COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There will be no panic at Ohio State. This is business as usual for Urban Meyer.
Maybe the Ohio State coach won’t be able to hire somebody who can sell the program with as much passion and experience as Luke Fickell. Perhaps the timing isn’t quite ideal as the Buckeyes prepare for the College Football Playoff while one of their co-defensive coordinators multitasks to get his new house in order after being hired as head coach at Cincinnati. And there’s always the chance that at some point Meyer's hiring hot streak might come to an end.
But if ever there was a move that feels safe to rule an eventual win for everybody involved long before it’s actually fair to judge the outcome, Fickell’s departure to take over the Bearcats seems a sure bet.
That’s not at all to suggest Fickell won’t be missed, because he has clearly improved as a coach over the past five years under Meyer. A defense that certainly wasn’t living up to Ohio State standards even late in 2013 has developed into one of the most feared in the nation in the seasons since. And while Fickell hasn’t done that all by himself, he deserves plenty of credit, particularly in rebuilding the Buckeyes' linebacker corps.
But he’s ready to take over a program now after his uneven audition in the interim role in 2011, ahead of Meyer's arrival. Fickell has earned that right, and his background and familiarity in the state of Ohio make him a great fit just down the interstate from Columbus in the Queen City.
And for all that Fickell brought to the table, Meyer again gets to go out and flash the dynamic recruiting skills and eye for talent that don’t apply just to finding players. Every time he has needed to fill out his staff on the defensive side of the ball, Meyer has shown a remarkable knack for replacing proven coaches with perhaps the best possible candidate available -- in some cases because he has created a job market in which only he can shop.
Everett Withers walks out the door, and Chris Ash jumps at the opportunity to learn under Meyer and eventually become a head coach himself. Mike Vrabel heads to the NFL, and Larry Johnson, arguably the nation’s best defensive-line coach, finally leaves Penn State to come mold the Buckeyes. Ash lands his opportunity to take over a program, and Meyer swoops in and signs Greg Schiano to replace him.
That kind of reloading on a coaching staff isn’t easy, and there might still be some debate about how well the Buckeyes have done it offensively since losing Tom Herman following the national-title campaign two years ago. But again, the way the Buckeyes handled his exit in the midst of the playoff run offers yet another reminder that there’s no reason for them to sound the alarms before heading to the desert to take on No. 2 Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
Herman clearly was exhausted by the end of the month after being hired by Houston while simultaneously trying to get Cardale Jones up to speed to beat Alabama and Oregon. But when Herman was in the office, his attention was fully devoted to handling his business with the Buckeyes, continuing his relationships with his current players and making sure he was meeting the standard Meyer set out that helped Herman land his next job in the first place.
A grinder like Fickell won’t have any problem doing the same, and ties that go back to his playing days ensure that staying motivated to help his alma mater over the next month isn’t going to be an issue.
What happens after Fickell gets to Cincinnati or after Meyer extends a contract either to another rising star or to somebody already well established as a defensive guru remains to be seen.
But odds are that all parties are going to wind up with what they want, without ever needing to press a panic button.