Putting the odd in oddity: OSU’s Coach of the Year drought

Former Ohio State Head Coach Earle Bruce Photo Courtesy: Robert Kozloff/Associated Press

Former Ohio State Head Coach Earle Bruce
Photo Courtesy: Robert Kozloff/Associated Press

Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio is 2013’s B1G Coach of the Year. Is there a problem with that? Not at all.

The Spartans were so lightly regarded that it took a 7-1 start just to finally crack the Associated Press poll on October 27th. What they ended up being is an 11-1 B1G title game participant with the best total defense (237.7 yds/game) and rushing defense (64.8 yds/game) in the country. It sounds like Dantonio did a worthy job to be named Coach of the Year, and I’m not writing this to discredit the outstanding job he’s done in East Lansing.

What is so confusing is that somehow the coach at Ohio State was passed over for this award for the 34th straight year. On the surface, that seems strange. The Buckeyes seem to be in the hunt for B1G titles more times than not, and we’ve all seen them play for national championships three times since 2002. When you dig a little deeper, though, this streak goes from strange to just downright mind boggling.

In 1979, Ohio State finished an 11-0 regular season before losing 17-16 in the Rose Bowl to Southern Cal. The Earle Bruce-led Buckeyes finished a game ahead of Purdue in the conference standings, and the first year coach won his first (and last) Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

From 1980-2001, Ohio State didn’t see the program’s greatest run of success, but they were far from an afterthought. OSU won six conference titles in that 22 year stretch, second only to Michigan’s 11, but only one of those was outright. That last statement ended up being a major key in why this streak even exists. Bruce and John Cooper were ousted by Iowa’s first Rose Bowl in 23 years, Purdue’s first time ever beating the power trio of OSU, Michigan and Notre Dame in one season, and Indiana’s rebound from 0-11 to 6-6 in two years.  Barry Alvarez took it for Wisconsin when he led the Badgers to their most successful season since 1962, Northwestern’s Gary Bartnett got his second straight and Alvarez won again in 1998.

All six of those seasons Ohio State finished with a better ranking, but the voters decided it’s not always about the wins, losses and rankings.

Those six failures are just the appetizer to the confusion of this run.

The Jim Tressel era brought incredible success on the field but no accolades for the coach. He won championships in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, yet Coaches of the Year came from Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Penn State, Iowa and Michigan State.

The key seasons: 2002, 2006, 2007.

Those three years Ohio State didn’t just win the Big Ten, they played for the national championship. In 2002, the 13th ranked Buckeyes climbed the rankings before upsetting Miami in the title game. That year they tied Iowa for the conference title, but the Hawkeyes’ 11 wins was a school record, earning Kirk Ferentz an Orange Bowl berth and Coach of the Year.

Then came 2006. Ohio State was the preseason No. 1 team in the country, and the Buckeyes held that spot until losing the national championship. OSU was outdone by another unlikely performance, though. Wisconsin’s Bret Bielema led the Badgers to a 12-1 record and a spot in the Capital One Bowl in his first year as the head coach, and going from preseason unranked to 7th was enough to keep Tressel on the sideline again.

A year later but the same old story in 2007. This time, though, the Coach of the Year had a head-to-head win against the Buckeyes. Illinois and Ron Zook beat Ohio State on their way to a 9-4 record and Rose Bowl berth. The record was also a seven game improvement on 2006’s 2-10 Illini. Back-to-back national appearances be damned, the surprise team struck once again.

There are four other seasons that haven’t been mentioned, but do they really need to be? The formula for Coach of the Year is laid out plain and simple, and the Buckeyes have been the unfortunate victim of it. More times than not it’s given to the coach who did more with less, especially if that team is experiencing success for the first time in a long time.

Is it some kind of conspiracy against Ohio State? Absolutely not. It’s a team favored to win championships, winning those championships and not being given an award because they did what they were supposed to do. The streak is unfortunate for the Buckeyes’ talented coaches, but such is life. Now, with Urban Meyer putting OSU in a position to dominate the B1G for the foreseeable future, I wouldn’t expect it to end any time soon.