The mood at Ohio State is pretty sour right now. The Buckeyes were out-coached and outplayed by Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game, and their shot at a national title went down the drain.
Buckeyes fans are mad and still in shock, because they believed that coach Urban Meyer would deliver. For years, they have yearned to have an offense like Meyer’s, and for 24 games, everything was magical. Unfortunately, the Spartans came in with a vengeance and proved once again that defense wins championships.
Michigan State also showed that having a prolific offense is not enough to overcome the failures of a seriously flawed defense. Praise was not bestowed upon Jim Bollman very often during his time at Ohio State, but his Spartans offense was worthy enough against the Buckeyes, shredding them for 438 yards. He left Indianapolis with his seventh Big Ten Championship ring, while the Buckeyes left empty-handed and wondering what happened.
Outside of Nick Saban, there might not be a better defensive mind in college football than Mark Dantonio. Like it or not, he is the dean in the Big Ten. He may not have Meyer’s hardware, but he’s currently the better coach because of his ability to maximize the performance of his players.
Meyer can change all of that by making one huge decision: shuffle up the defensive staff.
The list of excuses for why the Buckeyes defense underperformed this season is long. Co-defensive coordinators not being on the same page, youth at key positions and injuries are fan favorites.
Regardless of the reasons, if Meyer wants to win a championship at Ohio State, his top priority after the Orange Bowl is finding a new defensive coordinator to stabilize the defense.
If Meyer decides to make a change, here are three candidates he should consider:
Pursuing Heacock makes sense. He walked the Ohio State sidelines for 16 years as the defensive line coach from 1996-2004 and defensive coordinator from 2005-2011. During his tenure, the Buckeyes’ defense was rarely outside of the top 20 in any statistical category. Heacock produces winners, and he should be the first target.
Heacock also has ties to Meyer. In 1988, he hired a young Meyer to be one of his assistant coaches at Illinois State.
If Heacock is hired, he would instantly infuse discipline into the Buckeyes defense that is sorely missing right now. Not that Meyer should or would care about any coach's ego, but Heacock would also smooth over any grievance Luke Fickell may have if he’s demoted.
His name may not immediately come to mind since he has no direct ties to the university or state, but Orgeron is a heck of a defensive coach. He’s also available, which helps.
Orgeron’s resume speaks for itself. He was the defensive line coach at the University of Miami from 1988-1992, helping the Hurricanes win two national titles. From 1999-2004, he helped Pete Carroll turn USC into a national powerhouse by stockpiling defenses with NFL-level talent.
It is easy to point out that his stint as head coach at Mississippi from 2005-2007 was a disaster, but Orgeron seems to have learned from his mistakes. USC was all but dead in September this season when Lane Kiffin was fired. As interim coach, Orgeron injected life into the Trojans. The players rallied around him and played their hearts out for him.
Orgeron has a keen ability to get the most out of his players, and that is definitely needed on the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes.
With his deep ties to California and SEC territory, Orgeron would also pay huge dividends on the recruiting trail. Meyer has few peers in locking down talent, but he would easily have the best recruiting tandem in country if he hires Orgeron.
Fans may not see Orgeron as the most apparent choice for defensive coordinator, but he should be on the short list.
Orlando may not be a household name, but he is a first-rate defensive coach. Even though he is just in his first season as Utah State’s defensive coordinator, there is little doubt that Orlando wouldn't pass on the opportunity to coach at Ohio State if given the chance. Meyer would be fortunate to have him.
Utah State finished second in the Mountain West this year largely on the back of the Aggies defense. Under Orlando, the defense finished the regular season ranked No. 7 in scoring defense giving up just 17.3 points per game and No. 12 in total defense allowing just 332.1 yards per game. If he can do that with Utah State's talent, imagine what he could do with the Buckeyes’ talent.
Orlando’s experience in building from the ground up is enticing, too. Prior to Utah State, Orlando was the defensive coordinator at Florida International from 2011-2102 and a defensive assistant and coordinator at University of Connecticut from 1998-2010.
Orlando was an integral part of helping Connecticut transition to Division I-A in 2000. His defenses were consistently ranked in the top 25, especially on pass defense. That alone should be enough to consider him for the position, but his ability to develop raw players is his key asset.
While Orlando has no direct ties to Meyer, he’s no stranger to the Big Ten. He played linebacker at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez and grew up in Pennsylvania.
Hiring Orlando certainly would be a stretch, but maybe that is what is needed to transform the defense. The cupboard is filled with elite-level talent playing well below expectations. Orlando would come in with a fresh perspective to rejuvenate this beleaguered unit.
Meyer has a decision to make in January. Stay the course with loyal coaches or pursue a new defensive coordinator who will put the Buckeyes defense back among the elite.
The decision is not really difficult. Meyer was hired to win championships. The defense has underperformed for two years. A change is necessary for the Buckeyes, and probably for Fickell too. He’s a good coach getting a bad rap for the defensive woes.
If Meyer is lucky, Heacock will say yes to coming out of retirement. If he says no, Meyer can have his pick of defensive coordinators. Orgeron and Orlando are just two quality names out there, but the money and reputation at Ohio State can lure just about any coach.