COLUMBUS - St. John Arena, locked up. Dark. Impregnable yesterday.
A television reporter and his cameraman are in the parking lot trying to figure how to get inside. They're looking at the few cars parked outside the old arena.
The cameraman points to one car and says, “Isn't that Archie Griffin's car?” He then spots another and says “I think that's Pete Hagan's car. He's the business manager. Something must be up.”
The reporter quickly ducks into the TV station's van, and shoves a cell phone to his ear.
A half mile away sits the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, supposedly locked up. Dark. But there's a small, secluded door that opens. Deep inside, one of the big wooden double doors with a sign that says, “Football Personnel Only” is open. Access is unimpaired, but halls and coaches' offices are dark.
This is where Ohio State's search for a football coach is, too, unilluminated, uncertain.
A dark horse has to be the leading candidate. Someone like Oregon's Mike Bellotti, who reportedly visited the Woody Hayes Athletic Center with his wife yesterday, with Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger as tour guide.
Common sense would dictate that Bellotti has moved to the top of Geiger's wish list. Why else would he bring the Bellottis 2,000 miles? For a Blue Jackets game?
Whether Bellotti wants the job remains to be seen. He was courted by Southern Cal and Arizona State in December, but rebuffed both.
Anyway, the whole process is supposed to get serious, with a decision to be announced possibly today or tomorrow. As it is now, there are twice as many rumors as there are college football coaches, including assistants.
It's been two weeks since John Cooper was fired for winning too many games that didn't include Michigan and bowl teams.
Two recruiting weekends have been lost with all 10 recruits canceling scheduled visits here last weekend.
It has become obvious that the initial foursome of Minnesota coach Glen Mason, Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel, OSU assistant coach Fred Pagac and former Buckeye All-American Chris Spielman don't qualify.
Geiger says he wants to be absolutely sure he gets the right man. There's been more than ample time to do background checks on the initial four, all of whom would scrub Lane Avenue with a toothbrush on game day for the opportunity to coach the Buckeyes.
All have strong Ohio backgrounds, but they can now be considered as only backups.
If supposedly more distinguished candidates revoke their interest in the job, using the opportunity just to leverage their current situations, one of the backups could be re-evaluated.
Geiger appears ready to steer clear of any in-house or in-state hires. Cooper had no Ohio connections, one of the many things old-guard OSU alums held against him from the start. But it never affected his recruiting.
There will never be a “right man,” especially if Ohio State hires another Pac-10 coach, such as Bellotti, whose program is on the rise much as ASU's was under Cooper.
The delay in replacing Coop could also mean that there's a difference of opinion among those serving on the search committee.
It's also possible that Geiger wants to bring in a coach who isn't going to be as caught up in the obsession that is Michigan and can treat it as just another big game instead of an Armageddon.
Isn't it ironic that one of the things that stimulated the OSU search committee that chose Cooper in 1987 was his 1986 Rose Bowl win over Michigan when he coached at Arizona State?
Until yesterday, the pick here was Mason. Now it's Bellotti, who fits the unofficial profile as the best available coach, the someone from nowhere who would displace the early favorites from Ohio.
Dave Woolford is a Blade sports writer.
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