Miami Trip will test Fickell

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Last updated: 09/16/2011 6:51 PM

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Football
Miami Trip Will Test Fickell’s Mettle
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jim Tressel lost his first road game.

So did John Cooper.

Even Woody Hayes only managed a tie the first time he went on the road as the head football coach at Ohio State.

None of them were under the same kind of pressure Luke Fickell faces Saturday when he leads the Buckeyes against a fired up Miami team in Sun Life Stadium.

Luke Fickell
Photo by Dan Harker
Luke Fickell

It’s not exactly one of the most intimidating places to play, and the Hurricanes have plenty of weaknesses—including a quarterback with propensity for turning the ball over at the most inopportune time.

It is a very winnable game for Ohio State, even without a number of key players who won’t be suiting up this weekend. It is also a very losable game. The Buckeyes are young.

They are playing a number of freshmen and sophomores on both sides of the ball this fall. They lost two of their better players—Nathan Williams and Philly Brown—to injuries and they have a quarterback with exactly two career starts under his belt.

Calling this a must win game for Fickell and his coaching staff hardly seems fair, but not much has been fair in Fickell’s first go-around as a head coach.

“We say all of them are big, and they are because that’s ultimately the end-all, be-all of what you’ve got to do,” Fickell said.

“We’ve still got to make sure we focus on getting better. This will be a great test for us to see if we are getting better, to see if we can rise to the occasion.”

That’s exactly what Fickell is trying to do.

The 38-year old with no head-coaching experience was hired under less-than desirable circumstances. Not only did he get the job in the middle of the off-season, but he is also taking over for one of the most beloved coaches in school history after Jim Tressel’s abrupt resignation back in May.

Fickell is working with a one-year contract. The sentiment is that Ohio State will look to clean house and bring in an entirely new coaching staff if the Buckeyes don’t win enough games to make them change their minds.

To Fickell’s credit he has said and done all the right things. He has not focused on what he doesn’t have—namely the full support of the University’s athletic department. Instead, he has forged ahead without excuses.

Like a true competitor, he has stood tall in the face of adversity—but this will be his biggest test yet.

“We try not to focus on this being a national game because of Miami and their great history and Ohio State’s great history,” Fickell said.

“We’re still making sure we understand it’s one game at a time, like we always say.”

But this is not just “another game” for Fickell and the Buckeyes. It can’t be. There is too much riding on it. Ohio State starts conference play in two weeks and things are only going to get harder. They get Michigan State at home and then comes a trip to Lincoln.

It’s possible that Fickell’s fate might very well be decided over the next month. That doesn’t sound fair, but like Tressel always said, that’s real.

This game is a chance for Fickell to show the nation what he’s made of. A chance for him to make a statement about this football team that words could never make. He wants to be a man of action and here’s his opportunity.

Since the dawn of time, players have decided football games, not coaches, but coaches are the ones paid millions of dollars to prepare those players for games like this. They are the ones who have to make the tough decisions at a moments notice and they are the ones who take the blame when things go wrong.

Jim Tressel learned that in his own way. No one is immune to the unforgiving pressures that come with coaching a program like Ohio State. There are plenty of excuses that could be made for the Buckeyes having a down year, but Fickell he wouldn’t accept any of them. He wanted this job, and now he’s got it.

What happens next is up to him.

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