Who might be Ohio State's next football coach?
Jim Tressel is out. Who’s next?
For now, it’s Luke Fickell, who had been appointed interim head coach while Tressel sat out Ohio State's first five games next season. After Tressel's resignation Monday, Fickell was given the interim title for the entire season.
In announcing Tressel's resignation, school officials said "recruitment for a new head coach — which is expected to include external and internal candidates — will not commence until the conclusion of the 2011-2012 season.”
That means there likely will be a search, and there will be no lack of candidates for the job, including Fickell. Potential NCAA sanctions coming from the investigation that ultimately cost Tressel his job could be a factor in hiring a coach.
In the spirit of speculation that's already begun, here's an extremely premature look at potential candidates, listed alphabetically:
Mark Dantonio: Michigan State's head coach was Tressel’s defensive coordinator at Ohio State for the 2002 national championship team and has been successful as a head caoch with the Spartans and, before that, Cincinnati. Dantonio knows the university and the Big Ten and would figure to be on any short list.
Tony Dungy: The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Indianapolis Colts head coach hasn’t shown much interest in returning to coaching and has served only one year as a college coach — he coached defensive backs at his alma mater, Minnesota, in 1980. But Dungy is one of the most respected men in the game, is highly regarded as a mentor and motivator and is in position to land a prime coaching job if he wanted to return. His interest in the Ohio State job would seem remote, but he has the qualities the school would be seeking.
Jon Gruden: Gruden has a great gig at ESPN and doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave the Monday Night Football booth for the stresses of the sideline. But the former Super Bowl-winning coach is a workaholic who’s admitted that coaching will always be in his blood. And because he’s both a big name and an Ohio native, he’ll be mentioned as a candidate if the job opens. Gruden was the keynote speaker at Tressel’s annual high school coaches clinic in Columbus last month.
Luke Fickell: The Buckeyes' interim coach is a Columbus native, an Ohio State alum and has been coaching in the program since 2002. The pluses to hiring Fickell would be continuity and his experience inside a program that has won in bunches during his time as an assistant. But Fickell’s job this season clearly isn’t going to be an easy one, and even if he does well, there could be some within the university who believe it’s time for a change.
Darrell Hazell: The longtime Ohio State assistant might have been appointed interim coach if he had not left to become head coach at Kent State after last season. He’s a long shot now because Fickell will hold the chair and bigger names figure to emerge, but Hazell is a name to watch now — and, more likely, in the future.
Urban Meyer: He walked away from his job at Florida for family and health reasons, but no one really seems to believe he’s done coaching. It just so happens he’s an Ohio native who got his head-coaching start at Bowling Green, and his free-agent status has had people in and around Columbus abuzz since the Tressel saga began. If he wants to coach again, he seems like a short-list candidate at worst.
Chris Petersen: An innovative, risk-taking play caller, he has won big at Boise State. His name has been mentioned for almost every major job over the past few years, but he has a pretty good thing going and doesn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave. Yet, Ohio State is a really big job — at least, without major NCAA penalties it is — so don't be surprised if he's mentioned again.
Bo Pelini: The intense Nebraska head coach seems less likely to have interest now that the Cornhuskers are in the Big Ten and he has a good job at a tradition-rich program. But Pelini is a native of Youngstown, Ohio, and is a former Buckeyes team captain. And he’s only 44 and is considered a rising star, so a return to his alma mater certainly shouldn’t be ruled out.
Bob Stoops: The Oklahoma coach is also a Youngstown native and a proven winner. Though he’s making a ton of money and winning at a very high clip at Oklahoma, his name has been mentioned in conjunction with other big-time openings. Maybe those were just rumors, and maybe he’s fine coaching a team that’s likely to be a preseason favorite to win the national championship this year. We’ll see, but he’d better prepare to start answering questions about Ohio State.
Mel Tucker: The Jacksonville Jaguars' defensive coordinator is an Ohio native and was a Tressel assistant from 2001 to '04. During that time, Tucker played a huge role in opening the recruiting pipeline from his hometown of Cleveland to Ohio State, and Tressel benefited greatly. This season will be his fourth as an NFL defensive coordinator, but Tucker’s roots are in the college game. And if Ohio State thinks he can keep bringing to Columbus top-quality players like Donte Whitner and Ted Ginn Jr., both top-10 NFL picks, and Troy Smith, a Heisman Trophy winner, Tucker will be considered.