It has been nearly 24 hours since the close and tough defeat to USC, and I have been thinking about the lack of offensive production by Ohio State. Ohio State was only able to generate 256 yards of total offense. So far this season, Ohio State has routinely had to settle for field goals while in the red zone, has struggled on short yardage plays, and Terrelle Pryor has seemingly developed little as a passer from last season when he was a freshman. One of the frustrations is Ohio State has developed a reputation for having an inconsistent offensive identity, and that comes back to Jim Tressel solely and completely.
One of the very first thoughts I had about this game regarding Jim Tressel was how Tressel would have to address the lack of offense. While Ohio State offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Jim Bollman is a convenient scapegoat for Ohio State (and we will get to Bollman later, I promise), the reality is Jim Tressel is Ohio State's offensive coordinator. Tressel takes a play suggestion from Bollman and either agrees with it, or suggests something altogether different. Either way, all of Ohio State's offensive strategies go entirely through Jim Tressel.
I do not want to turn this into a "bash Jim Tressel" article. Considering the success Ohio State has had since Jim Tressel was hired in January 2001, it would be foolish to do so. Ohio State is fortunate to have Jim Tressel leading the program. Let me repeat that statement - Ohio State is fortunate to have Jim Tressel leading the program.
Any Ohio State fan who has followed the program since Jim Tressel knows that Tressel prefers a strong running game that can chew up the clock and a low-risk passing offense led by a quarterback who is more of a game manager but has mobility (think of Craig Krenzel, Troy Smith, and now Pryor). Tressel's stated goals on numerous occasions is to have at least 400 yards of offense, with over 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing. Ideally, a balanced attack.
Reflecting on when Jim Tressel was hired back in 2001 made me think of the other candidates who were strongly considered for the head coaching position when it was open after John Cooper's firing. Men such as Glen Mason, who was a finalist along with Tressel. Walt Harris, who was at the time the head coach of Pittsburgh but never interviewed.
I do not want to turn this into a political article either, but I started thinking about a book by noted presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin entitled Team Of Rivals: The Political Genius Of Abraham Lincoln. The book discusses how Lincoln had three of his political rivals in his Cabinet as political advisers.
What if - and I know this is a long shot - what if Jim Tressel could swallow his pride and assemble his own team of rivals at Ohio State to help him with the offense? Let me give you an idea as to what I am thinking.
Glen Mason served with Jim Tressel from 1983-1985 (Tressel was the QB, RB, and WR coach) under Earle Bruce as the offensive coordinator. While as the head coach at Kent State, Kansas, and Minnesota, Mason's teams developed a reputation for being able to run the football consistently. Mason is currently an analyst for The Big Ten Network.
It had to be terribly humbling and beyond disappointing for Glen Mason to lose out on the Ohio State job to Jim Tressel back in 2001. Mason is an Ohio State alumnus, played for Woody Hayes, and was a former assistant at Ohio State longer than Tressel was. Ohio State was his dream job when it became open back in 2001.
To the best of my knowledge, Mason and Tressel are on good terms. Mason served as an honorary captain for Ohio State in last year's Minnesota game.
Tressel could hire Mason as offensive coordinator, and Keith Uecker could become the new offensive line coach. Both would be able to infuse an emphasis on the power running game that Tressel prefers. Uecker is a former NFL lineman who is currently serving as the offensive quality control coach. Jim Bollman could take a break from being the poster boy for Ohio State fan abuse.
Let me bring up Walt Harris. Harris has no connection professionally with either Jim Tressel or Glen Mason (as far as I believe), but all Ohio State fans can recall Harris' contributions to Ohio State football in 1995 and 1996. Harris was not the offensive coordinator for Ohio State at this time; Joe Hollis was. Harris' contributions came from his previous jobs (such as QB coach for the NFL's New York Jets in 1993 and 1994) that resulted in Ohio State developing a prolific passing attack, led by QB Bobby Hoying, WR Terry Glenn, and TE Rickey Dudley. Harris is currently the Passing Game Coordinator and QB Coach for The University Of Akron.
One of the selling points made to Terrelle Pryor was the belief that Ohio State could develop him into a NFL-caliber quarterback. Considering that Jim Tressel has had only Craig Krenzel (5th round in 2004 NFL Draft) and Troy Smith (5th round in 2007 NFL Draft) selected in his tenure, it would not be so bad to have a coach like Walt Harris on the staff - Harris has coached 14 quarterbacks who have gone on to the NFL, among them Bobby Hoying.
Harris could do wonders for Terrelle Pryor's mechanics and footwork in the pocket. Having someone like Walt Harris on the staff could actually be a recruiting selling point to up and coming high school quarterbacks around the country. Tressel could emphasize the importance of game management, which is his quarterbacking commandment, but Harris could work on developing a pro-style passing attack to compliment the power running game led by new offensive coordinator Glen Mason.
How I can envision this working is similar to what I wrote up above - Tressel could still have the headset, and could still overrule Glen Mason if he strongly disagrees with the play call. I could never envision a time when Jim Tressel would not have his involvement in the offense. I do believe it could become a system similar to what Penn State is currently doing with Galen Hall as the offensive coordinator for Joe Paterno, or Florida State is doing with Jimbo Fisher for Bobby Bowden.
You can laugh, scoff, and say that it will never happen and could never happen. Just remember this - Ohio State's athletic director is Gene Smith, a former Notre Dame football player and coach. While Smith has given Jim Tressel free reign with the football program, Smith knows and hears what the fans, and probably powerful alumni, are saying about the lack of Ohio State offense under Jim Tressel. Who knows if Gene Smith isn't strongly suggesting some changes this coming off-season to Jim Tressel?
If I was Jim Tressel, I'd pick up the phone to Glen Mason and Walt Harris and ask them to come back to Columbus. Both know their way around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. What to do in the meantime? Maybe read a good book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on working with old rivals towards a common goal.