Fickell Focused on Team, Not His Future
By Tony Gerdeman
Following Ohio State's remarkable collapse and loss at Nebraska back in early October there was little thought given from outside the Woody Hayes' Athletic Center that the Buckeyes would be able to salvage the rest of their season.
Saddled with a 3-3 record and a rare 0-2 mark in the Big Ten Ohio State was reeling—and they still had Illinois and Wisconsin yet to deal with. The very real prospects of starting 0-4 in the Big Ten were beginning to sink in and along with it came concerns about the Buckeyes actually being bowl eligible.
It would have essentially been a second-consecutive lost season, and would have almost certainly made two years in a row in which an Ohio State head football coach had been relieved of his duties.
Those thoughts never entered into the minds of those who actually mattered—the players and the coaches.
Proving that the clichéd mindset of “One game at a time” actually has merit, Ohio State remained focused on what was immediately ahead of them. They reversed field and have won their last two games, both as an underdog.
They kept their vision locked onto the next obstruction and didn't worry about the mountain of obstacles that they would eventually face—nor the the obstacles that they had already faced. Now that they've righted themselves and won their last two games, they almost control their own destiny.
The parallels between the future of head coach Luke Fickell and the future of this team are striking. Fickell went into this season knowing that if he and his team performed well enough, there was a very high likelihood that this would become his job permanently. But when things got off the rails and the Buckeyes lost three of their first six, Fickell never let his mind wander to what he had seemingly lost. He remained focused only on what lay ahead.
It was the only fair thing for him to do.
“Whenever I'm in front of the media in the last six months, the number one thing I think about are those guys,” Fickell said of his players.
“Because what it ultimately comes down to is they see what we do. I could say a million different things up in front of them, but if they don't see me do it, then it doesn't mean anything.”
For his team to right themselves, he and his coaches had to set the example. There was no panic. There was no “Woe is us” seeping through. The players never saw anything like that.
“Fick's always been the same,” said left tackle Mike Adams. “I think he's done a great job of keeping our heads right and being consistent.”
With Fickell and the team's tide rising, the hopes of Buckeye Nation are rising with it. Talks of a Big Ten Championship Game appearance are sprouting around Ohio like blossoms on a tree, and with it, the possibilities of Fickell's future are once again being tied to his team's good fortunes.
In other words, the Fickell bandwagon might actually be growing.
“The bandwagon is our team,” Fickell said, dismissing the notion.
“And to me the most important thing is to see the demeanor of the team, to see the excitement of the team, to see the emotion of the team. That's what you've got to continue to worry about. That's what you've got to continue to grow upon.
“That's why to me the biggest thing is not looking outside, not worrying about the outside things, whether it's positive or negative, but to make sure we focus on ourselves. Believe in one another and know how we got to this position right here, good and bad, so we can continue to move forward and get better.”
While the Buckeyes still need a little bit of help if they are to make it to the Big Ten Championship Game, so too would Fickell need help from others in landing this job for good. But a conference championship and a Rose Bowl berth in the most agitated and unsettled season perhaps in the school's history would be the most remarkable job interview that one could ever hope to pull off.
Apparently none of that has entered Fickell's mind. Even if such success was a directive from the University in order to maintain his position, it doesn't seem as though we would see a noticeable difference in his demeanor or his coaching.
“Whether they told me anything different, whether they promised me anything, one way or the other, it wouldn't change how I attack every single day, wouldn't change how I talk to our guys on that team, to our coaches.
“Some things are out of your control. And you just continue to move forward and make sure you know what's important to you now and your actions will speak loud, and ultimately you do well and good things will happen.”
One of Fickell's mantras that he has given to his team is “The greater the challenge, the greater the reward.” His team has embraced this idea, and they are reaping some of the rewards of that right now. There are still more challenges ahead for them and the same goes for Fickell, but his ultimate reward—if, in fact, it ever happens—is still another month away.
“I'm not going to get up there and give them a ton of lectures and different things,” he said.
“I ask them to be unselfish and I ask them to sacrifice for each other, so then we better do the same. I would sacrifice anything for them, regardless of what they told me was going to happen in the future.”
That sacrifice and that future currently has Ohio State within grasp of yet another Big Ten Championship, and it would be a job very well done by all involved—and most especially by Fickell.
But it would also bring life for the Buckeyes back to business as usual, and maybe that's what is needed more than anything. The legacies that have been rooted for decades are always growing, and always need to be fed.
“This is Ohio State,” Adams said, “we're playing for something bigger than ourselves.”
Luke Fickell is undoubtedly coaching for something bigger than himself.
Not that anybody would notice.
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