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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 08/24/2011 0:11 AM
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Football
Buckeyes Operating Smoothly Despite New Head Coach
By John Porentas

Fall camp is in full swing at Ohio State, and in many ways, it is business as usual. Players are sharpening skills, learning schemes, and competing for playing time. It is an intense day of football every day.

It is much the same for coaches. They are teaching, planning, and evaluating talent. For them, it is 24-hour football just as much as it is for the players. It's the way it has always been in fall camp, and this year's camp is the same for the OSU staff, with one glaring exception.

Gone is the man who led fall camp for the last 10 years, Jim Tressel. The task of organizing camp, setting the tone for camp, and molding not only the team into a cohesive unit, but the coaching staff as well, has fallen on the shoulders of new head coach Luke Fickell.

A change of head coaches is almost always accompanied by changes in how things are done. Sometimes those changes are rather radical and require a period of adjuctment by both players and assistant coaches. As expected Fickell has made changes. Reporters were taken by suprise last week when no score was kept in the Jersey Scrimmage and there is no longer a "Winner's Manual" in use by the players. What Fickell does not appear to have done is make wholesale changes in the way camp has run. There is still an air of familiarity to it, both to the casual observer and almost certainly for the participants.

The lack of change in how things are done is important for the stability , but just as important is is the fact that the coaching staff is essentially unchanged. Only two new faces are on the staff, those of Stan Drayton, a Tressel hire, and Mike Vrabel. For the most part the players know what to expect from their position coach and what is expected of them. For the coaches, they know how the other members of the staff will react and interact.

It a rarity that rarely occurs after a coaching change, and can only be a positive for this season's edition of the Buckeye football team, especially in a season when so many new faces will be in the two-deep. Perhaps the biggest positve is that there will be no guess-work for the staff as to how they relate to the new head coach as they go about the task of preparing this year's team.

"I've known Luke a long, long time now. I coached him," said defensive line coach and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

"It hasn't been a problem by any means.

"It's been fun. It's nice to go in that office and get after it, lock horns a little bit, come out of it in the end and say 'Here we go, this is what we're doing, lets get good at it.' He's doing a great job."

That kind of openess and comfort can only be created by familiarity. The coaching staff - and by extension the team - will be better off for it. Though there are two new faces on the staff, one of them is Vrabel, who was not only Fickell's teammate at Ohio State, but is also his brother in law, so familiarity is no problem there. As for Drayton, he understands the value of a long-standing staff, and is working hard to be a smooth-fitting part despite his newness.

"Anytime you have a chance to be a part of a staff that has been at a place so long and have a chance to work for a coach like Fickell who has played here and is from this area and lives it, breathes it, believes it, it's unbelievable," Drayton said.

"My job is to be aligned with the program and I'm excited about that.

"He's moving this program forward on effort, toughness and turnovers. I'm excited about that and our kids are buying into it."

Fickell has succeeded in making the change at the top of the coaching staff one that has not disrupted the staff dynamic that was in place. Coaches on both sides of the ball feel comfortable with his leadership and their ability to communicate with the head man, including approaching him with suggestions.

"If he ever asks me I will, but have you seen the guy?" said running backs coach Dick Tressel, tongue firmly in cheek. "The guy is 6-4, 250, I'm not telling him anything," Tressel joked.

Tressel lauded Fickell's openess, but the fact remains that the head coach is now a defensive guy, while the previous head coach was an offensive guy who paid more attention to that side of the ball. That is the one part of the change that has in some way changed the dynamic of the coaching staff.

"The offensive staff feels a greater sense of responsibility," said Treassel.

"Everybody has to really be on top of their game, do your part, and really communicate well is the big thing for us right now.

"We don't have that head coach coming in and challenging us in various areas, so we're challenging ourselves and I think that's a good thing for this offensive crew.

"I think that will make us coach a little bit harder."

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