It is no secret that the Ohio State defense has not lived up to their typical dominant selves the past two years. Since Jim Heacock has left and Luke Fickell has taken over the defense the Silver Bullets have been at best inconsistent and at worst a swiss cheese like sieve.
While the OSU offense continues setting records, the defense continues to make average opposing quarterbacks look like Joe Montana riding a golden unicorn throwing lightening bolts of joy to the masses. The defense has been blamed for losses to Michigan State which cost OSU a chance at a national title and a BCS Bowl loss to Clemson.
OSU fans always seem to need a scapegoat. Whether it’s an entire unit, in this case the defense or one of the coaches that coaches the defense, in this case Luke Fickell. Before Fickell it was Jim Bollman, who in his time at Ohio State was much maligned for his ultra conservative offense, while the OSU defense was one of the highest rated defenses year in and year out.
While I agree that the defense has struggled, I don’t believe it’s all Luke Fickell’s fault. I also believe the struggles of defense started before Jim Heacock left the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s national defensive rankings since Luke Fickell was named Co-Defensive Coordinator:
Jim Heacock left before the start of the 2012 season. Ohio State’s issues on defense started in 2011, when Jim Heacock was still running the defense. Luke Fickell, sans his head coaching title in 2011 has had the same title since 2005. So in 2011, what changed? How did a once dominant defense go from being ranked consistently in the top ten to a mediocre 26-31st?
Most Buckeye fans would just blurt out, “FIRE LUKE FICKELL.” Or, “THAT DAMN FICKELL (inaudible grunting).”
What changed? Luke Fickell has never run the defense on his own. He’s had Jim Heacock and Everett Withers sharing the title of Co Defensive Coordinator. When OSU’s defense shined….Heacock got the glory. And in 2011, when they began to stumble….Fickell got the blame. And when the great and powerful Urban Meyer took over the team in 2012 Fickell was made the full time scape goat of the defense.
1. Defensive turnover. Ohio State lost an incredible amount of defensive talent via transfers, player injuries etc…
Players That Left By Year:
Adam Bellamy-3 star defensive lineman
Melvin Fellows-5 star defensive end
Jordan Whiting-3 star LBer
Dorian Bell-5 star LBer
Dominic Clarke-4 star DB
Christian Bryant-4 star DB
Jamel Turner-4 star LBer
David Durham-3 star LBer
Scott McVey-4 star LBer
Chad Hagan-3 star LBer
Ken Hayes-4 star defensive end
Conner Crowell-3 star LBer
Jeremy Cash-3 star safety
Derjuan Gambrell-4 star defensive back
Se’von Pittman-4 star defensive end
David Perkins-4 star LBer
Luke Roberts-3 star LBer
Devan Bogard-4 star safety
Najee Murray-4 star defensive back
Michael Hill- 4 star defensive lineman
Donavon Munger-4 star defensive lineman
Jayme Thompson-4 star safety
That is a TON of talent to not have at ones disposal. I won’t get into the reason each of these players left, but none of them have to do with Luke Fickell. It would have been nice to have that depth and talent at times the past two seasons. every team deals with turnover, but the amount of turnover on the defensive side of the ball has been tough to deal with.
2. New defensive regime. Along with Urban Meyer came a group of new defensive coaches. Kerry Coombs coached the cornerbacks and special teams, while Everett Withers was the co-defensive coordinator and coached the safety position. Coombs has been demoted from his position as cornerbacks coach and Everett Withers has accepted the head coaching position at James Madison. Both coaches have been replaced by one man, Chris Ash who has taken over the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coaching positions. He will be charged with revamping a terrible OSU pass defense.
OSU Pass Defense Ranking:
In the 2 years since OSU was ranked a respectable 14th in the country in pass defense, they dropped to 112th. ONE HUNDRED AND TWELFTH. Since most OSU fans think it’s Fickell’s fault, what did he change? I’d say nothing. I’d say handing the secondary over to a glorified high school coach in Coombs and an average coach in Withers was a giant mistake.
If Urban Meyer, who is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college football demoted Coombs and let Withers go to East Bagdad Tech…while allowing Fickell to remain at a position he has held since 2005 that should be quite telling. Urban Meyer wants nothing more than to win football games. If he felt Fickell was detrimental he would have let him go. He didn’t.
3. Fickell’s bestest buddy. Mike Vrabel was brought into the fold in 2011 to coach the linebackers. In 2012 Meyer kept Vrabel on to coach the defensive line. Vrabel ended up leaving to take a job with the Houston Texans in the NFL in the offseason after the loss to Clemson. While Vrabel was a tremendous recruiter he was suspect as a position coach. Vrabel was replaced by longtime PSU coach Larry Johnson, who upon seeing the wealth of talent on the OSU defensive line said he would immediately start regularly rotating defensive linemen more often and situationally. Something Vrabel didn’t do. Vrabel, for right or wrong left his best players in the game for most of the snaps, while backups were just that…backups. This lead to players getting winded when OSU needed them the most. I remember game one of the Urban Meyer regime vs. Miami of Ohio. Late in the 4th quarter Miami of Ohio was continuing to have success throwing the football and Meyer confronted Vrabel and Fickell on the sideline in what looked like a heated chat. Meyer was upset that there was a lack of pressure…a storyline that has plagued OSU’s defense for 2 years.
I’m not saying OSU fans should give Fickell a pass. He has been the responsible party for the Buckeye defense and their results, as has Urban Meyer. To me, the buck stops with Meyer, not Fickell. Meyer has made the changes he has felt necessary to have a successful defense. We shall see how those changes transform an underperforming defense. Meyer seems to get a pass because he’s a rock star. I hate to say it but up until now Meyer hasn’t won anything at OSU except a couple division titles and 24 games that are largely meaningless. No B10 titles. No Bowl wins. #gottabefickellsfault
I’m saying as a Buckeye fan you need to stop and think about why the OSU defense is actually struggling. There is more that goes into it than “IT’S FICKELL’S FAULT!!!” It’s flat out lazy, ignorant and disrespects a former player and current coach who has given the Buckeyes 5 years as a player and 12 years as a coach, most of which have been highly successful.
Time will tell if the changes in coaching and defensive philosophy will improve the results on the field. One thing is for sure, if the Buckeyes do have greater success on the defensive side of the ball Fickell will likely never receive any of the credit. Too many OSU “fans” have already made up their minds.