Fickell Talks Job Security, New Coworkers

Many called OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell beleaguered at the end of last season when his defense struggled down the stretch, but the longtime Buckeye player and staff member doesn't feel that way. He talked his job status and his relationship with his new defensive staffers Thursday after practice.

When Luke Fickell was asked Thursday evening after the second Ohio State practice of the spring whether he worried for his job after the Buckeye defense was shredded in the last three games of the 2013 season, a yes or no answer did not suffice.

The Ohio State defensive coordinator gave a 352-word answer that touched on a number of topics, including the team's 110th-ranked pass defense, his relationship with head coach Urban Meyer and, tangentially, the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.

"You know what? Like I do everything else," he said when asked how he handled the criticism that came after OSU gave up 38.3 points per game vs. Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. "Statistics, at the end of the year, you really look back at them, do you want to dive into statistics? Well, where were you in scoring defense? What is the most important? You can always find something that you can get better at, you gotta find something that you can hang your hat on.

"But the reality is as you go on battling, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen. But what are you going to do, live your life worried about everything? How would that be? How much excitement, what would that do for you? You know what, you're confident in what you do and you believe in what you do. If that's what the plan is, that's what the plan is. I want what's best for this place. Coach Meyer knows that and we talked about that from day one. If something is better for this place, then so be it because I want what is best for my alma mater, my university.

"Obviously we have enough confidence in what it is that we do. We don't just look at one single stat. I know you keep dwelling upon it and everybody dwells upon it, but the reality is this is a team game. People ask all kinds of questions. Why is this the best sport known to man? Because it's a team sport. It's more like life. If something happens to one of your buddies and he doesn't pick you up, do you defriend him for the rest of his life?

"Things like that. That's what you learn from this. The examples we set for our guys are the same examples we all live our life by. You can't worry. Because there was a bombing in the World Trade Center a few years ago, do you never want to fly again? What are you going to do? I know it's comparing it to different things, but the reality is you have confidence in what you do and believe in what you do and whatever happens, happens."

It was certainly a mouthful but revealed a few truths about Fickell, including his love of Ohio State – after all, he has been a player, assistant coach and interim head coach since 1993 – and his refusal to back down from any challenges.

And it was a challenging end of the season for the Buckeye defense, which gave up 41 points to a Michigan team with a quarterback playing on an injured foot, ceded more than 300 yards passing to Michigan State QB Connor Cook for the first time in his career and then let Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins set records in the Orange Bowl.

That led to a dramatic restructuring of the defense in the offseason, including the departure of Fickell's friend and line coach Mike Vrabel as well as the hiring of new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash, who has been tasked with improving the pass defense from its woeful finish a season ago.

So far, the partnership is working well, Fickell said.

"It's been a great transition, to be honest with you," Fickell said. "I know that we haven't had the real stresses and the reality of a season, but we battled through a lot of things in about the last month or so and it's been a great growing experience for me. I've always had a bit of a comfort level since I've been here with the people that I've known. Even having Coach Vrabes here, not that he's been here for a long time, but a guy that's had a comfort level in there that you always knew.

"That's one of the things that Coach Meyer likes to challenge you to do is to get you out of your comfort zone. Having some new guys has made me do that and broaden things that we do. It's been a great growing experience I think for all of us, and I think it's going to show."

That meshes with what Ash said about his hiring when asked in February.

"If I didn't think that Luke and I could have a good working relationship and have chemistry in the room, I would not have done it," Ash said of taking the job. "The players are going to feed off the coaches, and we talk a lot about successful teams have one thing in common – they have great chemistry. A lot of that comes from the staff. You don't have to be best friends or anything, but you have to be on the same page, you have to have a great working relationship, you've got to share the same beliefs and philosophies and direction for the defense or offense, whatever it may be."

And so far, it appears some of the fundamentals of Ohio State's previous regimes are meshing with the new members of the staff. Fickell continued to talk about the defense doing its "1/11th," a hallmark of the defensive staff's directions for years, while with Ash on board the team will work on simplifying the defense and allowing what will be a young back seven to fly to the football.

It's too early to tell how some of the adjustments – which will include more aggressive, press coverage out wide – will pan out on the field come August. One thing is for sure, though – the plan to win at Ohio State still begins with defense.

"He wants to be great. It's pretty self explanatory," Fickell said of Meyer. "We have to understand that we're going to challenge things. If a guy catches one, he catches one, but the idea of sometimes bending but don't break is not exactly the mentality that obviously Coach Meyer likes, and those are some of the things that as you get into the third year of it, you figure out each other. And hopefully we'll do a better job of it."

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