Skull Session: Jonathon Cooper Wants Ohio State to Build a Dwayne Haskins Memorial, the Buckeyes’ Defense Will Be Elite For Years to Come and Ryan Day Calls Carlos Locklyn a “Slam Dunk” Hire

By Chase Brown on April 11, 2024 at 5:00 am
Dwayne Haskins

Welcome to the Skull Session.

If Ohio State’s stars played a different position, which position would they play?

Have a good Thursday.

 GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN. Two years and two days ago, on April 9, 2022, Ohio State football lost one of its greatest quarterbacks. Dwayne Haskins died at 24.

As Buckeye Nation mourned Haskins's death, former Ohio State defensive end Jonathon Cooper – the program’s first-ever Block O award recipient in 2020 – posted on X that the football program should place a memorial for Haskins on campus, honoring the signal-caller many Buckeyes came to know and love during his career in Columbus.

I love this idea.

Ohio State needs to make it happen.

Although he spent only one season as Ohio State’s starter, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound quarterback rewrote the record books while leading the Buckeyes’ offense in 2018. Across 13 appearances, Haskins completed 373 of 533 passes for 4,831 yards and 50 touchdowns, breaking the program’s single-season records for passing yards and passing touchdowns in the process.

That year, he finished third in the Heisman Trophy race but won Big Ten Quarterback of the Year, Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as he led Ohio State to a conference title and Rose Bowl win.

Haskins later became the No. 15 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft, landing with the Washington Commanders. After two seasons in the nation’s capital, the Commanders traded him to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He would have entered his second season with the black and gold in 2022.

One look at the posts that flooded social media following Haskins’ death, and you can see the kind of impact the Potomac, Maryland, native, had on those around him – family, friends, coaches, teammates and fans alike.

Rest in peace, Simba.

You are gone but never forgotten.

 KEEP ON GETTIN’ BETTER. On March 12, Adam Rittenberg of ESPN revealed his “College Football Future Power Rankings” for quarterback rooms across the Football Bowl Subdivision and named Ohio State the No. 1 team.

This week, Rittenberg released his “College Football Future Power Rankings” for defenses across the sport. The Buckeyes ranked No. 5 behind Georgia, Iowa, Michigan and Clemson, but ahead of Alabama, Notre Dame, Texas, Penn State and Utah.

Here’s what Rittenberg wrote about the Silver Bullets’ outlook in 2024, 2025 and 2026:

No. 5 - Ohio State

2023 future defense power ranking: 21

Scouting the Buckeyes: After dropping 10 spots in the 2023 power rankings, Ohio State is re-establishing itself as one of the nation's top defenses under veteran playcaller Jim Knowles. The Silver Bullets' best days could be ahead after retaining several of their draft-eligible players from 2023 and adding a massive transfer in safety Caleb Downs, a true freshman All-American selection at Alabama who led the Tide with 107 tackles. Downs joins a secondary with tremendous depth at both positions. After a strong 2023 season, Denzel Burke is back to lead a cornerback group that also features junior Davison Igbinosun and senior Jordan Hancock, who led Ohio State in interceptions and tied for the lead in forced fumbles last season. Jermaine Mathews Jr. flashed as a true freshman and should be heavily in the mix at least through 2025. Downs, who will play for Ohio State at least through 2025, is part of a loaded safety group that includes senior Lathan Ransom, senior Ja'Had Carter and sophomore Malik Hartford. The Buckeyes also signed two of ESPN's top-five cornerback recruits for 2024 in Aaron Scott and Bryce West, both top-35 national prospects.

When top-five national recruits Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau arrived in 2021, no one expected them to still be on campus [in 2024]. But both gifted defensive ends elected to make a final national title push, along with senior tackles Tyleik Williams and Ty Hamilton, and will form a line that will carry massive expectations in 2024. Williams and Sawyer both come off of their best seasons. The veterans join high-potential younger linemen such as juniors Caden Curry, Kenyatta Jackson Jr. and Hero Kanu, and recent decorated recruits like Jason Moore and Eddrick Houston. Ohio State also recently added a commitment from defensive end London Merritt, ESPN's No. 37 prospect in the 2025 class. Linebacker is the biggest short-term concern after losing Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers, although senior Cody Simon is back after a 57-tackle season. The team is moving Sonny Styles, who had 53 tackles and two sacks at safety in 2023, to linebacker. Depth is needed, though, and Ohio State will look for a lift from players such as C.J. Hicks, ESPN's No. 17 recruit in 2022, who has only 14 tackles in two years.

Improving 16 spots in one season is nasty work.

Jim Knowles really is a Mad Scientist.

And the Ohio State defense will be really, really good for years to come.

 SHAPING THE FUTURE. Last week, ESPN’s college football writers ranked Ryan Day as the 10th-best coach in college football behind Kirby Smart (Georgia), Kalen DeBoer (Alabama), Kyle Whittingham (Utah), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Mike Norvell (Florida State), Dan Lanning (Oregon), Steve Sarkisian (Texas), Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss) and Lance Leipold (Kansas).

I reacted to the rankings in the Monday Skull Session.

In short, I called it bad. No need to unpack it another time, 72 hours later.

The reason I have called back to it in the Thursday Skull Session is because ESPN released another article that ranked coaches this week. This time around, Bill Connelly discussed the 30 coaches who will “define the next decade of college football.” And this time around, the Worldwide Leader ranked Day at No. 4 behind Smart, DeBoer and Sarkisian, but ahead of Kiffin and Luke Fickell (Wisconsin).

Here’s what Connelly wrote about each of those coaches:

1. KIRBY SMART, GEORGIA. Smart probably belongs in a category to himself. He studied under Saban for 11 seasons before going off on his own, and unlike so many other former Saban assistants who couldn't live up to the master's standards, he is working on exceeding them. He was only 46 when he won his first title and 47 when he won his second, and in his past 48 games as a head coach, he has lost only to teams coached by Saban. The last active coach to beat him? Will Muschamp, a current Georgia defensive analyst, at South Carolina in 2019. That was nearly five years ago. He's the top dawg in this sport, and he will probably remain so for a while.

2. KALEN DEBOER, ALABAMA. A three-time NAIA national champion by the age of 35, DeBoer left his alma mater Sioux Falls in 2010 to climb the coaching ladder, first as an offensive coordinator at Southern Illinois, Eastern Michigan, Fresno State and Indiana, then as a head coach at Fresno State, where he engineered a 10-win season in Year 2, and Washington, where he went 25-3 and reached the national title game in his second season in Seattle. That's a pretty stunning résumé for anyone, much less someone who won't turn 50 for another six months. He's just coming into his prime as a head coach, and it will be fascinating to watch him deal with the immense expectations of the post-Saban Bama job.

3. STEVE SARKISIAN, TEXAS. Sarkisan has already seen quite a few career arcs for someone who hasn't yet crossed the Saban's first-title age threshold yet. He was a prolific quarterback for coach LaVell Edwards at BYU and a well-regarded QBs coach and offensive coordinator for USC's Pete Carroll before pulling off a solid turnaround job as Washington head coach. Things went off course when Sarkisian was fired by USC in 2015 for his behavior while under the influence of alcohol and pain-killers, but he rebuilt his career, first as an offensive coordinator and then as Texas' head coach. He led the Longhorns to 12 wins and a CFP berth last season, and he will likely start 2024 with another top-five team.

4. RYAN DAY, OHIO STATE. Losing three straight times to Michigan will age a man, but Day is only 45, and his career skyrocketed over the past decade. In a short time, he went from Steve Addazio's offensive coordinator at Boston College to, after two years as an NFL quarterbacks coach, Urban Meyer's offensive co-coordinator and eventual successor at Ohio State. And even with the aforementioned Michigan losses, he's 56-8 after five years with three CFP appearances and five top-10 finishes. He'll enter 2024 with maybe the best defense in the sport (he had the best offense, per SP+, in 2021) and has a massive opportunity to again surpass those dreaded Wolverines.

5. LANE KIFFIN, OLE MISS. He has not yet reached the CFP as a head coach, but Kiffin's résumé sneaks up on you. At age 48, he has already been a college or pro head coach for parts of 14 seasons, and he has won double-digit games five times. After a rather noteworthy failure, he picked up the pieces by modernizing Saban's offense at Alabama, and then winning two conference titles at FAU. A modern roster builder in every possible way (translation: He uses the transfer portal heavily), Kiffin has led Ole Miss to two of its three best poll finishes in the past 54 years.

6. LUKE FICKELL, WISCONSIN. As an Ohio State assistant (and, for one ill-fated season, its interim coach), Fickell served as a bridge between the Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer eras, but he didn't get his first head coaching gig until he was 43. After a major first-year reset in 2017, Fickell's Bearcats improved for four straight seasons, going 44-7 and eventually reaching the 2021 CFP (where they fared much better against Alabama than Harbaugh's Michigan fared against Georgia). Fickell just went through a first-year reset at Wisconsin, too, and while there's no guarantee of a Cincinnati-esque rise, Fickell has earned the benefit of the doubt.

When it comes to these kinds of lists, I have started to sound like a broken record.

I don’t mind that ESPN ranked Day behind Smart. I don’t mind that ESPN ranked Day behind Swinney. I do mind that ESPN ranked Day behind all the others (at least in the first article I mentioned).

I don’t mind when Day is behind Smart and Swinney because they are two of the three active FBS coaches with national championships, along with Mack Brown (North Carolina), who won his title with Texas in 2005.

I do mind when Day is behind the likes of DeBoer, Whittingham, Norvell, Lanning, Sarkisian, Kiffin and Leipold because Day has more Power 4 conference titles (two), more College Football Playoff appearances (three), and more College Football Playoff wins (two) than all of them. He also has a 56-8 overall record —

Apologies. I started to unpack there. I said I wouldn’t do that. Therefore, I will digress.

If I can make one final point, it would be this: If Ohio State wins a national championship in 2024, Day will become a top-three coach in college football, at minimum. Me, personally? I think it would be cool if the Buckeyes won it all in January. I would like that a lot. And I hope for nothing more than to see Day’s name mentioned among the best head coaches in the sport come March and April 2025.

 FIRE ME UP, COACH. Carlos Locklyn has three years of official on-field experience at Western Kentucky and Oregon. Still, as Locklyn joins Ohio State’s coaching staff in 2024, he doesn’t want Buckeye Nation to believe this is his “first rodeo” leading a running back room.

On Wednesday, Locklyn said he mentored several well-known running backs in his off-field roles at Memphis and Florida State, including Darrell Henderson, Patrick Taylor, Tony Pollard, Kenneth Gainwell and Antonio Gibson at Memphis. While he didn't have the title of running backs coach back then, he developed those players because he loved – and still loves – to teach the position. He also loves to build relationships.

“My focus is to change the hearts and minds of (my players), and they'll play for me,” Locklyn said. ”I had just got through reading Coach (Jim) Tressel's 'The Winner's Manual.' Something I took from that book is that you have your purpose and you have your goals. My purpose is to pour into and serve these young men. My goals as a football coach – all of them will take care of themselves. I'm really relationship-based. I'm really detailed at this position.

"I know you all have heard me say it before, and I'm going to keep saying it: This is the worst-coached position in football. It's terrible. Guys hire anybody to coach this position that are recruiters. Carlos Locklyn’s not a recruiter. I’m an elite relationship builder. But I coach this position, I'm a ball coach.”

I love Locklyn’s approach.

When asked about Locklyn on Wednesday, Ryan Day called him “an absolute slam dunk” hire for the Buckeyes.

Not only does the above quote help prove that, but I think this does, too: When the press conference ended, Locklyn shook the hand of every reporter in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, introducing himself and thanking us for covering the program. I thought that was awesome.

 SONG OF THE DAY. “The Internet” - Jon Bellion.

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