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The Silver Lining
ANDY STAPLES
June 13, 2011
Whoever ends up coaching the Buckeyes will be in a position to turn around the program quickly
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June 13, 2011

The Silver Lining

Whoever ends up coaching the Buckeyes will be in a position to turn around the program quickly

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HELP WANTED: Large Midwestern public university seeks football coach for perennial top five program. At least five years' experience taking teams to BCS bowls preferred, but that qualification could be waived for coaches who have won a national championship or several conference titles. Must comply with NCAA rules. Must beat Michigan. Send résumé to director of athletics (for now) Gene Smith. Some NCAA sanctions may apply.

Employers always bury the caveat at the bottom of the ad. As Ohio State searches for a replacement for Jim Tressel, who resigned under fire last week (SI, June 6), the Buckeyes' brass certainly will play up the program's first-class facilities, a lucrative salary (Tressel made about $3.7 million annually) and the fact that Ohio State has won or shared the past six Big Ten titles. But coaches contacted about the job will want to know the severity of the penalties the NCAA will likely hand down. Coaches are a notoriously risk-averse bunch, and some might run from a program if they think the NCAA will burn its fields and salt its earth.

But they shouldn't run from Ohio State. The Buckeyes are uniquely positioned to bounce back.

In the meantime Ohio State tabbed co--defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell to handle the 2011 season on an interim basis, a move that will buy the school time to hire the right permanent replacement. By early next year the NCAA's investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing during the Tressel era could be complete, and the Buckeyes might know the extent of their punishment. If Ohio State succeeds in blaming all of its misdeeds on Tressel, the program might face few penalties. If the NCAA finds that the school's compliance department was asleep at the wheel and the program's problems were systemic, the Committee on Infractions could smack Ohio State as hard as it slapped Miami in 1995 or Alabama in 2002.

But even then, coaches who know their history should not be scared away from Columbus. The NCAA banned Miami from postseason play for a season and stripped the program of 24 scholarships over two years. The Hurricanes went 5--6 in 1997, but by December 2000 they were 10--1. One season later Miami crushed everyone en route to the national championship.

In 2002 the NCAA banned Alabama from bowls for two seasons and stripped it of 21 scholarships over three years. The Tide went 4--9 in '03, but it racked up double-digit wins in '05, came within a win of playing for the national title in '08 and won it all in '09.

And the Buckeyes have an advantage Miami and Alabama lacked: They are the undisputed big dogs in a talent-rich state. The best players in Ohio want to play in Columbus, and no NCAA ruling will change that.

The next Buckeyes coach might have a down year or two, but he might also win a fistful of championship rings.

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