Jim Tressel's resignation as Ohio State's coach means one of the most coveted jobs in college sports is now available.
To be fair, we don't know what type of program the next coach will inherit after the NCAA gets done with the Buckeyes. But even without Tressel, Ohio State has the pieces in place to compete for the national championship.
Assistant Luke Fickell will serve as Ohio State's interim coach throughout the 2011 season before a formal search of both external and internal candidates takes place.
Colleague Bruce Feldman has examined who might be on Ohio State's list when it looks for a long-term solution. He identifies seven candidates:
1. Urban Meyer: This would be the grand slam hire for Ohio State, given Meyer's pedigree, track record and age. Meyer grew up in Ohio, graduated from the University of Cincinnati and was a graduate assistant for the Buckeyes in 1986-87. He stepped down at Florida after the 2010 season and is now spending more time with his family and doing TV for ESPN. In the book Meyer wrote in 2008, he said that Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan were the only coaching jobs his wife had no power to veto.
2. Bo Pelini: The fiery former Buckeyes safety grew up in the football hotbed of Youngstown. He got his coaching start as a graduate assistant under Hayden Fry at Iowa and then spent a decade in the NFL. Pelini is one of the sharpest defensive minds in college football. Other defensive coaches are very impressed by the system he runs. In three seasons since taking over the Nebraska program, he has restored much of the power to the Huskers brand, leading them to a 30-12 mark that includes back-to-back 10-win seasons.
3. Gary Patterson: The 51-year-old Patterson has elevated TCU to a legit big-time program by winning an eye-catching 66 games in the past six years. No head man working in the college game is more driven than the Kansas native. He is very hands-on, running practice and developing his players into a tough, physical, disciplined team. His style would play well in Columbus.
4. Jon Gruden: I know this guy is a natural on TV talking football, but at some point you'd think he'd be tempted to try out all the scheme studying he's been doing at the college level. Gruden spent hundreds of hours going to school on Chip Kelly's system and several others. I suspect it would be quite a lab for him. My hunch is that Gruden, whose charisma is off the charts, would be the ultimate closer as a recruiter. In terms of fit, there aren't many college jobs that have the luster Ohio State does.
5. Mark Dantonio: Seeing as how Dantonio is a Tressel protégé, it's very possible that this might be too awkward of a move for either party. But you can't dismiss Dantonio's credentials. He was the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator when OSU won the BCS title. He did a nice job in his first shot as a head coach at Cincinnati and has Michigan State on the upswing. In 2010, he led the Spartans to an 11-2 season and a share of the Big Ten title.
6. Mark Stoops: If there's a Stoops that would fit at this point for Ohio State, I suspect it would be Mark, not Bob, whom I doubt would ever leave OU for another college job knowing the setup he has in Norman (elite program, history, great boss). Mark, the FSU defensive coordinator, is a product of Youngstown and played defensive back at Iowa in the late 1980s. He was a high school coach in Ohio and has gone on to coach in every time zone in the country. Stoops actually coached against and lost to the Buckeyes in the BCS title game while he was defensive backs coach at Miami.
7. Gary Pinkel: Like many guys on this list, Pinkel is an Ohio guy. He was born in Akron, played at Kent State (where he roomed with Steelers legend Jack Lambert) and spent a decade winning a lot of football games at Toledo. Since leaving the MAC, he has done a very nice job as head coach of the Missouri Tigers and has won 40 games in the past four seasons. Is there much more realistically he can do for Tigers football? Then again, does OSU -- which will be dealing with the fallout of the end of the Tressel era and NCAA sanctions for a while -- want to hand the keys to a coach who just turned 59?
It's an interesting list.
Meyer is an extremely intriguing choice, given his credentials, his Ohio roots and the fact that he isn't coaching a team right now. His health issues might be a concern, but Feldman is right: Meyer would be a home run hire.
Patterson is another interesting name. His defensive style certainly would resonate with Buckeye Nation. But would he leave a very comfortable situation at TCU for a new region and a job that brings incredible pressure?
Pelini and Dantonio also could draw interest from Ohio State because of their ties to the school and to the state. Both men still must prove they can win on a truly national level, but both are defensive-minded coaches who could thrive in Columbus.
I would add Bob Stoops to my list of candidates. Sure, he's got a great gig at Oklahoma, but Ohio State would be foolish not to at least gauge interest from one of the game's most successful coaches, not to mention a guy with local ties.
Although Fickell certainly could help his cause for the permanent job by steadying the ship this season, Ohio State must conduct a true national search. Anything less would be a disservice to the Buckeyes football brand. If Fickell emerges as the best choice, fine, but Ohio State has to conduct a thorough search process.