When Luke Fickell was named Interim Head Coach on the heels of the Jim Tressel Memorial Day Massacre, OSU still looked like a team that could compete at the top tier of the B1G, despite everything that happened.
True, there were some key offensive players missing for a period of time, but there was still a good defense, some strong senior leadership, and a coaching staff that was intact, with the exception of Tressel. As we all know, Fickell reached out to fellow bro Mike Vrabel to take Fick's spot on the staff when Luke moved up to the head gig.
Other than that, everything was pretty much the status quo. Ohio State would still be good, and still be in the hunt. Well, we know that didn't happen, but in looking back, the 6-7 season wasn't nearly the disaster it could've been.
"Wait a minute, smart guy", you're thinking to yourself, "we lost 7 games in a season for the first time in 100 years, lost to Michigan, and lost a lackluster bowl game that no one seemed to want to be at. It was an epic failure."
But was it?
I say no. To say 2011 was a success would be a stretch, but when I look back at what could've been, you can't help but tip your cap to Luke Fickell. Consider:
Down in Fayetteville, AR, coach Bobby Petrino and his now infamous bike wreck toppled a coach from what many people felt was a national championship-caliber team. Outside of Petrino, almost everyone else on the staff stayed, and they inserted a guy with far more head coaching experience than Fickell had. And when you take into consideration the suspensions of Terrelle Pryor and company, Arkansas had a more talented team.
And Arkansas is in shambles, heading towards a cliff. Yeah, John L. Smith is a factor, just because he's John L. Smith, but they shouldn't be this bad this quickly. But they are. After the 52-0 pasting at the hands of Alabama, quarterback Tyler Wilson said the team had quit.
In the NFL, the New Orleans Saints were put on everyone's short list for Super Bowl contender, despite the suspensions of head coach Sean Payton and assistant coach Joe Vitt. They have an elite offense, lead by record breaking quarterback Drew Brees, a solid defense, and the cliched yet effective 'Us Against The World' mentality that teams can ride to great heights.
The Saints are 1-4.
The Buckeyes had every reason to quit last year, yet they won six games, largely in spite of the offensive coaching staff, not because of it. I shudder to think what would've happened had OSU gone all Arkansas and finished 3-9 or 4-8, which looks more likely for them every day. Would a 3-9 season with impending sanctions have been so toxic that Urban Meyer and every other big name coach that you can think of would've passed, waiting for things to bottom out?
I think that you can make that argument.
Would the Buckeyes and Gene Smith been forced to hire a guy with a short, yet good looking resume from say the MAC conference, because the fears that no one would touch the job with a 10 foot pole were being realized?
What if the Buckeyes had won the Tim Beckman sweepstakes, and not Illinois, for example?
But none of that happened. I said over on OTE last year that Luke Fickell will forever be remembered as a good guy and a true Buckeye for stepping into an untenable situation and not bitching or moaning about it once, and he kept the program afloat when it could have gone under with some other guy. He still recruited to a point where OSU was right around #20, which was okay, all things considered. He got OSU to a bowl game with one of the worst offenses in college football history, and he came within an overthrown pass by a freshman QB of beating Michigan in the Big House.
Fickell avoided a complete and total disaster, which was an accomplishment in and of itself. He helped pave the way for Urban Meyer to come in and take over, and we're seeing now the benefits of what Fickell was able to accomplish then, when Joe Bauserman and Jim Bollman were doing their weekly self immolation. Somehow, he was able to keep Ohio State moving forward, and they didn't quit on him, when it would've been easy to do so, like we've seen in Fayetteville.
If what happened Saturday to Nebraska is any indication of things to come OSU is on the verge of some huge things, but I don't think any of them are possible if not for salvage job that Luke Fickell did last year.