Remember the Tightens

By Ramzy Nasrallah on July 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm
john cooper's ohio state tenure is remembered more for what it wasn't

It's been 21 years since John Cooper graciously explained the difference between Tulsa and Ohio State football fans.

That unnecessary fansplanation became another piece of ammunition for the burgeoning case against him, as only a true outsider who does not get it would decide to put a statement like this on the record:

``I'll tell you the difference in Ohio State and Tulsa football. At Tulsa, I felt the fans were with us win, lose or draw. Here, the people are with you win or tie, and they tell you not to tie too many.

Finally, a glimpse at the mysterious variable that separated Tulsa from Ohio State. Eureka!

Technically, Coop wasn't wrong. Tulsa has only had six seasons of 10 wins or more going back to when he bolted town for Tempe 33 years ago. Ohio State has had six seasons where it didn't reach 10 wins since 1994. Some of the ones where it cracked double-digit Ws weren't exactly considered triumphant, either. This was a terrible analog, Coop.

Consider that Tulsa went 10-3 last season (while falling 48-6 to the Buckeyes) in what was celebrated as an unqualified success. Ohio State is 23-3 since its national championship and the past two seasons only feel...unqualified.

That's because Expectations isn't descriptive enough to capture how those Ohio State fans Coop described codify results. The Buckeyes don't actually lose games. They merely pucker and give the ones they don't win away.

They believe the program should have the best facilities, employ the best coaches, recruit the best players, immediately upgrade everyone upon arrival and proceed to win every single game. There are a couple each season - that one at the end of November, in particular - that it is not allowed to lose. That's what Expectations means to them. Coop was talking about those guys. You might be one of them. I occasionally find myself at their meetings.

Win or pucker - it's a pure sports dichotomy. And Urban Meyer runs the program under this philosophy.

The Buckeyes don't actually lose games. They merely pucker and give the ones they don't win away.

Woody Hayes used to as well; a wholesale rejection that the odd loss should be an inevitability. Earle Bruce, John Cooper and Jim Tressel - all Hall of Fame coaches - were not like this, as their actions demonstrated.

As you probably remember, Clemson beat Ohio State 31-0 in the Buckeyes' most recent game. That score appears to be the outcome of two rosters on completely different levels of talent being forced to play each other, but in reality that Fiesta Bowl was the direct consequence of a championship-caliber defense being hung out to dry by an offense that could not get out of its own way for the better part of two seasons, despite carrying 4 and 5-star players almost exclusively.

That performance put a cap on the second straight year in which the offensive coaching - particularly play calling and quarterback development - were unacceptable. Ed Warinner and Tim Beck were given two seasons to rediscover what Ohio State's championship offense had been. The game concluded, and both found themselves coaching elsewhere before the college football postseason had even ended.

Earle was the winningest Big Ten coach during his tenure but also went 9-3 nearly every season as the program barely evolved during a decade in which the Big Ten as a whole slipped nationally. Coop talked about how Tulsa fans and Ohio State fans differed and didn't quite get it until he matriculated from Buckeye Coach to Buckeye Fan. Tressel was loyal to a fault, retaining underperforming assistants - being pursued by nobody else - throughout his glorious run.

Beck and Warinner flew back to Ohio from Phoenix with the team, and that was it. Thanks, gents. Best of luck elsewhere.

Clemson was obviously excellent, but the talent was at least comparable. Ohio State was capable of being galaxies better than it was that night. It was more talented than Penn State earlier in the season and significantly better than Michigan State in 2015. They didn’t lose all three because the Buckeyes don't actually lose games in our sports dichotomy. They merely pucker and give the ones they don't win away. 

Ask Coop. He’ll tell you where the fans stand on the issue.

If there’s a curse on Ohio State football, which has dutifully cultivated a graveyard of coaches since its inception, it’s this: The wins are all expected. We cling to the losses, however rare they may be. That’s what we remember. It's our unhealthy obsession.

Ask a Buckeye fan to quickly name five games since the 2014 season and that fan will come up with Michigan twice, Notre Dame, Clemson and Michigan State in 2015. Penn State 2016 would be the alternate in that quintet. That’s a 3-2 record. Cite a regular season game from the 2014 championship season and you’re going to hear Michigan, and then Virginia Tech. We’re at 1-1 for a team that eventually bulldozed its way to the national title.

Meyer didn’t tolerate Ohio State’s defense being a glaring liability in 2013 and took action after his second season. The title arrived in Year 3; two seasons removed he didn’t tolerate the offense’s atrophy and made decisive moves to correct it. The greatest value in the Buckeyes’ six non-wins since 2013 has been that they directly led to changes.

There’s no appetite to go 11-2 again and miss the trip to Indianapolis. Nobody wants to squander the only non-Michigan game the team cannot afford to drop for a third straight season. Doing so would produce another game we don’t want to remember but cannot bring ourselves to forget.

Win the game or know the reason why is baked right into Ohio State's beloved 121-year old drinking song, but Reasons isn't descriptive enough to capture how those Ohio State fans that Coop described operate. There are no good reasons, only bad ones. They’re the reasons that sank Earle and eventually brought down Coop. Meyer has shown that he wins the game or fixes the reason why. 

And frankly, failing to do this would violate what makes Ohio State Ohio State. Buckeye fans have arguably the sport’s unhealthiest obsession with losing. It may make us, as Tressel once put it, miserable, but hey - at least we’re not Tulsa.

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