Fickell Ready to Build on Tressel’s Foundation
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It is the job no one wants. Replacing a coaching legend who left the game at the height of his career in the midst of controversy.
And yet, no one seems better suited for the responsibility of succeeding Jim Tressel at Ohio State than interim head coach Luke Fickell.
Interim Head Coach Luke Fickell
Just 37 years of age, Fickell has never been a head football coach. In fact, he’s never truly been a coordinator. His official title at Ohio State last season was co-defensive coordinator, but he worked under Jim Heacock, who has served as the Buckeyes’ defensive coordinator since 2005.
Fickell was promoted to assistant head coach after Darrell Hazell took the head coaching job at Kent State. Suddenly he has been thrust into the national spotlight as the interim head coach at one of the most high profile football programs in the country.
“I know that any one of our coaches could be thrust into this situation, and I promise you that this place would be successful and we wouldn't miss a beat for a couple of reasons,” Fickell said back in March, when he was announced as the interim coach for what, at the time, was only a 5-game suspension for Tressel.
“(First) because of the foundation that has been set here. I'm talking about the foundation from a hundred years ago, but more importantly I'm talking about the foundation over the past 10 years that Coach Tressel has set here.”
For 10 years, Tressel wasn’t just a part of Ohio State football, he was Ohio State football. Having taken over for a largely unpopular coach (primarily because of his inability to beat Michigan) in John Cooper, Tressel gained instantaneous credibility with the fan base when he announced, “I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor.”
Tressel made everyone proud to be a Buckeye.
Interim Head Coach Luke Fickell
He won a national championship, beat Michigan an unprecedented nine times in a 10-year span and had a better winning percentage (82.8) than legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes (76.1). Like Woody, Tressel leaves in a state of turmoil, but that doesn’t change the enormous shoes he left to fill on the sidelines of Ohio Stadium.
“This place is not about one person. It's not about Coach Tress. It's not about whoever's going to be wearing the headset on Saturday afternoon,” said Fickell, who has coached as an assistant under Tressel for the past nine seasons.
“It's much bigger than that, and we always know that. Ohio State football never has been and never will be about just one person in particular.”
Right now, however, it’s all about Luke Fickell.
A native of Columbus, Fickell played his high school football at Columbus DeSales before signing to play with the Buckeyes under Cooper in 1992. After redshirting his first season in Columbus, Fickell became a standout nose guard on some of the most talented defenses in school history.
He started a school-record 50-straight games at nose guard from 1993-96, playing alongside the likes of Mike Vrabel, Matt Finkes and Andy Katzenmoyer. The Buckeyes were 41-8-1 during that stretch with two Big Ten championships and a memorable Rose Bowl win over Arizona State.
“I know that being my alma mater, the Ohio State University is something I can truly tell you that I know love and respect with all of my heart,” said Fickell, who finished his career with 212 total tackles, including 26 tackles-for-loss and six sacks.
“And it's something that has been a part of me since I can't remember when. And that's something that I'm really truly proud of.”
Fickell is Buckeye in every sense of the word. After being hired as a graduate assistant under Cooper in 1999, he spent two brief seasons coaching the defensive line at the University of Akron, but quickly returned to Columbus when Tressel needed a special teams coach in 2002.
Last season he was named Assistant Coach of the Year by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA), but Fickell has always been destined to be a head coach. He passed up a number of opportunities to coach elsewhere, including a job at Notre Dame to stick with the Buckeyes because he believes in Ohio State and he believes in the foundation that Tressel built in Columbus over the past decade.
“It's the people, the kids, the young adults that we have in this program. They are dedicated and determined to do everything they can for this school, this football program and our leader,” Fickell said back in March.
“It's about Ohio State football, and most importantly it's going to be about these 2011 Buckeyes. I know we stress as coaches all the time in our rooms and in our staff meetings, that we tell our kids that we know we'll go so much further as a team when nobody cares who gets the credit.”
If Fickell can find a way to win, especially without five of his top players for the first five games of the season, someone is going to have to take the credit.
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