Ohio State football: 2011 Buckeyes had to deal with major distractions, too

Tim May
Former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel during the third quarter of the NCAA football game at Ohio Stadium. [Photo by Jonathan Quilter]

A football program in tumult. A new coach in charge. Questions abounding.

As it pertains to Ohio State in the wake of Urban Meyer being placed on paid administrative leave as an inquiry begins into what and when he knew of allegations of domestic abuse brought by the ex-wife of former assistant coach Zach Smith? Yes, that, too.

But back in 2011, the Buckeyes were dealing with another upheaval as preseason camp approached. Ten-year coach Jim Tressel had been forced to resign two months earlier primarily because of not being forthright with an NCAA investigation. Luke Fickell had been named interim head coach, the longtime assistant’s first head coaching job. Fickell was 37 then; OSU’s current acting OSU head coach, Ryan Day is 39.

“As players, we really didn’t know much about what was going on in the situation with coach Tressel,” said Zach Boren, who played fullback for Tressel for three seasons and one year under Meyer, in 2012. “It kind of has that same feeling now. We really won’t know much about what’s happening with coach Meyer until all the facts come out. … So we shouldn’t make assumptions about anything.”

>>Read more: Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer put on paid administrative lead

One obvious assumption, though, is it will be a major distraction for OSU players when preseason camp begins Friday, headed toward the Sept. 1 opener against Oregon State. Having gone through a similar situation, Boren offered a different perspective.

“Players are so highly trained, and we play at Ohio State — you constantly have distractions,” Boren said. “From fans emailing you and stuff, to ESPN talking bad about you, even local radio and what their opinions are. You learn to deal with those things.”

Boren also cited Meyer’s staff, including football performance coordinator Mickey Marotti, as stabilizing forces.

“Those guys are going to be going around like it’s normal, everyday stuff,” Boren said.

>>Read more: Ryan Day to act as interim coach

That’s what the 2011 staff focused on, too, said Jim Heacock, then the defensive coordinator.

“The important thing is the players, and making sure they are given every opportunity to be successful,” Heacock said. “That was the main thought we had, to try keep things going in the right direction and do what we could for them.”

For the coaches, especially the younger ones on the staff, there might have been uncertain thoughts about their future, but Heacock was coming up on retirement age, so that was never an issue with him. He added that the subject didn’t come up in staff meetings.

“You just try to do the best job you can and do what you can to give the players the best opportunity to win games,” he said.

The big difference between in the situations was in 2011, Ohio State, in the midst of an NCAA investigation, also went into the start of the season without several of its top players who had been suspended for various numbers of games, and without quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who applied for a supplemental NFL draft rather than face continued NCAA scrutiny. That team slumped to 6-7, including a loss to Florida in the Gator Bowl, the first losing season for OSU since 1988.

It’s key that the 2018 team is intact, Boren said.

“If anything, I think what’s happened will motivate them even more,” he said. “Not that they need any more motivation, based on the talent they have. But I think what’s going on now is going to bring the team closer together. The real leaders will have to step up earlier than normal, and I think that does a big favor for this team.”


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