Meyer Retains Fickell After 'Due Diligence'

One of Urban Meyer's first acts as head coach of the Ohio State football team was to ask the previous leader of the program to stay on as an assistant. He detailed how he came to the decision to do that Monday night.

With the worst-kept secret in college football finally confirmed, much focus at Ohio State is on who will fill out new head coach Urban Meyer's staff.

Many names are being circulated but only one was certain. That belonged to Luke Fickell, a former Buckeye player and nine-year OSU assistant who spent the past seven months as head coach.

After guiding his alma mater to a 6-6 record that included a disappointing 0-3 finish, Fickell was asked by Meyer to remain on the staff. His position has not been determined, but it will be on the defensive side of the ball. Meyer termed it significant.

"I have great respect (for him)," Meyer said at his introductory press conference Nov. 28. "I know what kind of guy he is. He's an Ohio guy, a Buckeye. I knew him from afar. I watched closely how he handled the situation. I thought he's a man's man. Obviously he's everything that you hope for for a Ohio State former player."

Meyer said he talked to several colleagues who had worked with Fickell and performed research on him, including film study, while deciding if he would invite the former defensive lineman to stay in his hometown as an assistant.

The next step was a face-to-face meeting Sunday night including Fickell and the wives of both coaches that Meyer said lasted 3-4 hours. When that was over, Meyer asked Fickell to meet him for coffee at 7 the following morning.

Before going to that meeting, Meyer went over the decision with his wife, Shelley.

"Shelley and I prayed about it, we talked about it, we took our time," Meyer said. "The next morning, we woke up and I looked at her again – she's a better judge of talent than I am – and there's no doubt I wanted him to be a part of this team."

Fickell, who repeatedly declined to talk about his future last week before and after a 40-34 loss at Michigan on Saturday, told Meyer he was open to remaining on the staff and the two shook hands with Fickell wearing a big smile.

"We called (Fickell's wife) Miss Amy and she was great, and it was a very good moment for Ohio State," Meyer said.

Although unusual, Fickell's move is not unprecedented at Ohio State.

Carroll C. Widdoes was head coach of the Buckeyes in 1944 and '45 but found the attention of the position too much for his liking and asked to return to his former post as an assistant. That request was granted, and Widdoes remained at Ohio State for three more seasons before becoming head coach at Ohio University.

Widdoes, like Fickell, replaced a national championship-winning coach. The former man initially took the job on an interim basis when Paul Brown left to join the United States' military efforts in World War II while Fickell stepped in after Jim Tressel was forced out in May because of pending NCAA violations.

Widdoes led the Buckeyes to a 16-2 record in two seasons, including a perfect 9-0 in 1944. With Heisman Trophy winning halfback Les Horvath leading the way, Ohio State won the Big Ten and finished No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll behind Army. That led some to refer to the Buckeyes as the "civilian national champions." They were awarded the championship by the National Championship Foundation, but the school does not officially recognize the title.

While introducing Meyer as OSU head coach to the local media for the first time, Ohio State director of athletics Gene Smith made a point of thanking Fickell for his leadership of the Buckeyes this past season.

"There's no question, we all know it, that Luke and this staff took on an unbelievable challenge to lead this football program through this particular year at this particular time, and he was the right leader for that time to lead this football program," Smith said. "I think we all saw it on the field of play, different situations at different times, that he responded. So I want to publicly thank Luke and the staff for taking on the challenge and leading these young men through this challenging season.

Fickell, a standout wrestler at Columbus DeSales High School before starting at nose guard for Ohio State from 1993-96, will continue as head coach for the Buckeyes' bowl game before Meyer officially takes over in January.

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