What If...Ohio State Had Hired Mike Bellotti
A week-long re-imagining of five events that shaped the last 20 years of Ohio State football
By Tony Gerdeman
Following the firing of John Cooper after the 2000 season, athletic director Andy Geiger set out on a nation-wide search of Ohio-centric coaches to take over the Ohio State football program.
He interviewed current Buckeye defensive coordinator Fred Pagac, linebacker great Chris Spielman, Minnesota head coach (and former OSU assistant) Glen Mason, and Youngstown State's Jim Tressel.
But he also brought in Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti. Bellotti was 49-22 in his six seasons with Ducks, and was just coming off of a 10-2 season and a Holiday Bowl win over the Texas Longhorns.
As we all know, Geiger eventually settled on Tressel, and the rest is trophy-laden history.
But what if he hadn't?
What if he went with Mike Bellotti instead?
The hard part for Geiger would be breaking the news to four guys who absolutely loved Ohio State.
So, to make things a little bit easier, he sent them each a form letter, addressed to "Applicant", thanking them for their interest, but advising them that Ohio State was going in a different direction.
"Not even a call back," Tressel would later tell reporters. "It left a lasting impression, let's just leave it at that."
Upon his introduction as Ohio State's new head coach, Bellotti admitted that he didn't know much about Buckeye history, but that he had heard of Woody Hayes and also that he knew who Chris Spielman was because he had met him in Geiger's waiting room prior to his interview.
Geiger would admit years later that he knew he made a mistake hiring Bellotti as soon as he did it. Unfortunately, he had already placed the rejection letters to the four other coaches in a corner mailbox on his way home from work.
Though he did consider the old stand-by of flooding the mailbox in order to destroy the letters.
But, surprisingly, Bellotti wasn't so terrible for his first few years. He would lose his first time against Michigan, but would get them the next two years.
The Buckeyes were actually pretty good, but they wouldn't win a conference title under Bellotti. They would sniff it at times, but would always drop a game or two they shouldn't during conference play.
Meanwhile, with Michigan losing the last two years against Ohio State, and Lloyd Carr losing his desire to recruit, he decides to retire.
The University of Michigan was in need of a new head coach.
Before they can even overpay for a search committee, UM athletic director Bill Martin gets a knock at his door.
It's Jim Tressel.
"I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick Ohio State's ass, and I'm all out of bubble gum," Tressel would say.
Late for a regatta, Martin says, "Sure, whatever, you're hired. Every coach gets one parking spot. It is metered, so bring plenty of quarters."
And from there, Jim Tressel became one giant step closer to destroying his sworn enemy, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
It turns out that following Geiger's rejection letter, Tressel dedicated his life to finding a way to gain revenge. The opportunity to coach at Michigan was too much to pass up, like when a supervillain finally decides to give in and become a bad guy. In fact, Tressel even had an evil lair, though that was pretty standard practice in Youngstown.
Tressel is introduced to the Michigan crowd during the halftime of a basketball game. He releases an obscenity-packed promise that Ohio State would pay for what they did to him. And even that "Ohio State's children would pay, only knowing lives as hunger-panged orphans, lapping up the black water of sorrow and misery."
It got pretty dark. They had to cut him off when it came time to start the second half.
After calming down, Tressel gets started right away, convincing five-star quarterback Chad Henne to stay with his verbal commitment and sign with the Wolverines. He signs a spunky little three-star tailback out of New York named Mike Hart. Telling people, "He may not look like it, but that's the man who's going to beat Ohio State four times for us."
Tressel also adds the nation's number one cornerback, Ted Ginn Jr., out of Cleveland Glenville. He ends up doing what Lloyd Carr could never do, turning Glenville into a Michigan pipeline.
Bellotti, meanwhile, is having a grand old time at Ohio State. He's improved the furniture in the football building. His office has brand new wood. He even had a giant 32" television installed.
And when he hears that Michigan hired Jim Tressel, he remarks, "Boy, they must be desperate."
Tressel sees the comment in the newspaper the next day. His fury is barely containable at this point.
He insists on practicing for Ohio State every week, to the detriment of the rest of his schedule. The Wolverines entered the 2004 game against Ohio State with a 5-5 record, because Tressel wasn't interested in scouting any other team but the Buckeyes.
His team defeats Ohio State 50-14 that year. When asked why he went for a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter, he replies, "Because I hate those %$&@!&%$."
The Buckeyes finish the season 4-7. Bellotti is fired. Geiger is searching for a new coach again.
His first call is to Jim Tressel.
"I want to apologize," Geiger tells him. "And I want to offer you the job."
And finally, Tressel is able to bring his scheme to full bloom.
"I appreciate the offer," he says, "but I'm building something here and I just couldn't look at myself in the mirror if I left these kids right now."
"I completely understand," Geiger says. "I just want us to leave on good terms."
"Absolutely, the best of terms," Tressel responds. Then adds, "You know, I have heard nothing but good things about Charlie Weis over in New England."
What If...Shawn Springs Never Slipped
What If...The Punt Never Hits Nate Clements
What If...Maurice Clarett Had Stayed Eligible
What If...Terrelle Pryor Had Chosen Michigan
Donate by Check :
1380 King Avenue
Columbus, Ohio 43212
Help us bring you more Buckeye coverage. Donate to the-Ozone.
Click here to email this the-Ozone feature to a friend...or even a foe.
(c) 2010 The O-Zone, O-Zone Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, rebroadcast,rewritten, or redistributed.