DiGeronimo with Munch

By Bruce Hooley

Bob DiGeronimo, the disassociated Ohio State booster at the center of the “failure to monitor” charge the NCAA levied against the school on Thursday, says OSU athletic director Gene Smith is lying in an attempt to save his job.

“I understand when people are trying to save their jobs that they’re going to say and do certain things,” DiGeronimo said in an interview with Mark “Munch” Bishop on Cleveland’s ESPN 1540 WKNR2. “But to out and out lie, those things are a little hurtful to me, you know?”

DiGeronimo said Smith never contacted him by telephone  in 2006 to reduce the booster’s involvement with OSU’s coaches or players.

“Gene Smith told reporters last night that he called me in 2006 and told me certain things,” DiGeronimo said. “…that never happened…it’s a bald-faced lie.”

DiGeronimo said the first time he spoke to Smith was upon meeting him during a lunch with former Ohio State coach John Cooper in 2008.

DiGeronimo said OSU’s assertion in its response to the NCAA that he hid in a locker in an attempt to overhear a pregame speech by then-coach Jim Tressel in 2001 or 2002 is not true.

DiGeronimo also said OSU did not attempt to remove him from the team’s sideline in 2003, as it contends to the NCAA.

“I was on the sideline until 2006,” DiGeronimo said. “So, I mean, for them to say that something happened and I was escorted out of there, like, wow.”

DiGeronimo admitted to being involved in OSU players receiving cash in violation of NCAA rules at charity event he helped organize in Februrary, but maintained that Smith is using him as a scapegoat in an attempt to save his job.

“I’m not going to let somebody slander me, whether it be Gene Smith or anybody else,” DiGeronimo said. “I just can’t let them get away with that.”

Hear the entire DiGeronimo interview on Cleveland’s ESPN 1540 WKNR2 at www.espncleveland.com

 

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Showing Some Grit

By: Emmett Golden

Here we are Buckeye fans. After starting 0-2 in the Big Ten OSU is three wins away from a Leaders division title. With all of the distraction that took place during the off-season as well as during the season this very young team has shown it has some grit.

The opening stretch against the heavy weights of their division is over. The remaining three games are against the wounded ducks of the Big Ten. Purdue has struggled for most of the year and when we looked at the schedule at the start of the year just about everyone thought this would be a win.

Next week Penn State comes to Columbus. You want to talk about distractions. I do not know how anyone on the team can focus on football. They can say that they are but who are they kidding? In the midst of the biggest controversy in sports history, I find it hard to imagine that they will win anymore games this year.

The Buckeyes finish the season at “that school up north”. That will be their biggest challenge of the final three weeks. I know the Buckeye fans wouldn’t have that any other way.

With the road to the first ever Big Ten Championship game laid out right in front of them, which OSU team will show up during this stretch? Will the mentally tough team that battled for the entire Wisconsin game show up or will the team that took the field last week against Indiana sneak on the field?

I will be honest with you. I never thought Ohio State would be where they are right now and I don’t think they did either. This team has shown that when they are disrespected and forgotten, they rise to the occasion.  They also showed that they peak in the local and national news papers and take their foot off the gas thinking that they can just show up and get a win.

If Luke Fickell and the gang want to make a statement about the quality of Ohio State football there should be a sense of urgency on Saturday. The last thing they can afford to do is play from behind. If Fickell can keep this team focused, he just might be laying the foundation of his legacy.

The Luke Fickell Dilemma

By Bruce Hooley

The more Ohio State wins, the worse it gets for OSU athletic director Gene Smith.

Three weeks ago, Smith kept an appropriately sad face while the Buckeyes’ football team blew a 21-second half lead at Nebraska in falling to 0-2 in the Big Ten and 3-3 overall.

Games against unbeaten Illinois on the road and unbeaten Wisconsin in Columbus awaited.

Smith, if competent at all, (debatable, given the last 10 months) was working the phones communicating through back channels with search firms, agents and friends of possible successors for Luke Fickell as OSU’s head coach.

If not Urban Meyer, then Chris Petersen and Gary Patterson had to grab Smith’s attention. Second-tier candidates like Kevin Sumlin, Mel Tucker and Mike Riley also looked better than Fickell, who appeared en route to a photo finish for even a Lil Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl berth.

But a mildly-surprising win at Illinois and a borderline-shocking win over Wisconsin now has OSU on track for a 9-3 finish, a possible berth in inaugural Big Ten title game and maybe a trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.

So Gene Smith squirms.

He’ll have a decision to make soon on whether to sign Fickell for 2012 and beyond or fire the former Buckeye player and long-time assistant coach to name Meyer or someone else as OSU’s next coach. A season of five or six losses would have made Smith’s decision easy. But a winning streak of six or seven games to end the regular season, and a berth in or even a victory at a BCS bowl, puts the pressure on Smith no matter what he decides.

Fickell will engender enormous good will should he right the Buckeyes after numerous suspensions and off-field distractions dominated the headlines throughout the preseason and the first month. He comes off as genuine, as a young guy working hard to hold onto his dream job. Everyone can identify with that and embrace it, so Fickell is an easy guy to root for.

Smith hasn’t made many, or perhaps even any, good decisions since the tattoo scandal surfaced in December. He’s stonewalled or come off as clueless at every turn. Given his abysmal job performance, it’s hard to believe he’ll make a smart decision on anything of consequence.

The decision here centers on whether Fickell is OSU’s best chance to achieve its potential as a football program over the next 5-to-10 years. Coaches with proven track records have answered that question, although coaching at Ohio State is a unique job with singular challenges unlike most places.

Meyer, as a former OSU assistant, wouldn’t be awed by the challenge. Petersen, Patterson and just about everyone else would get their eyes opened by the provincial nature of life in the Buckeye meat grinder. That’s not to say they couldn’t do the job, or that they aren’t better-prepared than Fickell. But rest assured, it would be an eye-opener for most guys given the way OSU zealots cannibalize their own.

Fickell was clearly over his skis in the losses at Miami and Nebraska, and my hunch is he’d still have that label if Braxton Miller’s Hail Mary had been intercepted before the clock struck midnight on Saturday. Right now, he hasn’t demonstrated nearly enough to take the training wheels off and give him the job permanently.

Meyer, if healthy, will always be the best long-term choice, provided his health is solid and his commitment firm. Introducing him in short order after the regular-season finale against Michigan loomed as the likeliest scenario until OSU’s current winning streak. But now, the more the Buckeyes win, the harder it gets for Smith to make any move until OSU plays its bowl game.

That will set Ohio State’s recruiting back at least a month until it names a new coach.

Even if that new coach is the coach who has the job right now.

 

Answers To Questions

By: Kenny Roda

I went into Halloween weekend with plenty of questions about both the Buckeyes and the Browns, and both teams gave me the answers I was looking for.

  • OHIO STATE

Yes the Buckeyes are making progress. In fact they are making a lot of progress.  After a 3-3 start, the Buckeyes have posted back-to-back wins over ranked opponents in Illinois on the road, and Wisconsin at home. Of the two most recent wins, the one over the Badgers this weekend really stands out.  This was a team that was ranked as high as 4th in the polls just two weeks ago. Wisconsin on paper has far more talent than Ohio State this year.  However, head coach Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes were not intimidated by Brett Bielema’s squad. Ohio State went toe-to-toe with the heavy weights from Madison in the first half and only trailed by 4.  Credit Fickell and the O.S.U. coaching staff for making some halftime adjustments and then the Buckeyes proceeded to come out of the locker room and put up 30 points in the final two quarters to post a thrilling 33-29 upset win over Wisconsin.  Ohio State ran the ball with ease and threw when they needed to.  Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller was the difference.  He ripped of TD runs of 1 and 44 yards, while also throwing the game winning touchdown pass of 40 yards with just :20 seconds remaining.  Miller’s toss was a thing of beauty, showing how much he has grown in the last 4 weeks.  He took the shotgun snap, side stepped a would be tackler, and then while running to his right, surveyed the field, located a wide open receiver in Devin Smith, then off of one foot while falling out of bounds, lofted a perfect pass to Smith in the end zone for the game winner.  Against Michigan State on October 1st what did he do in that late game situation?

Nothing, because he wasn’t even in the game.  He was benched for his ineffectiveness.  That’s how far Miller has come. From watching crunch time on the bench, to winning in crunch time and on prime time TV.  It also helps when you have senior running back Boom Herron to hand the ball of to 33 times for 160 yards, and a defense that held the vaunted Badgers running game to just 89 yards.  But make no mistake about it, the 33-29 win over Wisconsin was all about “Miller Time” and then celebration time. On Halloween weekend in Columbus, after that performance, it is indeed scary to think how good Braxton Miller can be, wearing the “Scarlet and Gray” over the next three years.

  • CLEVELAND BROWNS

They are who I thought they were, “Fools Gold!”  They can beat up on the cellar dwellers in the NFL: Miami, Indianapolis and Seattle. But look over matched against the plus.500 teams in the league in: San Francisco, Oakland, Cincinnati and Tennessee.  In fact, the Browns 3 wins have come against teams with a combined record of (2-20). They’ve beaten one team who has a win this season. The Browns 4 losses have come against teams with a combined record of (19-9).  Pat Shurmur continues to struggle as a 1st year head coach and offensive coordinator.  Shurmur’s offense through 7 games has been out scored 44-3 in the first stanza.  That’s right, the Browns have scored a total of 3 points all season long in the 1st quarter.  Quarterback Colt McCoy continues to struggle and regress at the most important position in sports.  Most of McCoy’s big passing numbers are being posted in the 4th quarter when teams are comfortably ahead, and play a softer defense to allow the opposition to use up clock.  I’ve had my questions about McCoy since Mike Holmgren drafted him, and now through 15 NFL starts (a 5-10 record), those questions still remain.  Will his size be a hindrance (6’1 supposedly)? Can his body (reportedly 215 pounds) withstand the punishment that an NFL starting QB takes on a weekly basis, especially in the rugged AFC North division?  Does he have the arm strength to throw it down the field and in the windy, cold weather that takes over Browns stadium in November and December?

So far the answers to those questions are Yes, Maybe and I Don’t Think So, and that’s not good.  While the defense has made some improvement over the last two years, with the additions of Joe Haden, T.J. Ward and Phil Taylor, it’s not enough to offset the continued poor performance of the offense.  So until there is better overall balance, a more powerful offense and better coaching, the Browns will continue to be “Fools Gold”.  A team that is good enough to beat teams that are worse than them, sneak out an upset win here or there, but when it is all said and done, be drafting in the top 10 every April.  And you die hard, passionate fans in Cleveland deserve far better than that!

A Scary Weekend

By: Kenny Roda

This is a very important weekend for football fans in the Buckeye state. Come Sunday night, about 8pm, we should have a better understanding about how good the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Browns really are. Arguably both teams are facing their toughest tests of the season.  Ohio State, hosting the 15th ranked Wisconsin Badgers and the Browns, playing a 1st place San Francisco team on the road.

Wisconsin Quarterback Russell Wilson

For the Buckeyes, this game will determine if they have been making progress through what has been a tumultuous season both on and off the field.  Also at stake, thanks to Michigan State’s remarkable comeback victory over the Badgers last week in East Lansing, is a chance for Ohio State to get back in the Leaders Division race for the right to play in the 1st ever Big Ten Championship game. A win over a ranked team would boost their confidence, and put them in control for the most part, to be the Leaders Division representative on December 3rd in Indianapolis. If the Buckeyes were to knock off the Badgers, and then win out, they would need Penn St. to lose one other Big Ten game to win the division.

For the Browns, a win on Sunday would be the squad’s first victory over a team with a winning record this year.  So far the opponents in the Browns three wins this season have a combined record of (2-17), because of that, it’s hard to tell whether Pat Shurmur’s team is a legit .500 team and getting better, or the beneficiary of a very week schedule with a bunch of back-up QB’s, and thus might be considered fools gold. Going out to the west coast and beating a (5-1) 49ers team would definitely prove that they are more than just a team who can beat the cellar dwellers in the NFL, that they are a team that is improving, and is headed in the right direction for this year and beyond.

Buckeyes Look To Regain Lost Respect

By: Emmett Golden

This Saturday’s game in Columbus against Wisconsin is a big one for the Buckeyes. It may be the biggest game of the season, even bigger than taking the trip up north at the end of the year.

This is an opportunity for Ohio State to regain it’s on field respectability.

Buckeyes Running Back Dan Herron

The Badgers come in licking their wounds after dropping a heart breaker to Michigan State. Many people (including myself) thought that Wisconsin would walk away with the Big Ten title this year.

After seeing them play MSU they don’t look as unbeatable as they did earlier this season.

I will say that no matter what Wisconsin will come to play. OSU head coach Luke Fickell feels the same way. “Just like any good program, good team, sometimes that wake up call burns that fire in your belly a little bit more,” Fickell said..

If the Buckeyes plan on beating the Badgers they will have to do it on the defensive side of the ball. With defense being coach Fickell’s strength you can bet he will/has studied the MSU vs. Wisconsin game film. On that film he will see the Badgers struggle with rush of MSU.

If the Buckeyes will have any chance of beating Wisconsin the cast of Sweat, Simon, Klein, and Howard will have to play the games of their college career.

The offensive side of the ball is a different story. They have to protect the ball and feed Dan Herron. Getting the senior running back going is the best and safest way for the Buckeyes to control the ball game.

If OSU can win Saturday night in front of a national audience that will help make the Buckeyes relevant again for their play on the field. It will help people move on from all the suspension talk, all the who will be the coach next year columns.

With their bowl game eligibility in the air, winning on Saturday will be just like winning a BCS bowl. Remember the players are kids. They haven’t had a chance to be “kids” all year.

So turn on the lights, tee up the ball and LET THEM PLAY!

News and Notes from Media Day

By Kenny Roda

Practice begins today for Thad Matta’s squad, which will be one of the youngest teams in college basketball this season with only (1) senior in William Buford and (1) junior in Evan Ravenel. There are (6) sophomores, (4) freshman and (1) transfer player who must sit out this year. Because of the youth, Thad Matta will rely on sophomores Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft to provide leadership along with Buford.

The four freshmen will all battle for some playing time, much like last year’s freshmen did. The “diaper dandies” are: 6-1, PG-Shannon Scott, 6-7, F-Sam Thompson, 6-11, C-Amir Williams and 6-8, C-Trey McDonald. A 5th freshman, 6-8, F LaQuinton Ross will not play for the team after the NCAA ruled he had not qualified academically. That’s somewhat of a blow to this class. Scott and Williams could see the most time of this group.

Jared Sullinger has dropped 20 pounds and 4% of body fat. Last season Sullinger played at 285 with 16.7% body fat. His playing weight to start practice today is 265 with just 12.1% body fat. He told me it has made him quicker and faster and will allow him to get up and down the court better.  One other area that Sullinger worked on a lot this off-season was his range.  He feels he’ll be able to step out further and shoot his jump shot with more confidence.

More Sullinger: When I asked him if last year’s 62-60 loss in the Sweet 16 to Kentucky has been, and still is being used as motivation for he and his teammates, he told me that he has a picture of Brandon Knight’s game winning shot up on his mirror in his bathroom so he sees it every day.  I’ll take that as a yes!  When I asked Thad Matta the same question, he said he’s going to focus more on the 34 wins from last year more so than the 1 loss.  But all of the returning players feel like Sullinger, it will continue to motivate them.

How’s this for a non-conference schedule? At Home: Florida, Valparaiso and Duke. On the Road: @Kansas and @South Carolina. Matta feels this will help get his team ready not only for Big Ten play, but also the NCAA tournament.

Thad Matta, who enters his 8th season as head coach for the Buckeyes has added two new members to his basketball staff, former Duke guard Greg Paulus and returning to his alma mater (class of 92), to run the offense, is former Cleveland Cavaliers assistant coach, Chris Jent.

Matta in 7 full seasons at O.S.U. has posted a winning percentage of .770, which is the highest in school history. He is 10 wins shy of 200 at O.S.U., posting a 190-57 record,

He has led the Buckeyes to 4 Big Ten regular season crowns, 3 Big Ten tournament titles, won the NIT title in 2008, 5 NCAA tournament appearances, 3 trips to the Sweet 16 and played for the National Championship in 2007.

Important dates: The Buckeyes tip off the 2011-12 season November 11th at home vs Wright State. Florida comes to Value City Arena on November 15th. The Duke Blue Devils visit “The Schott” on November 29th.  Ohio State plays at Kansas on December 10th and Big Ten play begins on December 28th at home vs Northwestern.

2011-12 Pre-Season Polls: Ohio State has been picked 4th in the A.P. poll and 5th in the Coaches poll.

ESPN 850 WKNR is your home for Ohio State basketball all season long.  So follow the Buckeyes with us, as we bring you the games, player and coaches’ interviews and news and notes when they happen. In case your wondering, the Final Four this year will take place at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, with the Championship Game slated for April 2nd.

Follow Kenny on Twitter @RoadmanWKNR

 

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