Fickell Gets His Chance

When Luke Fickell was announced as the interim head coach while Jim Tressel served a five-game suspension to start the 2011 season, he made a point to mention that it remained Tressel's team. With Tressel no longer in the picture, Fickell must step into the spotlight and prove that he is the long-term man for the job.

When Ohio State said goodbye to the 2008 season, it also waved farewell to a celebrated class of seniors. With James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Malcolm Jenkins and others all having exhausted their eligibility, co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell had the chance to follow them out the door and nab another high-profile job.

Viewed as a rising star in the coaching profession, Fickell was fielding a number of serious overtures for open positions. Preeminent among them was a job as a defensive assistant at Notre Dame, where the former OSU lineman was widely pegged as the frontrunner. It would have reunited him with Jon Tenuta, a former OSU assistant who joined the Buckeyes for Fickell's senior season.

However, as the Buckeyes welcomed in the nation's top recruiting class on National Signing Day a little more than one month after the season ended, Fickell was standing in the hallway of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center telling a few reporters why he had opted to turn down the Fighting Irish and remain at his current position under head coach Jim Tressel and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

"It is what it is, and I'm excited," he said Feb. 4, 2009. "If you ever do make a change in your life I think the hardest thing is walking away from the people that you've got to know so well and the guys that you've counted on and hopefully they count on you. Someday if it ever happens it won't be easy, especially when you've got the kind of relationships that you do have."

Now those relationships have landed him the chance to take over the head job at his alma mater. Already named the interim head coach for the first five games of the season when Tressel's initial suspensions were announced, Fickell now steps into the head coaching job for the entirety of the 2011 season.

Bobby Carpenter, a second-team all-Big Ten linebacker during his senior season at OSU in 2005 who had Fickell as his position coach, said his former position coach paints a different portrait than the man he is replacing in at least one area.

"Luke's a defensive guy and Tress is an offensive guy," he told BSB. "Defensive guys are a little more intense and in your face. Tress is a little more cerebral and always looks at the big picture. He's very calculated with his approach Luke might be a little more no-nonsense and ‘it's my way or the highway' a little bit."

Former OSU offensive lineman and team captain Jim Cordle said that difference will likely be noticeable on the sidelines this fall in Ohio Stadium.

"They called him Senator (Tressel) for a reason," Cordle said. "They're definitely almost opposites in the way that they show their personality."

Asked if Fickell is more intense than Tressel, former OSU cornerback Donald Washington said, "No doubt. That's why he's the linebackers coach. (Ross Homan) could tell you – Coach Fickell is a very aggressive coach. He just knows how to get the most out of his players. It will be good for the team."

Said Homan: "He's so competitive. I can't think of a better guy for that program. Coach Fick is going to be great, great for Ohio State, especially for this year with everything they're going through. Everyone knows Coach Fick is a competitive guy, a hard worker and he'll get you there."

However, those differences might only be skin deep. A number of former Buckeyes contacted for this story pointed out that Tressel and Fickell share similar internal values regarding faith, family and community.

Those attributes helped the Buckeyes land Curtis Grant, the nation's top outside linebacker prospect according to Scout.com, on National Signing Day in February.

"He was one of those guys that cared about you more as a person instead of just a football player," Grant said after his commitment. "Every week, we would rarely talk about football. It was always about getting to know each other and how he was going to improve our relationship as far as two human beings if he was going to be my coach."

When the season is over, the university is currently planning to launch a coaching search expected to include both internal and external candidates. The first name mentioned by most OSU fans in recent weeks has been former Florida head coach Urban Meyer, now an analyst with ESPN.

Cordle said Fickell has a golden opportunity to lay permanent claim to the position.

"I'm sure personally he'll absolutely take it and say, ‘This is my chance to be the next permanent head coach at Ohio State," the lineman said. "Right now it's hard to be excited obviously but Luke Fickell is a guy that Buckeye Nation is going to be excited about.

"Obviously people would get excited if they brought in Urban Meyer but now that he's in the spotlight I think you'll see that and a lot of players will tell you that he's a guy you can be excited about."

Carpenter pointed out that landing the job on a permanent basis will not be easy, however. The Buckeyes will be without four key starters for the first five games due to suspensions while one of them – quarterback Terrelle Pryor – is reportedly being investigated by the NCAA and OSU.

In addition, he must replace a coach widely viewed as a legend among fans of the program.

"He's been put in probably one of the most difficult situations, so if he shows that he can handle it I definitely will back him until the end," Carpenter said. "He's a great guy and he knows exactly what to do with this program."

Now begins the task of showing it.


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