With Urban Rumors Swirling, Fickell Still Holding Team Together
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Luke Fickell made it all the way to the last question in his postgame press conference Saturday before someone mentioned the name Urban Meyer.
Rumors surrounding the former Florida head coach and Ashtabula native have been swirling for weeks—or months, depending on who you talk to. What once was a quiet murmur has suddenly become a dull roar as the 2011 season comes a screeching to halt, with everyone trying to be out in front of Ohio State’s coaching search.
But Fickell insists he still isn’t listening to the background noise.
“If you don't turn the TV on, you don't listen, you don't pay attention to those things, you stay focused on your guys,” he said after his team’s 20-14 loss to Penn State.
“You give them everything you've got.”
The rumors took a dramatic turn this past week with erroneous reports that Meyer had signed, or at least agreed upon, a long-term deal to replace Fickell as the head coach at Ohio State.
Fickell may not have been aware of them—although it seems unlikely considering Meyer went on national television to dispel the rumors he had agreed to coach Ohio State—but his players aren’t oblivious to what is going on around them.
“You know how it is. It’s a media world now,” center Michael Brewster said Saturday after Ohio State’s fifth loss of the season.
“We read everything and hear everything that’s on Twitter and in the paper and on the news. We’re not dumb to what’s being said, but that’s not what we’re focused on. The (coaches) made sure to say, don’t worry about them, they’ll be fine.”
Fickell and his staff are working with a one-year deal that expires at the end of January. Based on the circumstances, it has hardly been a fair tryout for the 38-year old who is in his first year as a head coach at any level of football.
That alone deserves some sympathy, especially considering all the turmoil Fickell has had to endure since the forced resignation of former head coach Jim Tressel. Remember, Fickell was only supposed to coach this team in the first two games of the season while Tressel served his suspension.
“Put anybody in the situation he’s been in this year and it’s going to be tough,” Brewster said.
“A young team, guys suspended and I think he’s done a heck of a job. He’s had us out there fighting every day in practice, getting after it and working hard. I think the record doesn’t show, but if you were in the locker room, this team hasn’t pulled apart and I think he has a large part in that.”
On the field, the Buckeyes have gone a disappointing 6-5 in their first 11 games. They strung together a three-game winning streak in the middle of the year that included a big victory over Wisconsin back on Home Coming night.
However, they have dropped two of three since entering November with an outside chance at reaching the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game.
“It would be easy at this point to tear apart and point fingers, but I think coach Fick has done a great job of making sure that didn’t happen,” Brewster said.
“It’s amazing how this team has stuck together throughout everything, throughout the off season. That’s what I’ll remember most about this team.”
What most people will remember is how this team struggled offensively and blew fourth quarter leads. They will remember how this team showed up flat three weeks in a row after fighting their way back in the title hunt. They will remember all the mistakes the Buckeyes made on Senior Day in a 20-14 loss that was, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire season.
Defensive Coordinator Jim Heacock doesn’t think that it had anything to do with the rumors swirling about Urban Meyer and the future of this coaching staff.
“I don't think it has anything to do with this game from our standpoint,” said Heacock, who has been an assistant at Ohio State under three different head coaches dating back to the mid-1990’s.
“We prepared hard like we always have. We thought we had a good game plan. I thought that we would battle them more than we did in the first half.”
For the third straight week, the Buckeyes fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and had to battle back for the next three. Despite it being senior day against Penn State, the players looked drained from all of the adversity they have been through.
That included the rumors about their current coaches.
“We all heard the rumors. They were all out there, but we have two games left and we need to be focused for those two games,” fourth-year junior tight end Jake Stoneburner said.
“Whatever happens after the season happens. Coach Fickell is our coach right now, we’re playing hard as hell for him. We love him to death.”
One of the reasons Fickell is even in this position as a 38-year old with no head-coaching experience and no real experience as a coordinator is the fact that players love him. He has been one of Ohio State’s top recruiters for the last decade, but his players aren’t going to start feeling sorry for him now.
“I wouldn’t want to say yes because he wouldn’t want me to say yes,” Brewster responded when asked if he felt bad about the position Fickell has been put in.
“He isn’t that kind of guy. He doesn’t want pity. He’s a heck of a man and a leader and a fighter, and whatever happens to him, I know he’ll be fine. He is just a fighter like that.”
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