Fickell Fuels ‘Us Against the World’ Mentality
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Bad news travels fast.
Especially when that news involves the startling resignation of a beloved and successful head football coach.
Reports that Jim Tressel had stepped down as the head coach at Ohio State back on May 30 hit his players like a sucker punch to the gut. After months of ongoing controversy, Tressel had finally succumbed to pressure from the university to part ways, leaving his players in a whirlwind.
With uncertainty around every turn, the players were thankful to learn that one of their own would be leading them through.
“I think it was very valuable for us to get coach (Luke Fickell) as our new head coach because he knows all of us so well,” redshirt junior Orhian Johnson said.
“He knows how we work, he knows our program and he’s a Buckeye himself. Who else would care more about the program?”
More than anything else, this team needed someone who would care.
They needed someone who would care that they were still reeling from the loss of a beloved head coach, someone who would care that the pain was still fresh, someone who would care about Ohio State and the tradition of being a Buckeye.
“It’s nice having him there and not someone coming from the outside and changing things,” fullback Zach Boren said.
“Him knowing the ropes is kind of nice. I think it made the team more relaxed. It gave us an attitude where we can keep doing the things we’ve been doing.”
What they have been doing for more than six years now is winning Big Ten championships. Last season’s title may have been vacated, but that doesn’t mean anyone has forgotten how Ohio State has beaten up on the rest of the conference for the better part of the last decade.
“I don’t think many people ever wanted us to win as many (championships) as we did, so it is what it is,” said Johnson, a returning starter at safety.
“The people that know us and are in the locker room are the only ones that really matter.”
Outside that locker room there is not a whole lot of love going around for Ohio State. There aren’t many tears being shed for a team that lost a head coach who lied to the NCAA and a star quarterback who accepted improper benefits.
If anything, it seems like the whole world is stacked against the Buckeyes heading into the 2011 season, but that’s something J.B. Shugarts and his teammates are used to.
“It’s us against the world. We're calling it ‘closed ranks,’” Ohio State’s right tackle said.
“Like coach Fickell said, ‘Change is inevitable but growth is optional.’ We have to grow as a team. We have great team unity and yeah, we are pissed off as a team. We want to come out and prove to people that we're Ohio State.
“We've overcome adversity before and we're going to do it again.”
Despite all their success on the field, the Buckeyes really did face their share of adversity over the past decade under Tressel. Whether it was losing back-to-back BCS National Championship games or being blown out by USC in 2008, Tressel always seemed to find a way to right the ship.
Now the ship will have to right itself following Tressel’s departure, but the players couldn’t ask for a better captain to lead them into the unknown.
“He’s the most passionate coach I’ve ever been around,” said senior Andrew Sweat, who learned under Fickell’s tutelage at linebacker the last three seasons.
“I would describe him as a players coach. He’s an intense guy on the field, but he does it in a way that’s constructive. He’ll teach you and he loves Ohio State. You can see that. He displays passion that I haven’t seen from any other coach.”
A big part of that ‘us against the world’ mentality trickles down from Fickell, who is well aware of the fact he could be replaced at the end of the 2011 season. Although the university removed the ‘interim’ tag from his title, Fickell’s tenure as the head coach of the Buckeyes could be brief.
“I feel like coach Fick is definitely in a great position for this year,” Johnson said.
“We don’t have any control over whether he’s going to be here next year or the year after, but he’s our coach this year and we’re ready to play for him.”
They may only get one shot, so they better make it count.
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