The end of spring football is supposed to be a time of clarity and optimism for a football powerhouse like Ohio State.
However, following off-the-field transgressions by five players, including star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the Buckeye football program is in a state of disarray.
The five players and coach Jim Tressel are suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season.
But five games could be good news for the Buckeyes.
The NCAA released a notice of allegations to OSU on April 21 and will decide the university’s fate after an Aug. 12 hearing.
Tressel’s failure to report his players’ violations could leave The Vest unemployed and the OSU football program scrambling to find a new coach.
In a press conference March 8, OSU President E. Gordon Gee said he never considered firing Tressel, adding that he hoped Tressel “doesn’t dismiss me,” a joking comment he told The Lantern he later regretted.
In the March 8 press conference, Tressel admitted he will take in stride whatever happens.
“The most pathetic thing is a leader looking for self-pity,” Tressel said, quoting former President George W. Bush. “So, at no point in this time … am I looking for anything other than doing what needs to be done.”
The Lantern took a look at possible replacements if one of the program’s most successful coaches is forced to resign, retires or is fired.
Luke Fickell, OSU interim head coach, co-defensive coordinator
Fickell is in the best position to take over the job from Tressel if NCAA sanctions force The Senator out of OSU.
Fickell was named interim coach for the first five games of the 2011 season, and has been in Tressel’s system for nine years, serving as special teams coordinator, defensive line coach, linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator.
Fickell played for the Buckeyes from 1992–96 as a nose guard, finishing with 212 career tackles and six career sacks. He was also on the 1996 team that won the Rose Bowl against Arizona State.
Fickell is a Columbus man. He went to DeSales High School, and won a state championship in wrestling.
His familiarity with Tressel’s system would give the Buckeyes an advantage when it comes to a coaching change.
In a March 30 press conference to announce the Buckeyes’ interim coach, Fickell said it was still Tressel’s team but that he was honored to be named to the position in his boss’s absence.
“We coach by committee. It never has been, never will be about one person in particular,” he said. “This is still coach Tressel’s team.”
Urban Meyer, former Florida coach
When rumors surfaced that Meyer and his family bought a house in Upper Arlington at the end of March, the pundits proclaimed him the next OSU coach.
His spread offense would be a far cry from “Tressel-ball,” but his success is undeniable.
Meyer had two three-loss seasons in his first head-coaching position at Bowling Green from 2001–02, an undefeated season in 2004 as coach of Utah and two national championships at Florida in his six seasons at the helm.
Meyer has said he would come back to coaching for just three teams: Michigan, Notre Dame and OSU. With the hiring of new coaches at Michigan and Notre Dame, OSU seems like the most accessible position.
Meyer’s desire to coach at OSU stems from his Ohio roots. He was born in Toledo, Ohio, played defensive back at Cincinnati from 1983–86 and was at OSU in 1986 and 1987 as a tight ends and wide receivers coach.
Meyer also earned his master’s degree in sports administration at OSU.
Health conditions forced Meyer out of his position at Florida, and he now works at ESPN as a commentator and analyst.
However, Meyer’s daughter, Nicole, has said her father will not be the next Buckeyes coach.
“Stop txting me abt my dad. HE IS NOT repeat NOT, GOING TO OHIO STATE. thanks.” she tweeted April 26 from her Twitter account, @Nicki_07.
Bo Pelini, Nebraska coach
Pelini, like Meyer, is an Ohio man.
He was born in Youngstown, Ohio, and attended OSU, playing free safety under coached Earle Bruce and John Cooper. Pelini was co-captain of the Buckeyes his senior season and graduated from the university with a degree in business marketing.
Pelini spent eight years as an assistant coach on three NFL teams, and has since become the coach at Nebraska, the Big Ten’s newest member.
Nebraska has seen an upturn since Pelini’s hiring in 2008, with two appearances in the Big 12 Championship and two bowl wins in his three seasons.
Pelini’s name was linked to the Miami (Fla.) opening in December before the Hurricanes hired former Temple coach Al Golden.
However, Pelini recently signed a five-year contract with Nebraska, making him the third-highest-paid coach in the Big Ten, behind Tressel and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. The contract appears to have locked in Pelini to the Nebraska job, but he could be a candidate to return to his alma mater.
The connection between Pelini and OSU gives the Buckeyes and option to pursue him if the job becomes available, but Nebraska would not comment on the possibility.
Mark Dantonio, Michigan State coach
Dantonio left the Buckeyes in 2004 to pursue a head-coaching position at Cincinnati. He was defensive coordinator at OSU from 2001–03, which included the the 2002 national championship against a heavily favored Miami Hurricanes squad.
Dantonio and his defensive staff were able to shut down the Hurricanes offense, which included current NFL players Andre Johnson, Kellen Winslow and Willis McGahee, and notable college quarterback Ken Dorsey.
Dantonio was defensive coordinator at Youngstown State for four years before reuniting with his former boss at OSU.
Like Fickell, Dantonio has a good read on what makes Tressel’s teams so successful, and the transition would be easy for the players.
Dantonio led Michigan State to an 11-2 record last season, despite a heart attack following the Spartans’ game against Notre Dame. The Spartans shared the Big Ten Championship, but finished the season with a 49-7 loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl.
Nick Saban, Alabama coach
In Saban’s career as a football coach, his longest tenure in one position is four years, which will be eclipsed next season at Alabama.
Saban also has ties to the Buckeyes. Ten years after he played defensive back at Kent State, Saban was the defensive backs coach at OSU for one season.
A head-coaching position at OSU would be Saban’s second in the Big Ten, as he coached Michigan State from 1995–99, which included an upset win against the No. 1 Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium during the 1998 season.
However, Saban has been involved in potential NCAA sanctions, as he and his coaching staff were accused of oversigning players at Alabama. The controversy is something the Buckeyes would want to avoid following their most recent sanctions.
Athletic department spokesmen from Nebraska, Michigan State and Alabama declined to comment.
Ohio State spokeswoman Shelly Poe and ESPN media did not immediately return attempts for comments.