Tennessee Wasn't Enough to Lure a Young and Talented Ohio State Coach Away From Columbus, But the Next Team to Try Might Pull It Off

By Johnny Ginter on February 12, 2021 at 10:10 am
Pleeeaassseee Mr. Brutus
Brianna Paciorka/News Sentinel, Knoxville News Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is tempting.

Envisioning Al Washington tearing up an offered contract in front of stunned admins from the University of Tennessee, showering them with 1.5 million dollars worth of confetti, is pretty fun.

Or maybe he actually signs the contract, but right before the ink can dry, a distraught Washington runs through a pouring rainstorm to midfield of Ohio Stadium, crying as he eats the document and lightning crashes around him.

Or wait! Maybe Washington pulls a Commodus as a shocked Josh Huepel is torn limb from limb by angry moonshiners from outside Knoxville! Or maybe Washington says "Thank you for your interest, but I'm happy with my position here in Columbus" after securing a nominal raise and title change because the Tennessee football program is an utter tire fire and no amount of money is worth that headache. Or maybe as he attempts to put pen to paper to write his signature, Washington is physically repelled from the contract as he's thrown across the room and a disembodied voice hisses "YOU ARE NOT OF THE DEAD, YOU MUSSSSTTT NOT DWELL IN OUR HAUNTED REALM, MORTAALLLLL."

I don't know why Al Washington decided to turn down so, so much money and a pretty significant bump in coaching responsibilities to stay in Columbus. I don't have a play-by-play of his thought process, because I'm not him nor do I have a network of sophisticated spy cameras strategically placed inside his house.

But here's what I do know.

First, Washington made the right move. Holy hell Tennessee football is a mess and a half. It isn't only that the program is bad and just hired a middling coach in Josh Heupel, it's that the program is usually bad and has hired a long strong of middling coaches over the years, a pattern that doesn't seem anywhere close to reversing itself. The Vols lost seven of their last eight games this past season, finishing 102nd in total offense and losing to Kentucky by 27 points. Their defense was middling and gave up 30 or more points six times in 2020. Also "Rocky Top" is B-tier bluegrass at best.

Sad times in Rocky Top

The sum of it is that Tennessee (which hasn't won 10 games or finished a season in the top 15 of the AP Poll since 2007) is Minnesota South, but without the 80's yard sale charm the Gophers bring to the table.

There's an argument to be made that millions of dollars can paper over a lot of those flaws, but maybe Washington bought a bunch of Bitcoin in 2009 and doesn't have to worry about money anymore, or... okay, I'm done going down the speculative rabbit hole, but the drama surrounding his decision isn't really as significant as the gigantic sigh of relief coming out of Columbus.

The second thing I know is that Gene Smith read my article from a few weeks ago, where I pointed out that hiring coaches in college football is a ridiculous crapshoot and it's insane that Ohio State is as good and/or lucky as it has been in that particular area. Yes, there have been multiple high profile coaching busts for the Buckeyes in recent memory, but that is far, far outweighed by the supreme coaching talent that has buoyed the program since Urban Meyer took over as head coach in 2011.

So I'd even go as far as saying that OSU's ability to retain the right coaches at the right times is the most important reason why the program is one of the top two or three in the country right now. Alabama occupies that lofty position because they have the Witch-King of Angmar as their head coach, ruling college football via some extremely suspicious and unnatural competence that'll continue until Saban's skin-suit finally sloughs off from his enchanted skeleton. Clemson is there, for now, but it rests on a shaky throne built from stacks of laundered money and polished with snake oil.

That sigh of relief I mentioned? It might not be just from the fans. Ryan Day seems to be attempting to build a solid core of coaches within his program, a group of people who he can rely on long-term without worrying about the potential risks that constant turnover brought during the Meyer years. Keeping Al Washington at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center goes a long way towards realizing that, but Day will eventually have to deal with the same instability that Alabama and Clemson will at some point.

Because time is linear.

If Ohio State keeps winning and kicking ass, then there is the risk that good, young coaches like Al Washington and Brian Hartline and damn, even Ryan Day himself might end up being lured away from the safe confines of Ohio Stadium like a cartoon cat floating towards the scent of an apple pie sitting on top of a doghouse.

Current Boston College head coach and former Ohio State wunderkind Jeff Hafley ate the pie, and good for that dude. It's hard to resist the lure of more money and greater prestige, particularly in a profession filled with Type-A personalities all competing with each other to go as far as they can as quickly as they can. While disappointing for us, the fans, no one can blame a coach for signing on the dotted line for more money and career stature than they've ever seen.

That didn't happen this time, but there will be other opportunities for the Buckeye faithful to sweat bullets about staff attrition. Hopefully Ohio State will be prepared in the event that the next 1.5 million bucks is in the trunk of a Ferrari rather than stashed under the driver's seat of a Pinto.

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