Grading Fickell’s Early Decisions as Head Coach
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It’s awfully early in Luke Fickell’s head-coaching career to start nitpicking the 38-year-old’s decision-making, but coaching at a high-profile job like Ohio State is not for the faint of heart.
Fickell has talked often about being his biggest critic, but are any of his decisions as the Buckeye head coach worthy of criticism?
We break down 10 of the biggest choices Fickell has had to make since taking over the head-coaching job in Columbus back on May 30. Somewhat surprisingly, the former assistant coach has handled himself rather nicely at the big desk.
1. Accepting the head coaching job at Ohio State after Tressel’s resignation.
What else was he supposed to do? The school offered him his dream job and a chance to keep the current coaching staff intact. He would have gotten an F for turning it down, even if it only lasts for one season.
2. Not reaching out to Terrelle Pryor before he officially left Ohio State.
The time was probably right for Pryor and the Buckeyes to part ways, and Fickell’s silence certainly spoke volumes. Maybe he was already aware that Pryor would never play another down for Ohio State, but either way Fickell probably made the right move. The only way it was the wrong one was if Pryor could have been back on the field in week six with the other suspended Buckeyes.
Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel
Photo by Dan Harker
3. Hiring his best friend as the new linebackers coach.
It’s a little early to say for sure exactly how good the decision to hire Mike Vrabel will be, but it certainly looks like a home run thus far. Vrabel is raw as a coach, but that’s not always a bad thing. He still has a player’s mentality for toughness and tenacity, but he obviously has a reverence for the head coach and his staff. Vrabel seems to fit right in with both the coaches and the players, which often tough to do. He has brought a new energy to the practices and his credibility as a 14-year NFL veteran is undeniable.
4. Not picking season captains.
This was probably Fickell’s first—and quite possibly only—blunder as Ohio State’s head coach. Obviously he wants to create a culture where everyone leads and not just a few guys wearing the title of captain, but it would have been nice to see Michael Brewster rewarded properly for his time at OSU. He seems to be OK with the decision and it’s still a good bet he will be named a captain at the end of the season, but with all that has gone wrong, this seems like something that could have been right. Brewster had to see his entire junior season wiped out and possibly his last chance at a national championship. He deserved this honor, but it’s also nice to see guys like Nate Ebner and Joe Bauserman get the chance to lead this team.
Photo by Dan Harker
5. Starting Joe Bauserman
Going with the senior as his starter for the season-opener was a very Tressel thing to do, but Bauserman proved in week one that this wasn’t about seniority. Give Fickell and his staff credit for making an unpopular move that they felt was the best thing for their football team, and give Bauserman credit for rewarding them with four touchdowns in the opener.
6. Not having Braxton Miller on the headset last week.
Grade: Who cares
Fickell said Thursday that sometimes it’s better for a young quarterback not to be on the headset all game so that he doesn’t hear everything that is being said, but honestly, who cares? If they are trying to simplify things for Braxton Miller there is no reason to second-guess something this inconsequential.
7. Quarterback situation as a whole.
Rotating Bauserman and Miller in week one seemed to work perfectly for Fickell, and he did a good job of letting the flow of the game dictate which guy was in there. He could have run Miller right back out there after a rough 3-and-out on his first series, but he was content with teaching the youngster a lesson about overcoming adversity. He was also content with letting Bauserman get in a rhythm, which seemed to pay off with his three touchdown passes. We don’t know exactly how this is going to play out the rest of the year. It could work marvelously like it did in the opener, or it could implode on itself. That’s the nature of a two-quarterback system—only time will tell.
8. Going for it on 4th-and-1.
Even if they hadn’t gotten it, this would have been a brilliant move by Fickell and his staff; and it’s not because he was making a point about his coaching style vs. Tressel’s. Instead, Fickell was making a point about the mentality of this team and this coaching staff going forward. They are going to be aggressive, they are going to go after what they want and they are going to get it. It was the right message to send to a young team early in the season.
9. Blitzing late in a 42-0 blowout over Akron.
Maybe this didn’t sit well with Akron coach Rob Ianello, but Fickell can only spend his time worrying about the team on his own sideline. If he wants this team to learn how to play with the same intensity for 60 minutes regardless of the score, then he has to do whatever he has to in order to instill that in his players. If it ruffles a few feathers along the way, so be it. It’s clear Fickell wasn’t trying to humiliate his opponent, and he isn’t out there to make friends.
10. Keeping Jordan Hall and Travis Howard out of the starting lineup this week.
This was another good call by Fickell and the coaching staff, and not because it is a statement of morality. Hall and Howard are both going to play Saturday, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see either of them in there at some point on the first or second series of the game. What this decision does, however, is reward players like Carlos Hyde and Dominic Clarke for being ready to step in and play well at a moment’s notice. Those guys earned the right to be in the starting lineup with the way they played last week, so good for Fickell to leave them out there.
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