Where Are They Now? The Walrus and the Peter Principle

AndyVance's picture
March 12, 2013 at 12:56p
I won this ring at Ohio State...

The curious case of Wally the Walrus Jim Bollman and recent rumors/news regarding defensive guru Jim Heacock got me thinking about Ohio State coaches of olde; specifically, the men who coached at Ohio State during the tenure of Senator James Patrick Tressel.

"Where are they now?" I pondered, noting that of the two former coordinators already mentioned, one is summarily despised by the residents of Columbus while the other is heralded as a genius, or at the very least, the architect of a shut-down defensive unit heretofore known as "The Silver Bullets."

Looking at The Vest's coaching tree, there are a few names that stick out, having achieved some level of success at some level of the game. Mark Dantonio, perhaps, is the most easily recognizable as a success story, as his tenure at Cincinnati propelled him into a near-tenured position as the head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. He's done yeoman's work there, guiding the "little sister" program in That State Up North, and recruiting against two of the best recruiters in the conference (credit where it's due: along with competitive eating titles, Brady the Hut recruits like a champ).

Beyond that, however, who stands out? Some names to consider:

  • Tim Beckman, head coach of the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (are we allowed to call them that anymore?)
  • Darrell Hazell, newly-minted head coach of the Purdue Boilermakers
  • Paul Haynes, newly-minted head coach of the Kent State Golden Flashes

On one hand, it's pretty impressive that three of the 12 current coaches of Big Ten football teams are former Ohio State assistants under Jim Tressel. On the other hand, Dantonio is always just on the cusp of breaking through into the upper echelons of the conference, Beckman is on the hot seat in Champaign, and Hazell is completely unproven at this level of play (though his turnaround job at Kent State was inspiring, and a turnaround is just what the Fighting Mustaches need at this point).

Beyond the four guys currently working as head coaches of FBS teams, who else is there of note?

  • Luke Fickell, the sacrificial lamb interim head coach immediate successor to Tressel in the wake of the Tat-gate debacle
  • Mark Snyder, current defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and former head coach of the Marshall Thundering Herd
  • Mel Tucker, current defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears
  • Tim Spencer, now-former running backs coach of the Chicago Bears
  • Taver Johnson, cornerbacks coach at Arkansas (calling the hogs with Bert... oy vey)

Okay, not so terrible, then... It also appears that longtime Buckeye Bill Conley is the current head coach at Ohio Dominican, because everyone needs something to do in retirement. Fan favorite Dick Tressel, meanwhile (I jest), is now the offensive coordinator at Carleton College (that's in Minnesota), and former tight ends coach John Peterson is the offensive line coach at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Oh, and former quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano is apparently a "coaching assistant" for the Cincinnati Bengals, whatever that means.

Moral of the story? While Mark Dantonio may be the biggest success story to come from the Ohio State coaching ranks of the past decade (I still have hope for you Beckman, and see lots of potential in Hazell), most of the gang appears to at least be working somewhere in the profession.

Lots of great coaches coaches at Ohio State...Which brings us right back around to Wally Bollman. Reading some of the comments from fellow 11 Warriors when Hazell made the somewhat questionable decision of naming Bollman to his staff, and again when Dantonio stole him away to restock his coaching cupboard in East Lansing, it gave me reason to ponder: if Tressel, Hazell and Dantonio think this guy is worth putting on salary, what are the rest of us missing?

In other words, because I think at least two of these guys are pretty darn good football coaches (yes, I like Mark Dantonio - perhaps it was that year I spent rooming with a rabid Spartans fan), I have to assume they put Bollman on their staff with good reason. While some see the "good ol' boy network" alive and well in Bollman's recent hiring, I'm more inclined to think Dantonio, who worked with the man closely in Columbus during a pretty golden period for Ohio State (14-0, anyone?), knows what Bollman's strengths and weaknesses are, and is choosing to soar with the one, and manage the other.

And so we come to the Peter Principle: "Employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence."

Let's presume that at some point, Bollman was good at something. And because he was good at one thing (I'm not saying I know what that is, because I don't), he got more duties added to his plate - say, Offensive Coordinator, for example. At this new thing, he wasn't very good at all.

Now because Jim Tressel valued loyalty above all things, Bollman was safe to continue floundering around and generally annoying the fanbase, because the strengths of the team - lights-out defense - compensated, for the most part, for the offense's deficiencies. Elsewhere, however, this was not the case. Urban Meyer sure wasn't going to play Tresselball, and Boston College didn't set the world aflame in 2012.

Enter Dantonio's hire of one of 11W's favorite foils, and we note that Bollman's duties are much more limited, perhaps because Dantonio understands the Peter Principle, and says you let people do the thing they are good at, and leave it at that.

Creating this sort of culture in football coaching is challenging, by the way. The lure of becoming a head coach is strong, and not for nothing: head coaches make a helluva lot more money than do assistant coaches. Of course you also have the intangible draw of being "the boss," of having your name on the door, and of getting the accolades (and condemnation) of steering the ship. While we adore our assistant coaches at Ohio State, how many average fans can name more than one or two assistants on their favorite teams?

To further illustrate my thinking re: the Peter Principle, consider Heacock and Coach Mickey Marotti for a moment. Heacock was one of the touchstones of Ohio State's sensational defense of the Tressel era. He did a below-average job as head coach at Illinois State (though hiring Urban Meyer was certainly a wise decision), but flourished when he found the right role in Columbus.

He didn't want to coach with his hair on fire, particularly when it came to recruiting, apparently, and when/if he returns, reports indicate it will be in a role that is tailored to the things that he does well, and that allow him to basically not do the things he doesn't want to do. This, by the way, is pretty good application of management theory, I think. The hypothesis at work here says that he will be more productive by focusing solely on the things he's good at and enjoys, while limiting the headaches and burdens of doing activities that are less enjoyable, or at which he is less successful.

Likewise Coach Mick: he is a strength and conditioning guy, period. That's his bread and butter, and his role is focused on getting these young men lean and mean. And as it turns out, when you look at the typical tenure of other assistant coaches, Marotti doesn't move around a whole lot - in fact, he's been attached to Urban Meyer since 2005. Meyer, in fact, has said he's not sure how he'd do what he does without Marotti's services.

While many of us assume that assistants like Tom Herman, Luke Fickell and Everett Withers are not long for this program - head coaching opportunities will pop up - the question becomes, can they be retained? Marotti is a specialist, and paid well for his services (somewhere in the neighborhood of $400k, it appears). Herman and Withers each pull in more than $400k, with bonus opportunities that would put them near or beyond $600k.

But is that enough? Head coaches make millions of dollars, literally. Like the Greg Odens of the world, on one hand you have to think the mantra is "cash that check while you can," because the opportunity may not be there again. Then again, if you're really, really good as an offensive coordinator, do you ride that horse as far as you can in hopes that you have a nice, long tenure in a town like Columbus, raising your kids on a very comfortable salary, working for a program that will get you to national title games consistently?

It's a rhetorical question, of course, because in most cases the answer is no. Then again, looking back at Tressel's many assistants who served five, six, seven years by his side, perhaps the question becomes, was Jim Tressel simply that good of a manager that he knew how to keep his assistants happily productive at the role just below their level of incompetence?

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