Urban Meyer Takes Charge, Asks for Fickell’s Help
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the past five months, Luke Fickell has been the face of the Ohio State football program.
It was a bruised and battered face in the wake of Jim Tressel’s dismissal, but it was Fickell who took the punches and kept standing.
Now it will be Urban Meyer’s job to restore the luster this program lost over the last 11 months of scandal and turmoil, but he won’t do it alone.
“I don't think Ohio State is broke. I think there's some obvious mistakes made on the grand scheme of things, mistakes that are very correctible,” Meyer said during his introduction as the 24th head coach in Ohio State history on Monday evening.
“My goal right now is to put together a fantastic recruiting class and I've been very fortunate—if you look back at the last 10 years of being head coach I've coached with arguably the best group of assistant coaches a good majority of them either been head coaches, they are head coaches now.
“I think Ohio State deserves the best group of assistant coaches in America.”
Meyer said some of those coaches would come from other programs, and some from the current coaching staff at Ohio State. He started with the guy at the top.
“I met Luke three years ago. I watched his defenses over the years. I have great respect. I know what kind of guy he is,” Meyer said Monday.
“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 from a former Ohio State player.”
When Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith offered Meyer the head-coaching job on Sunday, one of the first things he did was contact Fickell. It was important to ensure there would not be an awkward situation between Meyer, who intended to take the job, and Fickell, who was working as the interim head coach.
But it was more than that.
“I wanted to research what kind of coach he was,” Meyer said.
“And I did a lot of research. I called some of the colleagues that have worked with him. I've watched his film over and over again. That's the greatest thing about coaching, it's very evaluation‑friendly. And then I needed to meet with him.”
On Sunday night, Meyer and his wife, Shelley, met with Fickell and his wife, Amy, for nearly four hours. He asked Fickell to meet him for coffee at 7 a.m. Monday morning, and by then, Meyer knew exactly where he stood.
The next morning, we woke up. 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,” Meyer proclaimed.
“And he was very open and shook my hand, a big smile on his face, and we called Miss Amy and she was great. And it was a very good moment for Ohio State.”
A very good moment indeed.
By staying on to coach under Meyer, Fickell ensures a high level of continuity within the program. That should make for a much smoother transition from the Tressel way of doing things—which was continued under Fickell this past year—to the new way under Urban Meyer.
Fickell’s role on the staff, however, has yet to be determined.
“It will be a significant title and significant position on our staff,” Meyer said.
“Luke and I, we have not even had that conversation. We will shortly, because I want his expertise in helping me put together the staff.”
That alone shows the level of confidence Meyer has in the 38-year old Fickell, who has served as a coach with the Buckeyes since 2002. Fickell could serve as Meyer’s defensive coordinator, but maybe a more likely role would be as assistant head coach and position coach (either linebackers or defensive line).
Either way, he is only the first building block in what should be an all-star coaching staff that Meyer will assemble in Columbus.
“We'll put in place the resources necessary to attract the staff that Urban feels he needs,” Gene Smith said during the introductory press conference.
That could include some big names.
Former Arizona head coach and Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is rumored to be Meyer’s top choice for defensive coordinator at Ohio State. He will also look around for some big name coaches elsewhere, and said he has already received numerous calls from guys who are interested in joining his staff.
“The players deserve—the way I do it, if you're the best secondary coach in college football, I'm going to try to get you to come here coach at Ohio State,” Meyer said.
“If you're the best offensive line coach, I'm going to do my very best to get you to come here.”
That is one thing Meyer learned during his six seasons at Florida. He has had some excellent assistant coaches, many of whom have gone on to become head coaches elsewhere. That includes names like Dan Mullen, Tim Beckman, Kyle Whittingham, Charlie Strong and Steve Addazio.
“I was very fortunate, in 2005—I know this is a little biased—I think we put together the best coaching staff, group of assistant coaches maybe in college football history,” he said boldly.
“I know that's a profound statement. But what those guys did, the recruits they brought in and the run that team went on, with the great players, the style of offense, defense and kicking game, my goal is to find that kind of group of coaches again.”
As for what he is looking for:
“I think first thing you look at is fit. And fit means it's a Midwestern school. It competes in the Big Ten conference,” Meyer said.
“You have to recruit Ohio and the surrounding areas. That's critical. Ohio background is key. If you can find any guys with any kind of Ohio background; however, I would not put that in front of quality coach.”
Meyer is not yet certain where someone like Mike Vrabel fits into that equation.
“I have not met with Mike yet. I'm going to soon. I'm a big Vrabel fan. I don't know him as a coach. I'm going to go watch a little bit. I have the ability to go watch,” Meyer said.
“(He is) a guy that's never recruited. He played for a great friend of mine. I'm eventuallygoing to reach out to Coach (Bill) Belichick when it's time. But Luke Fickell would be the best expert on that because he's worked with him all season. And I'm going to lean on him quite a bit for this.”
It appears as though Meyer has not made a decision about every member of the current Ohio State coaching staff, which will continue to coach the team through any potential bowl game. It’s obvious, however, that there will be major changes on the offensive side of the ball.
“We're going to hire an offensive coordinator,” Meyer said.
“I will call plays myself and be very involved in that like I've done in the past. But I need to hire a really good offensive coordinator, and I've been blessed to have some great ones.”
Whoever that ‘guy’ is had better be ready to run the spread offense at Ohio State, even if it looks a little different than the one Meyer ran at Florida.
“We're going to run the spread. The spread is also going to have some I formation pro style in it which we've always done, we'll try to adapt it the best we can,” he said.
“The good thing is we have a tight end here, with Jake (Stoneburner). And some big backs. You try to adapt to what you've got. So it's going to be some spread elements. But there's also going to be other stuff involved.”
That should bring a new level of excitement to Columbus.
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