Fickell Faces Good Friend On Saturday

Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell only worked with Mark Dantonio on the OSU football coaching staff for two seasons but the pair have remained good friends since then. Now their teams will face each other for the first time since Fickell took over at his alma mater. Both coaches are looking for a marquee victory as the Buckeyes battle Michigan State.

During the game, the head coaches of Ohio State and Michigan State will be fierce competitors. After the final whistle blows on Saturday afternoon, however, Luke Fickell and Mark Dantonio will go back to being close friends.

Fickell and Dantonio are not only tied together as members of the Jim Tressel coaching tree, but Fickell's coaching career has been influenced by the fifth-year head coach of the Spartans. The new OSU head man was the Buckeyes' special teams coordinator from 2002-03 while Dantonio served as Tressel's defensive coordinator.

Dantonio went on to take the head coaching job at Cincinnati after the 2003 season. He led the Bearcats for three years before taking over in East Lansing. As the leader of the Spartans, Dantonio has posted a 36-20 record and led Michigan State to a share of the Big Ten championship in 2010, its first conference title since 1990.

Even after leaving Columbus, the friendship Dantonio and Fickell formed at OSU remained a close one.

"Coach Dantonio was … probably the one guy that I stay most in contact with since he's been gone," Fickell said Tuesday during his weekly press luncheon. "Just probably because we're more similar people in general, family oriented guys. ... We have a good relationship."

"If there's one person I've talked to as much as anybody, it would be him," Fickell added.

The two spoke after Fickell took over for Tressel when the longtime OSU head coach retired on May 30. Dantonio said in August during Big Ten media days in Chicago that he told Fickell to take time for himself.

"I just told him to be himself and make sure he takes a vacation," Dantonio said. "A lot of things will cross his plate (before the season) and he'll have big decisions to make. I think it's important that he draws a line.

"I think he'll do a great job."

Dantonio continued to sing Fickell's praises Tuesday during his weekly press conference in East Lansing.

"Luke Fickell is a very close friend of mine and our families," Dantonio said. "I think he's doing an outstanding job. He was thrown into a very tough situation I feel, and he's responded."

Dantonio went on to call Fickell "what Ohio State needs." Nonetheless, Dantonio will be looking to beat his friend when the Buckeyes face the Spartans on Saturday. Since leaving Ohio State, Dantonio has never beaten Ohio State. In fact, his UC and MSU squads have been outscored 133-37. The last meeting was between the Buckeyes and Spartans in 2008. Ohio State easily won that meeting 45-7, racing out to a 21-0 lead in the first quarter and riding a 140-yard rushing performance from Beanie Wells to victory.

Dantonio, who grew up in Zanesville, Ohio, wants to get his first win against OSU and help lead his Spartans to a marquee victory.

"I think every game is personal, but you know, I grew up down there, so it's got a little added incentive," Dantonio said. "You want to go back, you want to play well, you want to do the things that have to be done to try and make a statement."

Fickell is hoping his Buckeyes are the ones to make that statement. The game against Michigan State is the first of four against Big Ten foes that enter October with a combined 15-1 record. To get off to a good start, Fickell will have to defeat a good friend. Don't expect him to take it easy on Dantonio, either.

"If I was playing my brother, I would want to beat him just as bad as I would want to beat anyone," Fickell said.

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