Following last Saturday’s debacle in the desert, all Ohio State fans could agree on one thing: change was needed.
After being shutout for the first time since 1993, the offensive woes which plagued Ohio State for the past two seasons were too obvious to ignore. For two days fans nervously speculated when, not if, Urban Meyer would pull the plug on Tim Beck & Ed Warinner as the team’s offensive brain trust, and who would take the reins on Ohio State’s once-potent scoring machine.
Meyer could have conservatively hired an under-publicized up-and-comer, as he did with Tom Herman in 2012, and fans would have still largely viewed it as a win. Instead he swung for the fences by targeting former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson, executing his offensive makeover with aggression and precision in a way that Beck and Warinner’s attack seldom did the past two seasons.
After leading Indiana to consecutive six-win seasons for the first time in more than 20 years, Wilson was shockingly and unceremoniously released from the university amidst allegations of player mistreatment this past December. For that reason, this hiring will undoubtedly be met with some curiosity, if not outright criticism, by the national media.
Surely Ohio State thought about that ahead of time, and can speak to the culture within the program being able to restrain Wilson’s worst impulses.
Last year Alabama won a national championship behind an offense led by Lane Kiffin, a coach who’s reputation and magnetism toward the spotlight rivals that of a Kardashian. Now, the Tide will attempt to defend their title with Steve Sarkisian calling plays, a coach who lost his dream job at USC just a season ago for alcoholism. To compete at the highest level in college football, you need the highest caliber of coaches. Oftentimes, those coaches are accompanied by baggage.
We still don’t know the full details of Wilson’s demise at Indiana, and it should be noted that several of his former players have spoken out in defense of their former coach. Assuming that Ohio State did its due diligence in the interview process, and determined that Wilson’s transgressions were either correctable or innocuous enough, then this is a slam-dunk hire for the Buckeyes and well worth the risk.
By now, Ohio State fans should be very familiar with their new offensive coordinator’s work. Indiana never beat Ohio State under Wilson, but the Hoosiers were certainly one of the most difficult outs for the Buckeyes over the past six years.
In 2014, Indiana looked anything but a team that would eventually finish 1-7 in conference play when it visited Ohio Stadium. The Hoosiers gashed an Ohio State defense that included future first round picks Joey Bosa, Darron Lee and Eli Apple for 281 yards on the ground, giving the Buckeyes a serious scare before they pulled away in the fourth quarter. That same Ohio State defense would then turn around and stifle a trio of Heisman finalists in consecutive weeks en route to a national title.
The following season the Hoosiers gave the defending champs an even more significant scare, as the Buckeyes needed a herculean effort from Ezekiel Elliott to hold off an Indiana side playing with its backup quarterback and running back. Despite relying on pint-sized quarterback Zander Diamont - a player who seemed more suited for a soccer field in both stature and name - Wilson was still able to out-scheme another stout Ohio State defense.
Wilson initially cut his teeth as an offensive coordinator at Miami (OH) from 1992-1998, and then with Northwestern from 1991-2001. Those dynamic Wildcat offenses captured the imagination of none other than a young Urban Meyer, who borrowed heavily from Wilson - particularly studying the emerging concept of zone option reads - as he prepared to take his first head coaching job with Bowling Green job in 2001.
After his time in the Big Ten, Wilson rose to national prominence as an elite signal caller as an assistant under Bob Stoops at Oklahoma from 2002-2010. With the Sooners he oversaw some of the most potent attacks in the country, and coached a pair of Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks in Sam Bradford and Jason White. In 2008 Wilson was recognized as the top assistant coach in all of college football, after his unit averaged a nation’s-best 51.1 points per game.
Wilson will now arguably have more talent at his disposal than he had even on those elite Oklahoma offenses. The Buckeyes are set to return a 1,000 yard tailback in Mike Weber, in addition to four-fifths of an offensive line and almost every receiver. Granted, the offensive line wasn’t great against strong competition this year, and the receivers struggled to gain separation while running an elementary route tree. Meyer will look for his new hire to find corrections, and quickly.
This year Wilson tabbed J.T. Barrett as the best quarterback in the country, even though the Buckeye had thrown for just 93 yards against the Hoosiers earlier in the day. In truth, Barrett hasn’t looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the country since 2014, when he was honored as the Big Ten’s best signal caller under the tutelage of Herman. The Warinner - Beck experiment was a terrible one for Barrett, who developed poor habits as a passer and seemingly lost confidence as the season progressed. If Wilson can develop a scheme that accentuates Barrett’s abilities, then Ohio State will be a legitimate title contender next season.
It will be interesting to see how much ownership of the offense Meyer relents to Wilson, and how soon. It was reported that Meyer never settled on a primary play caller between Beck and Warinner in 2015, and it can be speculated that neither coach commanded authority of the offense the way Herman did beforehand. Wilson’s pedigree puts him in a position to mandate Meyer’s trust from day one, in a way that his most recent predecessors seemingly never did.
Buckeye Nation was looking for a silver lining after the embarrassment of the Fiesta Bowl. Meyer provided it by hiring Wilson.