When Urban Meyer was hired late in November of 2011 to be Ohio State's head football coach, he said "I'm going to go about and try to assemble the best coaching staff in college football," but according to him, Luke Fickell was not a favorite to be on that coaching staff.
"I did not want to keep him when I got here," Meyer said Thursday at Ohio State's on campus Fiesta Bowl media day. "I met him a few times and he was a good gentleman, very nice guy. Our meeting went over the top and I had a lot of respect for him and his beautiful family. We weren't very good on defense for a couple years and that stressed things out just a touch around here.
"But one of the greatest things I've ever done was keep Luke Fickell. He's a loyal, good man and a very good friend of mine. We'll be very close for a long time."
Five years, a Big Ten and national title later, Fickell is off to Cincinnati, Meyer's alma mater, to begin his career as a head coach. While he did serve as Ohio State interim head coach in 2011, Fickell is set to officially run his own program for the first time.
Fickell was introduced as the Bearcats head coach on Dec. 10 and said that this time around, being a head coach feels much different.
"Having the ability to be introduced, to have a press conference, was an unbelievable time," Fickell said of being introduced at UC. "In 2011, it was a very troubled, tough time. There wasn't nearly the same feeling. We didn't have a press conference in 2011 until at least two and a half weeks after (I was hired). It never had the same feeling."
Fickell is the third Ohio State assistant in as many years to depart Columbus for a head coaching job. Tom Herman left for the head coaching job at Houston following the 2014 season and after the 2015 campaign, Chris Ash departed for the opening at Rutgers.
Even though he has some experience as a head coach in 2011, Fickell said he still reached out to Herman for advice, specifically about balancing recruiting future Bearcats while also preparing Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl.
"I talked to Tom and picked Tom's brain about it," Fickell said. "You try to put on paper this is the time I am going to do this, this and this, and that is kind of what I have done. The only way to do it is to have a plan. Eight o'clock to midnight is recruiting, sending messages and making phone calls, but not to short change either one. The thing that gets short changed is my family."
While balancing both the Buckeyes and the Bearcats, Fickell said he told his players at OSU that there was no doubt in his mind he was going to finish Ohio State's postseason run, much like Herman and Ash did in back-to-back years.
"The most important thing to me right now is these kids, and I told them that," Fickell said. "I told them that even when I was introduced down at Cincinnati, I wanted to look at every kid and make sure he knows why I am doing what I'm doing. I am doing what I am doing because we started something, and I would never start something without finishing it."
As for his relationship with Meyer, Fickell said that while it wasn't always the greatest, he appreciates the way Meyer pushed him to become a better coach.
"You don't have to be on the best terms at all times. Sometimes, discomfort breeds growth," Fickell said. "To be able to push somebody, deep down inside you have to know that it's for a reason. I think that is the greatest thing I can say. What you really do it step back and realize how much you respect him (Meyer) because of it. I would not be in this situation right now. I probably wouldn't have the opportunity. I probably wouldn't have been able to step out of the comfort zone as much as I have without being pushed that way. That is one of the things I would say is going to benefit me the most in everything that I do. I will owe him always for that."
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