What Did You Expect?

builderofcoalitions's picture
October 4, 2011 at 9:50 am

After reading junk like this and reading the onslaught of negativity on comment threads, I have to write something somewhere in response.

Luke Fickell is not a terrible coach. The job he has done is far from exceptional at this point, but to call him "terrible" even "inadequate" is not entirely fair. I'm not an apologist, but one should look at this season in its proper context, removing the scarlet and gray goggles for just a moment.

For one, he was thrust into a lose-lose situation. No one should have expected this team to win every game with the suspensions to key players. Yet, that's what we all did, expecting ten or more wins. Anything less was considered a failure. There was no plan-B for losing those key starters when the Buckeyes did. The plan was to have DeVier Posey, Boom Herron, Mike Adams, and even Terrelle Pryor for the entire 2011 season. Their backups would have another year under their belt to mature and grow into capable replacements for 2012. Instead, the replacements were thrust into the limelight, not ready for primetime. Even the illegitimate baby of Jim Tressel and Woody Hayes would have a hard time winning with those circumstances. If you think otherwise, you're kidding yourself.

That said, the offense is ridiculously bad and the blame falls squarely on the coach's shoulders. However, to be fair, this is not yet Luke Fickell's offense. Yes, I get the "he's the head coach and the buck stops there" or whatever your argument may be that Fickell is as much to blame as anyone for the offense's lack ineptitude. The problem with that thinking is that, like the replacement players, there was a long-term plan to ease Fick into the head coaching position. Like his players, Fickell has been thrown into a position he was not yet groomed to take over. I'm sure he can see as well as the rest of us blogging offensive coordinators and couch coaches that the offense sucks ass right now, but he has yet to receive the opportunity to put together his offense, his offensive staff (sans Bollman). I'd like to see Fick get the opportunity to clean house and start over, bring in some new talent from places like Boise, Houston, or any number of mid-major-to-major schools that score on anyone. Then, we can more adequately judge what kind of coach he will be.

This all brings me back to the inflated expectations of Buckeye Nation. I'm old enough to remember when folks were upset at losing a perpetual 9-win coach in Earl Bruce after one tough 6-5 season where they still received a bowl invite (that was promptly turned down). 9-3 was pretty good for a long time. However, since Tressel won the national championship in 2003, we're spoiled to think that it should happen every year. Yes, Ohio State brings in some fantastic recruiting classes, but I seem to remember that at least five other schools bring in better classes every year and they over-sign. So, there's a limit to the talent even at Ohio State. (Look at the lack of dept on the offensive line.) Also, believe it or not, it's not possible to win the national championship every year. That's why it's such a big deal. Some of you seem to forget the 30+ years between championships at Ohio State with what might be arguably the weakest national championship team ever. (Don't argue this. That team was lucky and were almost as offensively retarded as the current team.)

The largest missing component is Jim Tressel. It's absurd to think that a young defensive co-coordinator, coach of linebackers can simply step in and take the place of multi-national championship, veteran head coach in just one season. It's obvious now that Tressel had a lot more to do with the offense than previously suspected. Sure, the play-calling has usually been mind-numbingly boring, but there was always a plan beyond "two-straight runs and a sack." There was always something Tressel would set up throughout a game or even throughout a season. There was often that timely play-call that made the opposition look foolish. The screen to Boom at Michigan. The play-action over the top to Ginn in '06. Saine lining up at fullback and sneaking down the sideline against LSU. Pryor coming out slinging the ball all over the place in the Rose Bowl. The man used his years of experience to craft strategy that most of us are too dumb to recognize. He made first-round draft picks out of three-star recruits and Broyles Award candidates out of VCR operators...well, maybe not that last one.

It is much too early to judge Luke Fickell as a "terrible" coach at this point. It's not been good so far, but it's been far from what we should have expected. There is little plan on offense. Clock management is still an issue. (Ask Les Miles about clock management.) There has been indecision in regards to personnel. All of these issues should be expected when a new regime takes over. Typically, that regime comes in with his own guys and system already in-place. Fickell is playing with someone else's toys, in someone else's system. I suspect if he were to choose his staff, the DC would be more of the semi-competent yes-man, instead of the OC. (I say "semi-competent" as a yes-man, not a coordinator. There's no way Bollman is anything but incompetent as an OC.) The mistakes in this situation should be expected with a first-time coach taking over a staff that is not his own.

The strength of a Tressel team is that they pulled together when things became a bit rocky (and many of us were calling for his head) and improved down the stretch, emerging as victors over TSUN by the end of the season. I think Fick at least deserves that much time to figure things out. Even then, I think he deserves an offseason to put together his own coaching staff for one more go at it. Look at the splash he made with his lone hire. Imagine the equivalent of Mike Vrable running the offense. Next season could be much like we expected for this season with all the talent set to return, plus a head coach with at least one season under his belt. Then, maybe Coach Fickell will meet our lofty expectations. Until then, we will have adjust those expectations to something more reasonable.

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