Fickell Eludes Questions about NCAA, Berry and His Future
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Gene Smith sitting in the back of the room, Luke Fickell found himself in an awkward situation Tuesday.
With his contract set to expire on Jan. 31, 2012, Ohio State’s non-interim interim head coach did not even look in the direction of his boss when asked about his future in Columbus.
“We're focused on what we need to do day in, day out, week in, week out. Those are all things that will take care of themselves someday,” he said Tuesday during his weekly press luncheon.
“If we waste our time worrying about something like that, we're not giving it all to those young men, this team, this program.”
Fickell has been a part of this program since his first year as a player back in 1992. The program has been part of him ever since. A graduate of Columbus DeSales High School, Fickell became a standout on the Buckeyes defense in the mid 1990s.
He started 50 consecutive games as a nose guard for coach John Cooper and eventually returned to his alma Mater to coach under Jim Tressel. Both Cooper and Tressel—the last two head coaches at Ohio State—were unceremoniously let go by the University. A similar fate may await Fickell following his first season at the helm.
After being dragged through the mud all during the off-season, the Buckeyes are off to a 4-3 start, their worst since 2001. That happened to be Tressel’s first season as head coach after taking over for Cooper in January.
There was never a guarantee Fickell would be retained by Ohio State regardless of his record this season. If that was ever a question, it is simply stated in his contract.
“This agreement is renewable solely upon an offer from Ohio State and an acceptance by coach,” the contract stipulates in section 2.0 under Term.
“This agreement in no way grants coach a claim to tenure in employment.”
Gene Smith never changed his demeanor in the back of the room during this line of questioning. He also apparently never outlined exactly why Fickell would have to do in order to keep his job beyond this season.
“My wife tells me all the time what she wants to see from me. That's all I have to worry about,” Fickell joked.
“Again, it's day-to-day. My focus is those men, this program, this team. Everything else will take care of itself.”
That includes the looming NCAA sanctions, which were initially scheduled to be released this month. The additional violations committed by Boom Herron, DeVier Posey and the others who attended the Bobby DiGeronimo charity event have since pushed that back.
The timing of that announcement could come at a bad time for the Buckeyes, who are trying to get back in the Big Ten title race, but that’s not something Fickell and his players are going to worry about.
“We're going to continue to focus on the things we can control. Those things are out of our control,” Fickell said.
“We have not been given any insight. I don't know that it would change the way we prepare, the way we attack the things we're doing. Probably not something that is a thought in our minds.”
Jaamal Berry Status in Question
For the second time this season, Jaamal Berry’s status is in question for Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin because of an altercation on campus.
According to a report from the Columbus Police Department, Berry has been named a suspect in an alleged assault that occurred Friday morning on Ohio State’s campus.
The redshirt sophomore tailback was allegedly involved in an incident that occurred at 2:20 a.m. Friday morning where he punched two victims in the face on Vine Street behind the North Market.
“We're looking into it and we take this very seriously,” Fickell said Tuesday.
“There's nothing we don't think about that's much more important in this entire group than how we represent this team.”
This is the second time Berry’s name has been linked to a violent altercation on campus. It was three weeks ago that a disoriented Berry landed in the hospital after “wrestling” with another student on campus.
“I tell you this, I know we represent in everything we do something much bigger than ourselves, that's coaches, players. Nothing goes unseen,” Fickell said.
“Wherever we are, on the field, off the field, we represent a group much larger than ourselves. Everyone on the team understands that. We take that very seriously.
Don't be mistaken that we aren't looking into it and we're taking it very seriously.”
Fickell would not comment directly about Berry’s status for the weekend. He has not yet been charged with a crime, but it sounds unlikely he will play against the Badgers.
“Obviously it's something that's ongoing,” Fickell said.
“Believe me, we have to let things take its course.”
When they do, it’s possible Berry’s days with the Buckeyes could be numbered.
He has carried the ball only three times for five yards this season, but is second on the team in kick returns behind Jordan Hall. He has seven for 150 yards this year (an average of 21.4 per return), but could be replaced by Chris Fields on the kick return team Saturday.
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