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Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Fickell2The Luke Fickell era has gotten off to a low-key start in Columbus, to put it mildly. I’m hearing from several people close to the Ohio State program who feel that Fickell has been somewhat slighted by the OSU administration in the week and a half since Tressel’s resignation. By the time he meets with the media for the first time this Monday to be formally introduced as the interim head coach at Ohio State, two weeks will have passed since he was named as Tressel’s successor on the day of the resignation announcement.

Fickell may be glad to have avoided the glare of the media spotlight during a crazy time for the program, but I'm guessing that complete invisibility wasn't what he had in mind either.

I’m sure he’s been busy, and equally sure that meeting with the media isn’t the highest of his football priorities. But he is "the face" of the program now, if only an interim one, and he is widely perceived to have been left twisting in the wind by a school that seems not to want to show its face...any face...of late. Fickell has to solidify the recruits he already has committed for 2012, and do his level best to give the program some semblance of stability and continuity in the midst of what looks more like chaos. One hopes the school shows that they're solidly behind him starting next week. Dropping the interim tag might help him do his job.

You can’t envy Fickell his task. It’s an unbelievably tough spot the Buckeyes’ young coach is in. Even before the players come in this July for summer workouts, it seems like at least a mini-shake-up of his coaching staff is inevitable. I hope he sheds some light on the situation when he finally meets with the media on Monday. In the meantime, speculating is what we do here....


Coaching Questions

Surely all the assistant coaches have their resumes dusted off. Why wouldn’t they? They can’t realistically see a secure future in Columbus beyond one year. The New Regime cometh....and for the OSU administration to ask for loyalty from any of Tressel’s assistants at this point would be to invite a chuckle. That is, as long as Luke Fickell has the word “Interim” attached to his title.

Two of the more senior of the assistants, offensive line coach Jim Bollman, and of course the former coach’s brother, Dick Tressel, have seen the object of their long term loyalty dispatched.  And young up-and-coming coaches like Stan Drayton, Taver Johnson and Paul Haynes would make attractive candidates for jobs at any top FBS program. The timing of the resignation may turn out to be positive for OSU’s fortunes in 2011, in  that most programs have their coaching staff in place at this point in the calendar, and the raiding of the OSU staff may be minimal...for now.

I truly hope Fickell is currently begging defensive coordinator Jim Heacock to stay and solidify the defensive side of the ball, while he tries to figure out what to do on offense. Heacock could have had many a head coaching job in recent years had he wished to go that direction. He has already been a head coach (Illinois State) and he's in his early 60’s, so he might be content to hang around Columbus...if they’ll have him. He pre-dates Tressel at Ohio State, having been at OSU since 1996, so he doesn’t owe his job to the departed. All he does is put one of the nation’s top 10-15 defenses on the field almost every year.

Bollman has been for years the “offensive coordinator” by title, but there were never any illusions about who ran the offense. Jim Tressel did, and when after several years he started giving up some of the play-calling responsibilities, the duty fell mostly to Darrell Hazell, the former wide receivers coach who left this offseason to become the head man at Kent State.

Fickell is himself a defensive player by background, so it seems obvious enough that he needs an experienced “big picture” guy on the offensive side of the ball. I’d be surprised if either Bollman, who came to OSU from Youngstown State with JT, or the brother Tressel, are still around when camp breaks, joined as they are at the hip with Jim Tressel, the disgraced one.

And speaking of being caught in a bind, how about Nick Siciliano? He was the quarterbacks coach for the head coach who was himself a quarterbacks coach, and now both Siciliano’s mentor and his pet project of the last two years, Terrelle Pryor, have been sent packing for behaving badly. Siciliano seems like a bright, capable young coach. But can a guy survive those two close associations in a program trying to distance itself from both of them?

That leaves Drayton with an offensive background, and even though he sports some impressive stickers on his suitcase, he’s a recent hire who has yet to coach a game at OSU. He worked in the NFL as a special teams coach for a while, but in the college ranks he has coached mostly running backs, and has never been an offensive coordinator. It’s worth mentioning too that Drayton worked on the staff of Urban Meyer from 2005-07 as the Gators’ running backs coach. It’s also notable that he was the Gators’ recruiting coordinator in 2010.

If they stay in the organization, Bollman is the only person remotely credentialed to be an offensive coordinator. And no Buckeye fan I know is feeling all warm and fuzzy about the prospect of OSU taking the field this September with the offense under his direction. Then there’s the politics of having such a close Tressel associate remaining in a prominent role. For me, Question One for Luke Fickell on Monday would be "Who'll be running the offense?"


TP is Finis

pryor33What was reported here last week has now come to pass officially. Terrelle Pryor’s Ohio State career is over. He hangs it up amid various new allegations, including one that the scale of his sales of memorabilia may have been much greater than previously reported.  ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” show had an unnamed source who said he was a friend of Pryor and estimated that the quarterback had earned between $20,000 and $40,000 selling items brought to him regularly in some quantity by one Dennis Talbott.  (It has been widely reported on OSU web sites that ESPN”s source was the brother of a former OSU player, who was also an OSU student, and was friends with Pryor.)

Doug Lesmerises of the PD has done much good work on this story this week, and reports here that Ohio State, and Jim Tressel specifically, were alerted and warned about Talbott as early as 2007, by people concerned that Talbott’s association with undergraduate, eligible players could pose serious problems for the program. Guess what. It has.

For his part Talbott claims he never paid Pryor anything, and Pryor’s lawyer says the charges are “bogus”.  Rumors persist however, that there are at least a couple of cancelled checks from Talbott’s account made out to Pryor. So the beat goes on...

Talbott is a free lance photographer and part-time memorabilia dealer who might well be described as a jock-sniffer of the first order, based on the reports about his conduct with Pryor. He befriended the young OSU recruit early in his time at OSU, and reportedly hosted Pryor and other OSU players for a few rounds of golf at a middlebrow country club in Columbus in 2009....a club Talbott was eventually booted out of for not paying his bills.  ESPN reported that the federal government also has a tax lien against Talbott for over $278,000.

Talbott apparently liked to brag of his friendship with Pryor and other players. He is known to have received free game tickets from OSU players, and reportedly has a “Buckeye-themed” vehicle sporting a vanity license plate of “TPRYOR”. (Never met the man, but if that alone doesn’t qualify a guy as a jock-sniffer, then I don’t know what might.)

Free golf rounds may have constituted violations of NCAA rules, but since Pryor is no longer a student athlete at OSU, the thing that makes the issue relevant is whether the NCAA determines that the football coaching staff knew, or should have known about it, as they decide how much to punish Ohio State for the sum total of their violations.

Reports like the one by Lesmerises show that they did know about this problem child Talbott as long as four years ago, and didn’t do enough...if they did insulate their players from him at the time. (It has been reported elsewhere that Talbott was officially banned from associating with OSU players sometime last year, but I can locate no confirmation of that claim.)

It is that kind of negligence that gets serious discussion going of the dreaded “LOIC - “lack of institutional control” finding by the NCAA. Even a week or so ago, that eventuality seemed to me to be a remote possibility. It seems less remote today.

President Gee told the media that the NCAA has finished up their investigation and has left the OSU campus. Ohio State will still face the NCAA in the scheduled August 12 hearing to answer all of the allegations against them. Stay tuned. It’s a laugh a minute.


Drafting Pryor

I have yet to find the OSU fan who is genuinely sorry to see Pryor gone. His legacy is pretty well cemented now, I guess. So be it. But as he gears up for what he hopes will be his selection in an NFL supplemental draft, the question of his NFL potential is once again being debated.

Because he has withdrawn voluntarily from OSU, it is not completely clear at this point if Pryor can even become eligible for the supplemental draft, since players must have experienced some official change in their status or condition since the declaration date for the regular draft. Ruling to follow.

The consensus at the moment seems to be that he is at best a developmental project as a quarterback in the NFL, and when you combine doubts about his ability to play the premium NFL position with the obvious concerns in the areas of attitude and character, you’ve got people predicting a 4th or 5th round supplemental pick as his probable fate. I have no reason to question that assessment.

I think the talk of Pryor as an NFL tight end will end soon...for good reasons. Most importantly, NFL tight ends have to block, and the next block Pryor throws will be his first. I’m sure he could learn route-running and the other nuances of the position, but I just don’t see this happening.  Among other things, I question his toughness, and his ability to hold up under the physical requirements of playing the position.

At wide receiver, another projected NFL position for Pryor, I think he lacks the requisite skills to succeed at the NFL level. He is amazingly athletic, but he is not at all elusive in the open field. His signature “move” is a stiff-arm.  I still think his NFL position is quarterback.

There are many reasons I could cite why the Pryor-as-NFL-QB experiment could well fail completely. That’s not hard. So much depends upon the organization a player lands with and the coaching he gets along the way. And it is unclear at this point if Pryor has the “football IQ”, or if he can ever develop the passing accuracy that successful NFL quarterbacks need to have.

My belief that Pryor has the ability to play quarterback in the NFL is informed mostly by my looking around the league and noting some of the stiffs starting for NFL teams at the position. I’ve got to believe there’s a personnel man out there among the 32 NFL teams who will be dazzled enough by Pryor’s athleticism to roll the dice and try to make a quarterback out of him.

His lack of passing prowess is the area most often cited as his primary shortcoming. Who would have believed that rap could stick after performances like this one during his freshman season? Not me. No one has ever questioned the arm strength. Mechanics and consistency can be improved with coaching, and he has already shown progress over his three years at OSU...enough to hold the school record for consecutive completions anyway.

Like they always say on draft day, it only takes one team out of 32 to fall in love with a guy. Love might be too strong a word, given the wreckage Pryor has left in his wake during college. But I still think he’s got a good chance to become an NFL starter at QB.  I mean, Eric Zeier did that. How long he lasts will be the interesting outcome to track.

Loose Leaves

Mentor defensive end Tom Strobel committed to Michigan this week, becoming the first of what will be many solid Ohio players to decide on a college destination other than OSU. This one is notable because Strobel had an offer from Ohio State, and over the last five years or so, you could count the Ohio players with OSU offers who opted instead for Michigan on the fingers of one hand.  There will be others before the class of 2012 is complete, and the reasons for that contain good news for the Buckeyes as well as bad.

The 2012 talent crop in Ohio is off the charts, and especially so at the defensive end position. There are probably six Ohio DE’s that would in a normal year be getting offers from Ohio State. This year the Buckeye roster simply cannot accommodate them all. The strong depth chart in Columbus at the position also means that a guy like Strobel will surely see the field sooner in Ann Arbor. He’s a quality player and a good get for the Wolverines, but there are plenty of OSU-worthy DE recruits still available for Fickell in-state. Now, if Adolphus Washington, Chris Wormley, Se’Von Pittman, Latroy Lewis, and Greg McMullen all pass on OSU, then you can join me out on the ledge.

Overall, the Bucks could probably fill out their 2012 class of perhaps 20 scholarships without going out-of-state for more than a couple of players. That’s good news, since Ohio-born players are theoretically less likely than out-of-staters to be dissuaded by the recent coaching turmoil. OSU is a dream school for many of these kids, and that fact transcends Jim Tressel. It looks like there will be no defections from a strong incoming group of 2011 recruits, so if Fickell can salvage a solid recruiting class out of a very strong Ohio talent pool for 2012, perhaps the long term effect of the scandals on recruiting can be minimized.


We had an item over at Hitting the Fan this week about the strong performances of several 2011 Ohio State football recruits in the state track meet last weekend. Massillon wide receiver Devin Smith had a particularly good day.


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