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Established October 31, 1996
Front Page Columns and Features
Last updated: 07/05/2011 11:50 AM

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Heacock Not Threatened by New Boss
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — By all accounts, Jim Heacock would have had every right to be upset when Ohio State announced Luke Fickell as the new head football coach.

One of Jim Tressel’s top assistants for the past decade, Heacock has certainly put in his time. After coaching the OSU defensive line under John Cooper and then Tressel, Heacock took over as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator in 2005 and quickly became one of the most respected at his position in all of college football.

Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock
Photo by Dan Harker
Jim Heacock

The Buckeyes have also become one of the most feared defenses in the country under Heacock’s watch and he has been around the game long enough to warrant consideration for the head-coaching job at one of the most prestigious programs in the country.

Instead that job went to one of his subordinates.

Before taking over as the head coach of the Buckeyes following Tressel’s resignation, Fickell first played for and then coached under Heacock, but that has not created an uncomfortable dynamic.

"Is it going to be hard for me? No. It's not going to be hard at all for me," Heacock said.

"I am going to do the same thing I've always done. I am going to go out and really try and help Luke be successful and go out there and work as hard as we can and get in the mornings and stay late and do the things that it takes to help him be successful."

That has been Heacock’s role for the last 15 years. Although he served as the head coach at Illinois State from 1988-95, the 63-year old has relished his role as an assistant coach.

Working behind the scenes, Heacock has spent long hours breaking down film and coaching his defenses on sound technique and trusting each other.

Fickell’s promotion will allow Heacock to continue running the defense in the same capacity he has for the past six years, but he knows it has and always will be a group effort; one that will continue to include the new head coach.

“I think you know me well enough, I think all of us on defense, we have always taken this thing as a team concept,” Heacock said.

“We never had a 'this is the way we're going to do it' attitude.”

That doesn’t mean Heacock never had a disagreement with Fickell, who served as Ohio State’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator under Heacock since 2005.

“Luke and I unfortunately at times are a lot a like in that we're really competitive and we have had some knockdown drag outs,” Heacock said of his former player.

“But at the end of the day we were always together as a team and I think it was good for the defense.”

Considering Fickell’s age (37) and energy in recruiting, along with his aspirations of being a head coach, it only made sense for him to take the big job during this time of tribulation for Ohio State.

He already has the respect of his players and his coaches, who have not had a hard time calling him boss despite the fact he technically leapfrogged some of them to get to where he is now.

“Luke and I have been together for a long time and I've got a great deal of respect for him,” Heacock said.

“He is going to tell you what he believes and he is going to tell the players what he believes and I admire Luke. It has been great working with him.”

Their days of working together go back to the mid 1990’s when Fickell was a gritty nose tackle for the Buckeyes from 1993-96.

“He was down in the trenches and taking on double teams while Ryan Miller and (Greg) Bellisari and all those guys were making plays while he was beating up centers and guards,” said Heacock, who took over as Ohio State’s defensive line coach before Fickell’s senior season.

“I think anybody who was around the Rose Bowl knew that he played with a torn (pectoral) muscle, so he's got a little bit of toughness.”

That might actually be an understatement from Heacock considering Fickell set a school record by playing in 50 consecutive games on the defensive line. He was all about toughness back then as a player and he is all about today as a coach.

“When I think about Luke and the things he's going to bring to this program, one is his love for Ohio State and (the second is) toughness,” Heacock said.

“It's going to take mental toughness and physical toughness. When you hire a nose guard, I think the thing he brings to the table is teamwork.”

While egos typically go hand-in-hand with sports, especially one has high profile as college football, the Buckeyes know there is already enough stacked against them.

This team has no place for narcissism in the coaching room.

“We get along well,” Heacock said.

“It is a challenge, but I think our goal is to try and help him meet that challenge.”

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