Fickell was announced as Ohio State's interim head coach for the 2011 season on Memorial Day, the same morning the decade-long run of Jim Tressel came to a close when the national championship-winning coach was forced to resign for his part in NCAA violations.
With that fateful stroke of the OSU athletics administration, Fickell went from trusted assistant and possible long-term option to take over to simply the man – front and center, the face of the Ohio State program to players, media, fans and recruits.
Throughout it all, Fickell didn't want to put the focus on his situation – he said as much numerous times – but as the campaign came to a close, he allowed a few glimpses into what his world was like as the head coach and what it meant to him to head the program that had defined his life in many ways for the better part of two decades.
"It's a growth process for all of us," he said of being in charge for the tumultuous 6-7 season. "That's the thing that we try to come back to. We try not to focus on one of us in any particular situation. We preach team, we talk team, and us as coaches are the same way. I think it was a growing process for all of us.
"We said a million times: ‘Change is inevitable, growth is optional.' It's been a time of growth for all of us."
Obviously, the year wasn't what the Buckeyes had hoped for. The team got off to a slow start at 3-3 then seemed to find its form with wins against ranked Illinois and Wisconsin foes before another victory against Indiana. But the year ended with a four-game losing streak, the program's first in more than six decades, and the Gator Bowl loss to Florida meant OSU finished with a losing record for the first time since 1988.
However, team members said things could have been worse without Fickell's guidance. The constant off-field issues including player suspensions, NCAA sanctions and speculation about the future of the program could have torn apart the squad, but those who were in the locker room said that never happened.
"He's done a lot of great things for this team, and I really think he kept this team together with everything that we went through," running back Dan Herron said. "You know, it was rough. We went through a lot, so I don't think he ever let the team fall apart. There could have been guys who gave up and just quit, but he really kept us together and kept us going even though we didn't win all the games that we could have."
Fickell admitted some things were different being the head coach. He said he spent less time with his family and more time at the team facility as the responsibility of running the program fell on his shoulders, and he spent more time working with the offense than ever before in his career after coaching special teams then linebackers since arriving at Ohio State in 2002.
Those were just a few examples of the things Fickell had to adjust to while serving as a full-time head coach for the first time in his life. When asked whether that meant fans got to see a team with his stamp on it during the campaign, Fickell said he couldn't answer the question given the incomplete information.
"I don't know," he said. "That's something to be determined. You're still who you are when you talk to the team. You're still who you are when you're on the sideline. Would you have different people? There's a lot of different things that you could possibly do.
"But I don't think that my ideas would change. It would still be about effort, turnovers and toughness and those kinds of things. But when you're in a program it takes some time to build things. No matter where you go there's a transition period. I don't know that it can all completely show in what you did in one year."
Fickell readily admitted there were some things he could have done better during the season, things that he didn't want to get into publicly. He also said he couldn't pinpoint one lesson as the biggest one he learned after having taken over from Tressel, but looking back at the season will provide some perspective.
"You have to have the ability to be able to step back and evaluate something from a distance and take your personal beliefs and feelings out of it," he said. "It's tough at times when you've been with somebody for 10 years and it's just one of those situations where you've got to be able to step back.
"I think that's probably the one thing that I've got to learn is to be able to step back, make sure you've got a broad view of things. The one thing that I wanted to do is make sure I didn't jump and overreact to certain things whether that's on the sideline during the game or whether that's in the locker room, whether it's after a loss."
Fickell almost got the chance to put those lessons to use when he interviewed with Pittsburgh for its open coaching job in December, but the Panthers chose to hire former Wisconsin assistant Paul Chryst.
The Columbus DeSales grad will now return to coaching linebackers and coordinating the defense along with Everett Withers under new head coach Urban Meyer. The two had not coached together before but got together the night before Meyer's Nov. 28 hiring, with the former Florida coach deciding to keep Fickell on staff afterward.
That decision was music to the ears of the Ohio State defenders who will continue to work with the former OSU nose guard.
"It shows that (Meyer) has confidence in what this program is all about," defensive lineman Johnny Simon said. "Coach Fick obviously knows what he's doing on the defensive side of the ball, so we're excited for that process to happen. (The defense will be about) what it's been about since the Silver Bullets came around. It's going to be about being tenacious, flying around and having fun out there."
With Ohio State's loss Monday to Florida, Fickell's tenure in the head chair is over as Meyer officially took over the day after the game. But for those who spent a year under Fickell's leadership, it's not hard to look back with respect for the job that was done.
"Everyone is appreciative of what he did for us," senior Tyler Moeller said. "If you want to call it biting the bullet, he did. He did a great job in leading us, so I'm appreciative of that from him."