Bucks Adjust Well to Coaching Changes

Last year was a busy offseason for Ohio State's coaching staff. Some current coaches were given new responsibilities, and three new coaches were added to the staff. Today, we take a look back on the changes and how they affected the program.

Following the 2003 football season, there was a major turnover on Ohio State's coaching staff.

Let's take a look back on the changes, how they affected the Buckeyes this year, and how they will affect the program in the future.

* After just three seasons as OSU's defensive coordinator, Mark Dantonio was a hot commodity. It was clear he would leave at some point for a head coaching gig and when the University of Cincinnati came knocking and offered him a job, Dantonio accepted.

It was a good move for Dantonio, but it appeared to leave a huge hole on the coaching staff at OSU. Dantonio was given a lot of credit for the 2002 national championship season. He was a good game-planner, but more importantly, when things weren't going according to plan, Dantonio was the master of the halftime adjustments. Teams simply could not move the ball against Dantonio's defense in the second half.

It was pretty clear that head coach Jim Tressel was going to promote from within, but that didn't stop fans and media from speculating who the next defensive coordinator might be. Many believed Tressel should have given former OSU safety Bo Pelini a look. He was the defensive coordinator at Nebraska last year and even served as interim head coach for the Cornhuskers' Alamo Bowl victory over Michigan State last year.

However, Pelini was not interviewed for the position. As expected, Tressel promoted from within, and Mark Snyder was elevated from linebackers coach, to defensive coordinator.

Prior to the 2004 season, Snyder had just one season of experience as a defensive coordinator. He spent the 1996 season as Tressel's DC at Youngstown State (he was on the staff for six years, but only one season as the coordinator).

From 1997-2000, Snyder was a defensive assistant on Glen Mason's staff at Minnesota. He joined Tressel's first staff at OSU in 2001 as linebackers coach and did a fine job each year. In fact, it was often rumored that Snyder would be the man to take over if and when Dantonio took a head coaching job.

Snyder clearly had some growing pains this year, but like an athlete, he seemed to get better with each rep. The Buckeyes' defense definitely showed steady improvement throughout the season.

One of the complaints about Snyder's schemes this year was that he used soft zone coverages far too often. Ohio State's defense is nicknamed the Silver Bullets because they fly to the ball and play an aggressive style of defense.

However, in games such as the 33-27 overtime loss to Northwestern, the Buckeyes sat back and allowed short passes to be completed all night. Fans wondered if Snyder was in over his head. Instead of attacking the Wildcats, Snyder was allowing them to control the pace of the game.

The Buckeye defense actually played well the next week in the 24-13 loss to Wisconsin. Offensive turnovers were the key in that game.

However, the following week at Iowa, OSU was torched 33-7. It was a total team effort – the offense was anemic at best – but Snyder was again taking some heat for the poor play of the defense.

After the Iowa debacle, the Buckeyes finished the season strong defensively. Snyder was more aggressive in his play calling and the young defenders began to mature and play better.

The unit saved its best for last in the 37-21 win over Michigan. Ohio State gave up touchdowns on UM's first two drives of the game, but clamped down for the remainder of the game. It was a stellar defensive performance and suddenly Snyder was proving why Tressel was so confident in him.

Ohio State finished the regular season ranked 37th nationally in total defense (336.2 yards per game). The Buckeyes will be stacked defensively in 2005, so we will really get a chance to see what Snyder can do. Remember, Dantonio struggled a bit his first year in 2001. The following season, he was considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the land. Will Snyder follow a similar path? We shall see.

* The coach with the most tenure at OSU is defensive line coach Jim Heacock. He joined John Cooper's staff in 1996 as defensive tackles coach. In 2000, he began coaching the entire defensive line. When Jim Tressel took over in 2001, it was a no-brainer to keep Heacock around.

Heacock was the head coach at Illinois State from 1988-95 and posted a 16-14-2 record in his final three seasons.

He is a solid football coach and did a great job with OSU's defensive front each season. Therefore, prior to the 2004 season, Heacock was elevated to assistant head coach. No, it wasn't a big change. It was just a title more than anything. But it sent a message that Heacock was one of the top minds on the staff. Also, Heacock is not out there trying to chase head coaching jobs anymore. He has often said that he wants to retire a Buckeye.

* Another change in name only last offseason was the elevation of defensive backs coach Mel Tucker to co-defensive coordinator.

Tucker is one of the rising stars in the coaching business and the new title was probably necessary to keep him around. He didn't call the games this year – that job went to Snyder – but he was more active in the defensive game planning and continued to do a great job with OSU's secondary. The maturation of players like Ashton Youboty was no accident. Tucker, a former safety at Wisconsin, can coach up defensive backs with the best of them. It will be interesting to see how long he remains in Columbus.

* Luke Fickell was a fan-favorite when he was a four-year starter at nose guard for the Buckeyes from 1993-96.

Therefore, when Fickell was added to the coaching staff in 2002 as special teams coach, everyone was happy. Never mind that Fickell probably knew less about special teams than you, it was just good to have him on the staff.

OK, Fickell probably knew plenty about special teams, but everyone knew he was a defensive coach at heart (he did assist Heacock on the defensive line in 2002-03).

When Dantonio left for UC and Snyder was promoted, Fickell was moved to linebackers coach. He inherited arguably the best linebackers in the nation, so you can't give him too much credit for their success in 2004, but the players all rave about him and say he's a tremendous coach.

And like Tucker, Fickell is young and is a good recruiter. He could be at OSU for a very long time.

* Switching to the offensive side of the ball… Possibly the best addition to the staff was the hiring of wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell.

Hazell was an All-American wide receiver at Muskingum College (1982-85). After he graduated, he had coaching stops at Oberlin (running backs, then offensive coordinator), Eastern Illinois (running backs/receivers), Penn (running backs), Western Michigan (receivers), Army (receivers/tight ends), West Virginia (running backs) and Rutgers (receivers/assistant head coach).

In addition to tutoring the wide receivers at Ohio State, he was brought in to improve the kick and punt returns, which struggled in 2003. Mission accomplished.

Sure, Ted Ginn had a little something to do with it, but Hazell's influence cannot be underestimated. He brought a young receiving corps along, and turned OSU into one of the most dangerous kick and punt return teams in the nation.

Hazell is definitely future head coaching material. Like Tucker, it will be interesting to see how long he sticks in Columbus. Don't be surprised if Hazell has decent offers following the 2005 season. It just depends on what he's looking for. He could stay at OSU for many years, work his way up, then hope to find a head coaching job in 8-10 years or so. Or, he could be looking to land a head coaching gig as soon as possible.

* Bucknuts' own Bill Conley was one of the top recruiters in the country. He was an assistant at OSU for 18 years before resigning his post as recruiting coordinator/tight ends coach last spring.

Fortunately, Ohio State found another true Buckeye to replace him.

John Peterson has a long way to go before he matches Conley's skills as a recruiter, but he is one of the top young offensive line coaches in the country and might take over for current OL coach Jim Bollman one day.

A former offensive lineman at OSU (1987-90), Peterson spent five years as the offensive line coach at Miami University (1999-2003).

Following the 2003 season, he was hired as offensive line coach at Arizona under new head coach Mike Stoops. However, when Conley announced his decision to retire, Tressel wasted no time in stealing Peterson away from Arizona before he ever coached a game for the Wildcats.

Peterson is another young coach that has a bright future in the industry. With signing day nearly a month away, he will be under heavy scrutiny as OSU attempts to finish strong and land a good class. There might be some growing pains this year in recruiting (although it looks like the Bucks will land a top 10 class) but long term this was a good hire for OSU.

* Tim Spencer was one of the best running backs to play at OSU and did a fine job as the Buckeyes' running backs coach following his playing career.

Spencer was hired by Lovie Smith as the Chicago Bears' running backs coach following the 2003 season, leaving a big hole on OSU's staff.

When Tressel announced that his brother – Doc Tressel – was replacing Spencer, fans were puzzled by the move. They wondered: "How could an old guy relate to young running backs? Is this nothing more than nepotism?"

However, Doc Tressel is a good football coach and he is a good fit at OSU. He was the head coach of Division III Hamline University for 23 years, posting a 124-102-2 record. He was also named the D-III National Coach of the Year in 1984.

Tressel came to OSU in 2001 and spent three seasons as associate director of football operations.

This year, he did a decent job working with the backs. No, he didn't get any improvement out of Lydell Ross, but the other backs came along nicely.

The next few years will be crucial for Doc Tressel as he attempts to mold the next great running back at Ohio State. Could it be Antonio Pittman? Could it be Erik Haw? What about one of the incoming recruits? Whoever it is, it's Tressel's job to get the most out of them, and chances are good he will.

* One additional minor change was the elevation of quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels to passing game coordinator.

Daniels had served for three seasons as quarterbacks/receivers coach at OSU, but this year he was more active in the game-planning and play calling.

Daniels is a former NFL assistant coach. He was the receivers coach with the Cleveland Browns (1983-85) and the Buffalo Bills (1986-87). He also served as quarterbacks coach with the New York Jets (1990-91).

Daniels was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati before coming to Ohio State. He was the Bearcats' running backs coach in 1997, receivers coach in 1998-99, and was elevated to offensive coordinator/assistant head coach in 2000. While there, Daniels ran a spread attack.

This year at OSU, Daniels assisted in the evolution of the Buckeyes' offense. There were more spread formations and it was a more diversified offense all around. Daniels has excellent experience as an offensive coach and it's good to see that he's getting a chance to be more active in the play calling at OSU.

* Overall, Jim Tressel has constructed a very good staff at OSU. Remember the house analogy that he used when he was hired? Well, the house seems to be in pretty good shape.

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