Fickell comfortable with new role.

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Last updated: 08/09/2012 2:37 AM

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Fickell Happy to Step Out of Spotlight

By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even Luke Fickell had to chuckle Tuesday when a reporter asked him if this fall felt more like last year or the ones previous.

Luke Fickell
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

“More like previous years,” he said with a perfect Luke Fickell smirk.

“It’s just a different feel, different perspective as a coach out there. All the years have been exciting; all the years have been fun. Different challenges for different times.”

What Fickell faced last season was a challenge unlike anything a coach has had to face at Ohio State since they began playing football back in the 1800’s.

A position coach and assistant coordinator with zero head-coaching experience, Fickell was thrust into the role of interim head coach with the Buckeyes after Jim Tressel was forced to resign in May.

The closest thing to it at Ohio State would likely be Earle Bruce, who spent one season as the head coach at the University of Tampa and five at Iowa State before he abruptly asked to replace Woody Hayes following the 1978 season.

Luke Fickell was OSU's Head Coach in last year's Gator Bowl
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

As a young coach with his star on the rise, Fickell had initially been tabbed only as the placeholder while Tressel served his five-game suspension to start the 2011 season. When suspension turned into expulsion, Fickell was charged with holding the program together; at least until they could find a long-term solution.

That solution turned out to be a two-time national champion from Ohio named Urban Meyer. When the Buckeyes approached Meyer about the job in November, one of the first things he did was sit down with Fickell.

It certainly wasn’t to learn anything about coaching. Fickell’s team had just endured the first losing season at Ohio State in nearly a quarter-century, but Meyer knew he needed to keep some continuity in the program. Especially with all the change he was about to bring.

“If you install a brand new defense, brand new offense and special teams, that takes time,” Meyer said recently.

Urban Meyer
Photo by Jim Davidson
Urban Meyer

“That’s why I’ve always kept the defensive coaches. Momentum is such a key in recruiting. Your fan base and momentum in your program, if you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.”

Indeed, Meyer did keep the defensive coach in place all three of his previous stops—Tim Beckman at Bowling Green, Kyle Whittingham at Utah and Charlie Strong at Florida. All three of them are now head coaches at major programs around the country.

In keeping Fickell, Meyer also gave Ohio State fans the best of both worlds. They now had one of the premier coaches in college football running their program, with the help of a life-long Buckeye who had steered the team through some choppy waters.

While part of him certainly enjoyed being the head coach at his alma mater, Fickell never seemed to embrace the spotlight that came with it. He looked uncertain of himself for most of the season, and became increasingly uncomfortable in front of the media.

Luke Fickell coaches up the Buckeyes in his new role as defensive coordinator.
Photo by Jim Davidson
Luke Fickell

“That’s why I went ahead and went on off,” Fickell said Tuesday, after he initially slipped past reporters who were interviewing offensive coordinator Tom Herman.

“Let Tom have them. I’m sure they’ve seen plenty of me and can probably recite what I’m going to say.”

Fickell still wants to be a head coach some day. He’s going to get that opportunity. The offers are likely to get better and better every year he turns them down, especially if he can return Ohio State’s defense to the level it had been at during his tenure as co-coordinator under Jim Heacock.

“We put those stats up in front of our guys the other day to say, this is what the expectation is here at Ohio State,” Fickell said.

“ ‘You came here for a reason.’ Here’s where we’ve been the last 10 years defensively, so that’s what you’re held to.”

Eventually, it would seem like Fickell is going to receive an offer he can’t refuse. It won’t be at Ohio State, at least not while Meyer is still ready and willing to coach the Buckeyes.

Until then, Fickell couldn’t happier about his current position as the team’s defensive coordinator, where he will get to work closely with the linebackers again.

“You have to find what’s exciting to you and what you have a passion for, and it’s coaching. This is what I love,” he said after Tuesday’s practice.

“I love being with the defense. I love being with the young guys. It doesn’t matter if you’re a head coach or assistant coach, being around young people has to be one of your passions.”

Fickell learned a hard lesson a year ago. It’s a lesson that made him all-too-willing to step back into the role of assistant coach, even though his name was being mentioned for a handful of head-coaching jobs around the Midwest.

“It’s getting back into the things you love to do. That’s the thing. Where’s your focus? You can switch sides of the ball or switch positions, but you have to focus yourself back to what you’re doing,” he said.

“If you worry about too many things outside of what you have control over, it’s very difficult. Whatever your job is, the ability to stay on task and do that is probably the key.

“That’s what I learned the most.”

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