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Column: Parker Fleming still being employed by Ohio State is coaching malpractice

The Buckeyes are actively hamstringing themselves on the recruiting front by holding onto their dead weight special teams coordinator.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 08 Rutgers at Ohio State Photo by Adam Lacy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I can’t believe I have to write this on Dec. 13, now 18 full days removed from Ohio State’s third-straight loss to its biggest rival in the only game of the year that it absolutely has to win, but the fact that Parker Fleming has not yet been fired is a glaring reflection of Ryan Day’s shortcomings as a program builder, as a staff builder and as a decision maker.

I’m sure Fleming is a great dude, and by all accounts he is very well-liked within the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That doesn’t exempt him from being terrible at his job, as the Buckeyes’ special teams unit has been one of the worst in the country over the past two seasons under Fleming’s watch. Day cannot afford to be Mr. Nice Guy as the functional GM of Ohio State football, one of the largest brands in the entirety of the sport. It is time to cut the rope.

There is absolutely no reason to have a full-time special teams coach at this level — for more reasons than one. The first and most obvious is that if you are going to do this, your special teams unit should be among the best in the nation, which Ohio State’s is abhorrently not. The Buckeyes repeatedly made incredibly frustrating and correctible mistakes in both the kicking and punting game, resulting in avoidable penalties and bad field position — See: the Michigan game.

Secondly, it is resulting in a lopsided coaching staff that is leaving Ohio State behind the eight-ball when it matters most. Because you are wasting one of your 11 full-time coaching spots (including the head coach) on special teams, that means you can now only have four coaches on one side of the football. Effectively, Ohio State has been playing with six offensive coaches (including Day) and only four defensive coaches. As a result of Fleming’s position, it has left the Buckeyes without a full-time linebackers coach. Would you like to guess which defensive position has been the biggest problem against the Wolverines of late?

What makes this staff alignment even more frustrating is that the obvious candidate for the full-time linebackers spot is already in the building, as James Laurinaitis was added as a graduate assistant prior to this season. It would certainly help out the position if a former two-time team captain, three-time All-American, Butkus and Bronko Nagurski winner and the all-time leading tackler for the St. Louis Rams could assist with linebacker play on game day, but it appears Ryan Day is happy to watch his team collect procedural special teams penalties, miss field goal attempts and fail fake punts instead.

You may be saying, “Well, Gene. They’re waiting until after the bowl game to make any changes to the staff.” That may be true! However, I'm going to tell you why that is incredibly stupid and an easy cop-out for Day to drag his feet on doing what needs to be done.

As a graduate assistant, Laurinaitis is unable to make in-home visits with recruits. He can be in contact with them and he can meet with them when they are on campus, but he cannot go on the road as a recruiter, where he would likely kill it as a successful former player and charismatic human. No disrespect to Morrow Evans, who I'm sure is a great player, but Fleming making in-home visits to Ohio State’s long snapper commit in 2024 doesn’t quite have the same effect as Laurinaitis being able to go out and flip Kyngstonn Viliamu-Asa — the No. 6 LB and No. 67 overall player in the country — from Notre Dame.

The early signing period opens on Dec. 20, nine days before Ohio State is set to take on Missouri in the Cotton Bowl. Keeping Fleming on staff obviously does not improve anything about your game day preparations. In fact, it probably makes your special teams unit actively worse. On top of that, it is limiting your ability to go out and recruit impact players at a massive position of need, which will become even more in need with Tommy Eichenberg not returning next season. If you plan on making this coaching change — which, to be clear, is non-negotiable and must happen this offseason — you should have done it weeks ago.

While this is the most necessary coaching change Ryan Day must make this offseason, there are also other big decisions that have to be made, yet Day has shown no indication he will be willing to make them. Ohio State should probably go out and get a real quarterbacks coach to take some of the workload off its head coach’s plate, as the nepotism hire of Corey Dennis by Urban Meyer has proven ineffective. Day should also make changes to his strength and conditioning program, where Mickey Marotti’s outdated methods are negatively impacting both performance and injuries, as well as taking a long hard look at whether or not Larry Johnson is still the guy he once was as both a developer of talent on the defensive line and as a recruiter.

To be clear, while these other changes are maybe not as obvious or clear-cut as the Fleming firing and subsequent Laurinaitis hiring, they are still incredibly important to the Buckeyes’ success moving forward. Running it back next season with this same group of coaches who have failed in the biggest moments for two-straight years is not going to magically fix itself in 2024. The longer the Parker Fleming saga goes on, the less and less confidence I have in Ryan Day to make the necessary changes and return his program to national title contention in the years to come.