The Roots of Ohio State's Problems, Part Four: Stale Is the Beginning of Death
We've seen this far too many times—but oh, how the mind lets the minuscule details pass us by.
Before I continue my thoughts, I'd like to give a pre-warning before the scarlet and gray fanatics come from all directions of this great nation seeking my severed head upon a silver platter: THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL PROGRAM IS NOT ERODING. OHIO STATE FOOTBALL IS AT A ZENITH OF COMPETITIVE EXCELLENCE.
I'm in no way saying that Ohio State football is on the decline, but there is a very pulling fear in the pit of my stomach that if things don't change soon, we could be headed that direction as a program. So that said, ah, where was I...ah yes, the mind passing up small telltale signs...
Nebraska...Michigan...Notre Dame...Miami...Alabama...teams that have been to the top of the mountain in the college football world in glorious past. But what do they all have in common? They have all in recent years fallen completely off the mountain, banging their heads violently on the way down until they hit the bottom of the valley with a complete thud.
Presently, none of these teams have come close (other than possibly Michigan in '06) to achieving the elite and dominant status they once had at their pinnacle.
But what happened to these powerhouses? Where did the cracks form in the blocks of the foundations that brought these programs off their pedestals and back to the world of ordinary in college football? Well, it varies with each program.
Nebraska lost a legend to retirement and never had the same level of coaching afterwards, and locale has also been a recent issue. Michigan fell to old training, old traditions, and an old coaching regime. Notre Dame's elitist thought from board of trustees, alumni, and fans alike has arguably caused their current problems.
Miami has just been in the headlines for everything but football, and its perception as a "renegade program" has hurt the program. Alabama, meanwhile, has been looking into the past ever since Bear Bryant, and a combination of bad coaching regimes and NCAA infractions have eroded them as well.
As you can see from these programs, any multitude of things can drag a program from the peaks of national and conference championship glory to struggling to rekindle past glories. But it's not those universities that I want to draw my comparison from.
Today I look at the current states of Penn State and Florida State: two more programs that in their prime were perennial national championship contenders and forces to be reckoned with; two teams that I can see Ohio State following down a path of stale mediocrity if they don't realize that a program needs fresh approaches from time to time.
At present, The Ohio State University is riding a crest of success this program hasn't experienced annually since Woody Hayes ran the program: BCS Championship appearances three of the last six years, a national championship in 2002, and two consecutive outright Big Ten championships, with the Buckeyes currently in pursuit of a third straight, which has NEVER been done in Big Ten history.
It is indeed a good time to be a Buckeye, as the phrase is so commonly uttered amongst fans.
But the numbers don't go away...41-14, 28-21, 38-24, 35-3...all lopsided, all embarrassing, ALL connected. I want you to think back into the banks of your memory, as painful as it may be...and recall the games against Florida, Illinois, LSU, and USC.
Those games had two commonalities: Florida and Illinois both effectively ran versions of the spread, and LSU and USC were had DECIDEDLY better talent. All of these games had one thing in common...OSU wasn't prepared to play any of those games.
Who is to blame when a team is repeatedly not prepared to perform during a big game? Is it the players who lack the dedication to be ready for every and all angles you might encounter during a contest? Is it a team that isn't quite as good as they are reported to be from a talent perspective?
Is it the mental approach that the team takes? What about the heart and fire of the team collaborated together?
Or is it a coaching staff that doesn't trust its talent, doesn't make appropriate adjustments, plays not to lose instead of playing to win, and doesn't prepare for the team for every possible occurrence that it can think of happening during the game?
What's the answer? Everyone is and has been asking Ohio State that question for going on two years now!
What's the answer...? Probably a little of everything. But what is at the root of these questions, and what is the problem? I think the root of it runs to a stale atmosphere.
Riddle me this, Batman...tell me how a team with 20 returning starters from a National Championship runner-up, a team with as many as four to five first round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft, and a team with as much big game experience can be as uninspired at times and be performing as poorly as this 2008 edition of Ohio State football has been?!?!
I can already hear the comments on the board..."We just beat Michigan State 45-7!" "We are changing offensive philosophies midseason!" "We're 7-1 Zuke!" Blah...blah...blah...
THOSE ARE EXCUSES, SOFT STATS, AND I'M TIRED OF LISTENING TO THEM. There are no excuses for the lack of passion this football team has played with at points this season. There's no excuse for the absolute egg we laid in Los Angeles earlier this year, and most of all, the fashion with which we laid that turd egg!
Whether you like it or not, fellow Buckeye fan, USC was our chance to prove that we were a legitimate national contender, that the two national championships were wrong place, wrong time freak occurrences...Ohio State should have come out with a fire that would set the Coliseum ablaze, prepared for the challenge, and gone out there to win and not lose.
But we did none of those things. We looked overmatched, unprepared, and dispassionate, and we wilted under the pressure of the situation.
Regardless of what we do the rest of this season, the program needs to REALLY start looking for the missing pieces of the puzzle. What is the missing link in this team as it is currently constructed? How can we take this program to the next level and keep it there?
It's clear to me that there is a staleness to the program. The players aren't getting the message of what these coaches are trying to convey to them.
Look, I respect the hell out of this coaching staff. As a unit they have achieved many wonderful things and should be proud of all they have accomplished together. But there comes a point where you are at a particular place and the message gets repetitive, the voice gets drowned out, and the lessons don't sink in with the same effect.
Whether the coaches are good coaches is regardless. The changes are needed to get fresh air into the program—to put the veterans on their heels a little bit, to give a new direction if needed, to hear a new voice of reasoning. Those are just the facts of life, and the Ohio State football program needs refreshment of that fact.
Where have the Silver Bullets gone? The defense that blitzed, took risks, attacked, and took the fight to the offense? The defense I've sat and watched most Saturdays over the last few years looks more like the "Silver Bend But Don't Breaks."
Has anyone else noticed that this defense doesn't seem to play as fast as they used to? It's not that this team isn't fast, because they are actually probably one of the fastest, if not the fastest, defenses Ohio State has ever had. But they are in a READ AND REACT system. Let me say that again...READ...THEN...REACT.
While this defense is trying to read...good opposing offense have already reacted to the Buckeye defense.
Jim Heacock (the Ohio State DC) has two options left to me: A) stay and change the philosophy, or B) look for new work.
I know it's heartless of me to say. I know that this defense plays lights-out football against the Purdues, Minnesotas, and Indianas of the world—which, by the way, is why Ohio State's defensive statistics are annually inflated—but this defense doesn't work against the Floridas, USCs, and LSUs of the world.
It gets exposed when it counts—and that's the bottom line.
I love Jim Tressel, think he is a great coach and an even better man, and am in no way advocating he be fired. That would be ignorant on my part considering Ohio State's success under his tenure.
But the time has come for the Board of Trustees, AD Gene Smith, and more pressure from the fans to see a bright, young, energetic, and innovative OC come onto this staff and work hand in hand with Jim Tressel in developing a new plan with this offense. Not only would it give a new, fresh offensive outlook for the players and the opposition, it would help recruiting exponentially.
Enough is enough with "Tresselball" at Ohio State. We're Ohio freaking State...we've had the likes of Terry Glenn, David Boston, Joey Galloway, Eddie George, Keith Byars, Robert Smith, Orlando Pace, Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr., Cris Carter...and on and on and on...There is absolutely NO REASON that we shouldn't be able to throw a pass on first down!
There is no reason that we should be 109th in the nation in total offense going into MSU last week! No way...not with Terrelle Pryor and Beanie Wells in your backfield, not with young receivers like DeVier Posey and Lamarr Thomas paired with at least solid veterans Hartline and Robiskie. There are no excuses.
What happened to Michigan? They got old and stale in philosophies and the coaching staff. Lloyd Carr was at his last stop, as was the majority of his staff. At the very least they weren't going to advance their careers as head coaches.
What about Ohio State? Where has the transition in coaches been the last few years? Other than Darell Hazel and Luke Fickell, this staff is very established (aged). While having an established core group is nice, wouldn't it be nice to have that established corps blended with fresh young minds using Ohio State as an audition to get head coaching gigs for themselves? What's so wrong with that?
Dantonio did that. Snyder did that. Mel Tucker did that. But in recent years that progression of coaches has run dry. Now you have a team with far too many seniors who have been through the wars, having experienced far too many rough environments and team challenges together for them to look this uninspired, unprepared, and at times, inept.
You see it all the time when new college football head coaching jobs open up—all the hot young coordinators around the country who are up for the gigs...and where were a lot of them from? Texas, USC, Florida, even places like Oklahoma State, North Carolina, and West Virginia.
I think it's a good thing to lose coordinators. It means they have done an outstanding job at your school. It means that they are creating explosive offenses and defenses. It shows that they've proven what it takes to go out on the road and pull in those big recruits that help their system excel—and their talents are now being rewarded with a chance for a program of their own.
Where has that gone at Ohio State?
I fear that Ohio State is ripe to fall into a stale state as a program if changes aren't made and problems aren't addressed moving forward. Sometimes those changes are not easy to make: They involve long-lasting relationships, they involve a working comfort level...and losing those things or change in them is very difficult.
But sometimes that difficult transition is exactly what is needed for personal growth, and growth from your program.
Never rest on your accomplishments and your past—or that's exactly where you'll be left.
Thanks for the ear guys. Please, as always, feel free to leave comments and thoughts. Also please spread the word about the series to others, and if you choose so become my fan! Hope you enjoyed the article, and sorry this installment took so long. Also look for the next installment coming soon...
* The Roots of Ohio State's Problems, Part Five: Recruiting Is the Lifeblood (OSU from 2004-07)
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