Skull Session: Mark Pantoni Was Once Pre-Med, Luke Fickell Learned From 2011, and Quinn Ewers Gets a Truck Deal

By Kevin Harrish on August 30, 2021 at 5:45 am
Ohio State's two most important people are in today's skull session.

Hey, the Buckeyes play in three sleeps. We've nearly made it.

Word of the Day: Asunder.

 DR. PANTONI? Mark Pantoni is the Godfather of college football recruiting and is almost unnaturally good at his job. But he very nearly got into sports a completely different way – medicine.

Blessed with a sharp mind, Pantoni set his sights on attending medical school. As a pre-med student at Florida, he could retain medical jargon from anatomy and biology classes.

“Luckily the good Lord gave me a good strength of memorizing stuff and remembering things,” he said.

If he was going to work in sports, it was to be as an orthopedic surgeon. He spent a summer in 2004 interning with Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedist, at the American Sports Medicine Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, focusing on arm injuries in baseball.


Recruiting staffers who have worked with Pantoni over the years point out how well he can sort through prospect information when it could be easy to drown in it. There is no shortage of material between recruits’ heights and weights, testing times, statistics and other notes. Much of it remains at the tip of his tongue.

“I don't think he left the medical field because he wasn't smart enough,” said Adam Caltury, the director of recruiting at Pittsburgh who spent 2014 and 2015 as a recruiting assistant at Ohio State. “In terms of memory, critical thinking, he checks all the intelligence boxes. He has high-level intelligence.

“So just in terms of all the kids that we’re recruiting, he’s able to recall a lot of things about each and every single one of them. He may have watched a kid three weeks ago, but he's able to remember what he saw, while he's comparing them to a kid he's watching that day. I think that's part of his separating factor.”

Cheers to him using that gigantic brain on football teens instead. Anybody can be a doctor.

 LEARNING FROM DEFEAT. The first time Luke Fickell tried to be a head coach, he led Ohio State to more losses than the Buckeyes had seen in a single season since 1897 (that's happened twice in the past 12 years at Michigan, FYI).

As you might imagine, it was not a pleasant experience for him, and it kept him from even trying to be a head coach again for a long time. But Fickell now knows it took him straight-up bombing his chance in 2011 to become the head coach he is today.

"I didn't really know who I was as a leader," Fickell said. "Maybe I'd been around Coach Tressel, that's really it, or Coach [John] Cooper. I hadn't really spent that time to say, 'OK, what would you do? How would you do it?' I worked hard, I cared, I trusted, but nobody really knows. The first time being a head coach, it's like being a pilot. Or are you ready to be a father? Well, no. You can take all the classes you want, but until you actually do it, you don't know."


"I realized all the mistakes I made, and it's probably been the best thing that's happened to my career," Fickell said. "It really was like a lifetime of experiences in eight months."


"The biggest mistake I made was I tried to be Coach Tress," Fickell said. "I thought that's what we needed, when in reality, it was probably the [opposite] because you can't consistently be somebody you're not."


Fickell could take tidbits from others, but, as he learned in 2011, outright duplication was wrong.

"Who are you, really, and who do you want to be?" he asked himself. "You can't be Jim Tressel, you can't be Urban Meyer, you can't be John Cooper. You're a part of all of them because you spent a lot of time with them, but you've got to figure out who you are."

I've always had this sinking fear that Fickell would end up at Michigan after Jim Harbaugh inevitably gets the boot, but are we sure Michigan is actually a better job than Cincinnati at this point?

If I'm Fickell, I know which job I'd rather have for the rest of my life. And it ain't the one that has to play Ohio State every year.

 NOT JUST KOMBUCHA. It looks like Quinn Ewers has got himself a new Texas-sized ride.

I'm not sure I could dream up a better auto partnership for a guy with a mullet who spends all of his downtime fishing or hunting than a gigantic lifted truck.

... until his custom workboots inevitably come out.

 NOT TRAVELING? It's looking like there will not be a large contingent of Buckeye fans in Minnesota this week.

For what it's worth, if you're a patriot looking to turn the tide, you can still buy tickets on the secondhand market.

There's still time to make this a home game.

 SONG OF THE DAY. "Remote Control" by Kanye West.

 NOT STICKING TO SPORTS. A field hospital is raided after reports of Covid patients doing drugs and having group sex... A narco suspect evaded authorities for years all while starring on TikTok... Will lawyers be made obsolete by artificial intelligence?... A phone store robbery led to the discovery of a $100 million conspiracy... The story of amusement parks is the story of America...

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