I agree with you, he is able to cherry pick up and comers.
I dont think Meyer is taking on pet projects and trying to make coaches out of nothing. But he is also good at keeping his ear to the tracks and identifying coaches who fit his mimdset.
I just think that the way Meyer operates and wins, other ADs see that and hope to catch an assistant Meyer has enstilled those attributes in. Imitation is the truest form of flattery.

You dont see Hoke or the like having to worry about replacing assistants every year...due to them being good...theyre his scape goat. Had to get that jab in there.

Chief B1G Dump's picture

Edit: duplicate post somehow?

JasonR's picture

Does anybody think Warinner would be a legit option to take over as sole OC if Herman leaves? And since he's already co-OC, would that be enough of a promotion to keep him around another couple years? He definitely seems like the kind of coach you hold on to as long as possible. 

DannyBeane's picture

I hope so. I mean are there any quality offensive line coaches OSU could poach that are the same quality as Warinner? He'll be missed when he eventually moves on. 

ABrown07's picture

Coombs will not be at UC because this is Tommy Tuberville's (sp) first year, he's not going anywhere, yet. Heacock, who knows?                                                                                                 

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

avail31678's picture

I don't like this article (given its implications - obviously I appreciate the good write-up and info).  I really don't want to lose Herman or Warriner.  They have done wonders with our O-line and offense in general.

AndyVance's picture

So here's the question I've been pondering all season, especially when these conversations pop up: What does it take - or is it even possible - to keep the Hermans and Warriners of the world on staff in a long term capacity?
Ohio State can afford to pay them enough money to make almost any other job (a USC or Texas not withstanding) a pay cut... I'm not saying Gene will open up the purse strings to spend obscene amounts of money, but it's clear that we could do so if so motivated.
Therefore the question is, is the lure of a head coaching position so strong that, if money were not a relevant factor, a talent like Herman would be content to stay on as OC at Ohio State for more than a couple of seasons? Or more importantly, what does it take to keep a talent like Herman happy with being an OC at Ohio State for more than a couple of seasons?

andyb's picture

This is a good question Andy, I was actually thinking the same thing. To add, why doesn't anyone ever talk about Nick Saban's assistants leaving to take other jobs? Are they all just a bunch of lifer coordinators rather than head coach material?
I love having such good assistants but how does Alabama just keep all of their coaching staff for this long run of dominance they've been on the past 5 years?
I will also admit I do not know any of their names and if they actually do please educate me.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I assume that, like in the corporate world, there are those assistant coaches that really have no desire to ascend to the HC ranks and are elated to do what they do without the added pressure that comes with being the man.  If you pay them enough - they will remain in their current position and frankly, that is an acceptable career choice!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

AndyVance's picture

USA Today just released its coaching salary data for the year - they seem to do this every fall, and it usually comes out in batches, with head coaching data followed a week or two later by assistant coaching data.
I wrote three pieces on this last season (here, here and here) that might be of interest, but the short story was that the average SEC school outspends its B1G counterpart by $1.3 million. For a specific comparison, USA Today reported last year that Alabama spent $3.69 million on its assistant coaches - Ohio State spent $2.55 million.
Those numbers have to trend closer together for guys to stick around longer, certainly. My burning question is - if Gene offered Tom Herman some Kirby Smart-type money, would he stay?

Vabuck213's picture

I would have no problem with OSU offering Herman 1mil+ to keep him around and put him in a league with the Chad Morris' and Kirby Smarts' of the world. Hes an all star coach and as others have said I would love for him to stay till he gets a big time head coaching gig. 

osu_killernuts's picture

Well written article, yet there is much speculation at this point and should be based on the fact of the overall team success.  Fickell is replaceable, and I hate to see Herman go but it is inevitable.
The one guy I hope sticks around is Vrabel.  His successful NFL career and passion for OSU has to be a huge plus in recruiting.  If I was a wide eyed 17 year old defensive player and Vrabel showed up to talk to me, I may sign on the spot.  I just love Vrabel's enthusiasm and energy he brings.  And since he's a Buckeye at heart, he's the one I hope stays the longest bringing back the glory day of the silver bullet defense from his playing days.
Actually, same holds true with Warinner, Coombs and Drayton - I hope they are all retained also.  I think Herman and Fickell are first to leave, followed by Withers.

Hate is a strong word.  I hate ESecPN almost as much as I hate the whole SEC conference which is a close second to TTUN.

NeilAve's picture

two things stick out to me...
1. I think Herman is gone. He will be a great head coach and this is one of the bigger losses we've had as an assistant leaving in the past I can remember. I wish him luck! I hope it doesn't impact recruiting in a noticeably negative way.
2. Fickells buyout is only $30,000 ??? what does that say when they worked up the agreement? they knew he would leave or in a way they wanted him to?

Red Shirt Ensign's picture

Vrabel came home to Columbus he's not going to look to leave again.  His resume is still short on experience if he was looking to leave ..which I think he is not. 
If i was UFM I would point to Purdue and say being a HC at a 2nd tier program can be A ALOT WORSE than being an Assistant at OSU!

"Captain, over here, I've found someth... AHHHH!!!!!!"


GABuckeye's picture

Agree 100%.  Two other examples in similar situations are Will Muschamp and Kirby Smart.  Will Muschamp took on a head coaching position, and we see how that worked out for him.  Kirby Smart probably could have taken many head coaching positions, but he has stayed on at Alabama.  We certainly know how that worked for him.  I want Herman to be like Smart and stay at Ohio State until a BIG TIME head coaching offer comes up. 

sir rickithda3rd's picture

i wouldn't mind seeing vrabel getting the dc position. i thinn herman stays until the time is right. i like fickell but i don't think tosu losses much.

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Seattle Linga's picture

Hermans best opportunity to not just get paid but to be in a setting that he will love is to wait it out until the dream job becomes available. No one but Tom and family will know what it is until it's offered. 

dc28's picture

I don't know how much Oregon is paying Frost (Offensive Coordinator) but I think Urban would look to hire him away from Oregon. I only say this because Urban has mentioned Oregon several times and likes their offense. He likes that up tempo pace. Just think, adding a little bit of what Oregon does to a team that is built to play physical football, unlike Oregon does, would be something to see.

"Never Settle For Second When First Is Available"


Vabuck213's picture

My question is, if Fickell leaves does he take Vrabel with his as his best friend/DC? and I have always thought Withers would be the first to leave. Hes already been a Head Coach and hes got so much experience plus zero ties to the state of Ohio, I could see a school like UVA come calling. 
This scenario would lead to a completely new defensive staff plus the idea of potentially losing Herman as well. 
I love having great coaches but dang thats a lot to potentially lose and then replace in one offseason.
All I can say is im gonna enjoy them as long as we have them and if we can get that crystal ball then all is good in my book

andretolstoy's picture

I think Withers is our next DC. If/when Fickell leaves for a HC gig, Vrable is his DC. Fickell still needs some time to marinade and he needs some familiarity around him.
Herman is ready for the big time. Seems like a good fit for USC or some team like that. However, I'd like to see Brown pay him a few million to be OC for the Bengals and get them to the Super Bowl before he goes for a HC job.
As for our next OC. Well there's a lot to pick from. All of these guys won't head a program in the next few years. FWIW, I'm disappointed that Herman is not on this list.

andretolstoy's picture

If not Withers, maybe Meyer can cajole Bob Diaco from ND?

southbuc's picture

OSU needs to make Herman a 7 figure OC. Underpaid assistants is the number one reason that the big ten is so bad right now. 

gumtape's picture

Its a two year commitment unless you are bill sheridan.

High and tight boo boo