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SportsMonday Column: Hiring Urban Meyer would be healthy for The Game

Carlos Osorio/AP
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell may have lost his only shot at Michigan in this year's version of The Game. Buy this photo

By Tim Rohan, Daily Sports Editor
Published November 27, 2011

All season, Ohio State football coach Luke Fickell wore that same look on his face — eyes wide and glazed. You couldn’t tell if he was about to cry or had already started.

Fickell looked that way when he was thrust into the spotlight in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days in August, when he said he didn’t know he was going to have to answer questions. He was a deer caught in the headlights of Ohio State’s drama.

On Saturday, his voice was strong but the expression on his face gave himself away. After his team slipped up too many times and lost to Michigan, 40-34, it was clear Fickell wasn’t long for the Ohio State job.

“Like I said, it’s about the Ohio State-Michigan (game),” said Fickell, wearing his signature look.

“It’s been about that since Sunday,” he added, pounding the table in frustration. It’s a rivalry that prompts table pounding.

Fickell didn’t know if he’d be coaching his players in a bowl game.

“Whether that’s the situation, those things will be determined by people beyond me, probably,” Fickell said.

Reportedly, those people have already determined that former Florida coach Urban Meyer will become Brady Hoke’s next nemesis in The Game. By Tuesday, Meyer should be at the Ohio State-Duke basketball game in Columbus, where he’ll probably follow Jim Tressel’s and Hoke’s lead and declare: That is the most important game on the schedule.

Then Meyer will smile, the band will play and everyone will be too drunk on the thought of Braxton Miller running Meyer’s spread offense to question the hire.

You know what Brady Hoke’s reaction should be? Bring it on.

For Michigan to reach new heights, it needs a strong and healthy rivalry with Ohio State.

You don’t want the Buckeyes to be hit with sanctions. You don’t want to see them suffer as much as Michigan has the past three seasons. You want Michigan’s most hated rival to be larger than life, so Michigan is larger than life — so The Game regains its lore.

The Game is more than just Ohio State dominating Michigan, as recent memory portrays. It’s about two schools that have been playing each other for nearly 110 years and how they will forever be tied to one another. Forever, they will define one another.

Always waiting at the end of the season, Ohio State serves as Michigan’s measuring stick. If the Buckeyes are down, what height would the Wolverines shoot for?

Now, Brady Hoke will define himself by how he competes against Urban Meyer. In recruiting. In The Game. In everything.

During the “10-year war” from 1969 to 1978, when Bo Schembechler did battle with his former coach Woody Hayes, the two of them hated each other on the field and were friends off it.

“Your whole life is based around one game,” said Michigan historian John U. Bacon in a HBO documentary on The Game.

“Your whole life is devoted to one purpose and that’s to beat the other guy. Who else in the world could understand you?”

Schembechler held a 5-4-1 advantage during the “War,” but the competitiveness of Bo and Woody’s teams are what catapulted the rivalry.

While writing the Schembechler’s autobiography, Bacon asked Bo 14 months before he died, if he had one more week at the height of his powers as Michigan’s coach, what would he wish for? Without hesitation, Bo said he’d want just one more week to prepare to play Woody Hayes’s Buckeyes in The Game.

The second coming of the 10-year war could start Monday, when Meyer is expected to be announced as the next Buckeye coach. Fickell will be a blip on the radar.

We’re moving out of the decade-long “Tressel era,” where the man with wire-rimmed glasses, clean gray haircut and signature vest was unbeatable. Lloyd Carr’s seat got hotter with each loss in The Game, and a third-straight embarrassing loss appeared to be the final straw in Rich Rodriguez’s termination.

In the dawn of a new era, Hoke is here to stay, having become the first coach since Fielding H. Yost to win 10 games in his first season as coach in 1901.

Braxton Miller’s here to stay, too.

The smooth-running, cool customer slashed Michigan’s defense for 100 rushing yards. He came advertised as a poor man’s Denard Robinson with a worse arm, yet the true freshman nearly made enough plays to knock off the favored Wolverines.

Had he hit just one of the four deep passes he overthrew, Ohio State could’ve won the game. DeVier Posey running free with less than two minutes left should haunt Ohio State for a while.

“He’s got a bright future,” Fickell said of Miller. “But what you can’t teach is that passion and that desire to be a competitor. In games like this, you look at, ‘Did he throw the ball well? Or did he do something else well?’ Or do you just look at somebody and say they’re a competitor?”

Miller will be under the watchful eye of a man who made Tim Tebow look like more than just a running quarterback. Meyer’s offensive scheme has worked wherever he’s been, and you can picture the marquee now: The tough blue-collar defense of Brady Hoke’s Michigan Wolverines versus Urban Meyer’s greatest-show-on-turf offense.

Brady and Urban. Urban and Brady. Two Ohioans forever tied to The Game, just like Bo and Woody.

Before he exits stage left, at least Fickell leaves us with this pearl of wisdom: “That’s what sports are about, you get knocked down and you get back up.”

Before Woody, Ohio State was known as “the graveyard of coaches,” for ushering out five different head coaches in 11 years.

At 6-6, with sanctions looming, Ohio State is down again. Hoke should extend a helping hand — help Meyer stand and then put up his dukes.

Because knocking down Ohio State when they’re standing tall and proud — on top of the world — will go far in proving just how powerful Michigan really is.

—Rohan can be reached at trohan@umich.edu or on Twitter @TimRohan


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