COLUMBUS — The last time Luke Fickell wasn't pacing the sidelines for the Buckeyes, Steve Bellisari was quarterbacking Ohio State to a three-point loss to South Carolina in the 2002 Outback Bowl in Jim Tressel's first season as the head coach in the Scarlet and Gray.
Needless to say, with Fickell off to Cincinnati and a program all his own, things are going to be a bit different in Columbus.
While the exact nature of Ohio State's defensive coaching responsibilities has not been entirely revealed, head coach Urban Meyer wasted no time in replacing Fickell's linebacker duties by hiring Billy Davis in late December.
Davis spent the 2016 season as a defensive analyst for the Buckeyes, and was the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles the three seasons before that. He has spent the majority of his coaching years in the NFL, but Fickell has no doubt the linebacker position is in good hands with Davis.
"Billy’s going to do a great job," Fickell said recently. "Billy’s been around all year. He’s had an ability to get to know those guys. He’s seen our culture, he’s seen how we do things. It’s not like he’s new to the game, obviously, with all of the years and experience."
The biggest question that Davis is going to face is recruiting. With his only college coaching experience coming as a graduate assistant in 1991, those questions will not go away until he proves his ability to sell Ohio State in an effective way.
Here again, Fickell has no concerns, and for a couple of reasons.
"The only thing that Bill’s gonna have the toughest time – not tough time – just adapting, is recruiting," he said. "And what is recruiting? Recruiting is just socialization. At Ohio State, recruiting is not nearly as tough because look at what you have to sell. It’s like being a Porsche dealer or something. It’s not like you’re peddling. The people that are walking onto that lot are guys that are looking for the elite, the top of the line. So just the ability of the little bit of difference in that. Otherwise, football-wise, he’s going to fit in great."
Davis also has a couple of other things going for him. One, he spent the last season around the players, even if it was in a role that wasn't necessarily on the field coaching. They know him. The second thing that Davis has going for him is that he gets to coach a pretty good group of players.
Luke Fickell may not be standing next to Urban Meyer on the sidelines in 2017, but he is confident that he has left his players in very good hands--and he's also confident that he left the new hand with some very good players.
"The ability to get to know those guys
and build the trust, to have that year around them and with them, or
that six months around them and with them, it makes an incredible
transition," Fickell said. "And you’re walking into a group of kids that
are unbelievable, and I don’t just mean that as football players, I
mean that as people, and understanding that they’re going to accept
somebody in and teach them some of their ways."