Fickell talks Tressel, Taylor Swift, MMA octagons

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During the course of a rather impressive interview on the Dan Patrick Show in which he revealed the “interim” tag had been quietly lifted from his title — semantics, people; “At some point either during the season or after the season a decision will be made on who will be our coach going forward,” a school spokesperson told Marcus Hartman of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin— Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell also briefly addressed the reason behind a brief game of one-way “phone tag” with now-former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

And how he would fare in an MMA-style octagon against the other 11 coaches in the Big Ten.

As far as the former issue is concerned, Fickell noted during a press conference earlier this month — his first since taking over for Jim Tressel, who abruptly resigned on Memorial Day — that he had missed a call from Pryor shortly before the QB announced that he was leaving the school for the NFL’s supplemental draft.  When asked about that “miscommunication”, Fickle, by way of Scout.com, gave Patrick a very simple and very honest answer, one that millions upon millions of strapping American males have already used over the past couple of years.

“I was at the Taylor Swift concert so I didn’t have a chance to speak with him,” Fickell said, referring to the multiplatinum country music star who played at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus on June 7.

Of course, this begs the question: why you gotta be so mean, coach?  Those words, they’re like swords and knives and weapons that you use against him, although Fickell once again reiterated that “we wish [Pryor] the best of luck and that we’re going to encourage him when we do talk to him about getting back and finishing his education.”

After talking about his relationship with Tressel — the two have spoken since the resignation but not face-to-face — the next logical step when interviewing a Div. 1-A head coach was taken by the imitable Patrick.

When Patrick asked him who would emerge victorious if all 12 Big Ten football coaches were put in an octagon – the signature ring of the mixed-martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship – there was no hesitation in the Ohio State head coach.

“Me,” he said immediately.

Asked to clarify why, the former Ohio state champion wrestler at Columbus DeSales explained, “I just know my abilities and I’ve got confidence in what I do. Eighteen years of wrestling probably does help a little bit in my book, but, hey, you’ve got to have confidence in what you do, right?”

Of course, given Fickell’s background, he would and should have confidence in his abilities.  However, would it be a false and shortsighted bravado?

Let’s take a look at Fickell’s Big Ten coaching competition, in ascending order, from “no chance in hell” to “give Fickell a run for his money” to “teach the lil’ whippersnapper some manners, capice?”:

11.) Ron Zook, Illinois — He’d land the best trainers, nutritionists and ring managers in the country ahead of the main event, then trip and break his nose, an arm and two ribs during the first 30 seconds of the fight.

10.) Mark Dantonio, Michigan State — A heart condition last year places the wily and savvy veteran farther down on the list than he probably should be.

9.) Kevin Wilson, Indiana — Screaming “Hoosier daddy!!!” as he entered the octagon would do nothing but push Fickell into a psychotic rage.

8.) Kirk Ferentz, Iowa — Fickell has nearly 20 years on the Hawkeyes coach.  Back in the day, however, we get the feeling Ferentz would punch his opponent in the throat within nanoseconds of the bell ringing, gouge his eyes for a minute or two, then call it a day by two-fisted shooting Budweisers from atop the cage.

7.) Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern — If this were a real list, Coach Fitzgerald would be much higher.  Since it’s not, he’s stuck here.

6.) Brady Hoke, Michigan — He’s big, so this seemed to be a proper rough guesstimation of how he’d stack up against the other conference coaches.

5.) Danny Hope, Purdue — The mustache.  Enough said.

4.) Jerry Kill, Minnesota — Forget the glasses and eighth-grade-phys-ed-teacher look; the man’s surname is a verb that means “to deprive of life in any manner”.

3.) Bret Bielema, Wisconsin — Realistically, this would be Fickell’s toughest challenger based on size and pedigree; however, the Badgers’ head coach recently became engaged, which means — based on my own personal experience — his testosterone levels are at all-time lows.

2.) Bo Pelini, Nebraska — You’ve seen him on the sidelines, right?  Now, put him in a cage where only one person could walk out a winner.

1.) Joe Paterno, Penn State — Two words: he taught Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer — and ninjas — everything they know…

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

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Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.

The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days.  Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs.  The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.

According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000.  That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.

“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”

Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs.  This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008.  They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.

With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.

“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.

SMU graduate assistant GJ Kinne to call plays in Frisco Bowl

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New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes has been busy assembling his staff as he prepares to jump right in the saddle to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but he will have one holdover from the previous staff to help call the shots on offense. Graduate assistant GJ Kinne will call the offensive plays for the bowl game, according to Adam Grosbard of The Dallas Morning News.

This would seem to be the most logical choice for Dykes to make in this scenario. Kinne has been working in the SMU system all season long under former head coach Chad Morris, who has moved to Arkansas with a handful of assistants. Having the most experience with the current roster and a better comfort level makes sense to have Kinne take on this responsibility so close to the bowl game. This will be a major promotion for Kinne, the former Tulsa quarterback, even if just for one game.

I certainly trust G.J. It’s going to be fun to give him an opportunity to be highly involved and it’ll be one of those things he remembers for the rest of his life,” Dykes said of the decision to have Kinne calling the offense from above. “When you’re a GA and you get to call a bowl game, it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”

Just how smoothly this all goes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, if things go awry, Kinne and Dykes can always just resort to going back to a chuck-it-deep mentality and see what happens.

SMU faces Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20.

Pitt loses second QB to transfer in as many days

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi may have been signed to a contract extension recently, but the Panthers are quickly getting shallow at the quarterback spot on the depth chart for 2018. For the second time in as many days, Pitt is losing a quarterback to a transfer.

Ben DiNucci is the most recent of the two to announce his decision to leave the program. Though DiNucci did not say where he is heading next, he did say in a brief message on Twitter he will be enrolling in January. He will have two years of eligibility to use, although he would have to sit out the 2018 season if he transfers to another FBS program. He would be eligible to play right away if he transfers to a lower division football program. A report from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests the latter will be the case, with James Madison and Towson the two leading candidates to add DiNucci.

DiNucci was Pittsburgh’s leading passer this season with 1,091 yards and five touchdowns, although he was used mostly as a backup for Max Browne until Browne was injured after appearing in six games. DiNucci also added 126 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, which came in Week 2 against Penn State.

DiNucci’s announcement comes just one day after Thomas MacVittie announced his own decision to leave the Panthers behind. The redshirt freshman did not appear in any games this season and was passed over on the depth chart by freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett now becomes the top option in the passing game for the Panthers heading into the spring, unless Pitt happens to add a transfer to the mix.

Pitt will have another scholarship quarterback on the way in 2018 with the addition of incoming freshman Nick Patti out of New Jersey. Patti is not expected to be enrolling early, so he will not be around in the spring.