Fickell Purposeful if not Polished in First Media Event
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Luke Fickell’s introductory press conference started off a little rough.
His words were choppy as he read a prepared speech and his knuckles whitened as he clenched the podium with his right hand.
The cameras flashed and Fickell seemed uncomfortable in a suit, even one that accented his bright scarlet tie.
Photo by Dan Harker
He did not look like a head coach, not to a room full of reporters used to the friendly banter and recurrent coach speak of a 58-year old with 25 years of head coaching experience.
All of 37 years old, Fickell appeared more like a substitute teacher who would have just as quickly been tuned out if not for the fact he was now running one of the most successful and historic football programs in the country.
Fickell has never really been comfortable in front of the camera, and why would he be? He has never been a head coach at any level, or even a coordinator for that matter. If that is what Ohio State was looking for, they should have promoted defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.
He probably would not have embraced the idea of having to talk with the media every week (Heacock seems to enjoy flying under the radar), but at least he would have been good at it. Heacock’s head coaching career spanned only one seven-year stretch at Illinois State, but he has been an assistant since 1973 and one of the better defensive coaches in the country since the 1980’s.
He was Fickell’s position coach during the mid 1990’s and his boss for the last eight years at Ohio State, but even he agreed that Fickell was the right man for the job.
“We’re all in this together and I think the players will embrace his toughness,” Heacock said after watching Fickell from the back of the room.
“Anyone who was around for the (1997) Rose Bowl knows he played with a torn (pectoral) muscle. It’s going to take mental toughness and physical toughness and he’s got all of that.”
For as uncomfortable as he looked during portions of his press conference, there was something strangely refreshing about Fickell Monday as he was introduced as the 23rd head coach in Ohio State history.
Although this is a dream job for the Columbus native, it was hardly under ideal circumstances that Fickell became the head coach at Ohio State. There were naturally going to be some awkward moments Monday, especially with reporters throwing their best stuff instead of lobbing the kind of softballs that traditionally come with introductory press conferences.
Unlike his predecessor, however, Fickell was straightforward and to the point. He has been a no-nonsense type of guy his whole career and that isn’t about to change now just because Fickell has his dream job as the head man at his alma mater.
“I talked to Thad Matta, Jim Lambright, and Frank Solich. Every coach has told me to 'Be Myself' and don't change because of the job,” said Fickell, who played nose guard for the Buckeyes in the mid 1990’s under John Cooper.
“I'm a high-energy, enthusiastic competitor; I haven't changed in any of my roles at Ohio State, and I'm going to try to do that as head coach.”
Fickell also received similar advice from his former boss and mentor, Jim Tressel, who he spoke with on the evening of Tressel’s resignation. The only time he channeled his inner Tressel, however, was when asked about Terrelle Pryor’s recent departure from the program.
“Each and every year we lose kids. Cameron Heyward, boy we'd love to have him back. Ross Homan, Brian Rolle,” he said evasively.
“All of those kinds of guys. That's what we prepare for year in and year out.”
It wasn’t a clear answer, but Fickell sent a very clear message about the direction of the program and the mindset of the current coaches and players as they try to overcome the adversity of losing one of the most beloved and successful coaches in school history.
“Let me be clear, the 2011 Buckeyes will not be comparing and contrasting what we've done before. But what we believe we will need to do to move forward,” Fickell said.
“It will be about respect, toughness and being men of action. Those will be our focuses.”
His first action should be a complete overhaul of the current system of checks in place for monitoring players off the field. More than anything else, this team needs Fickell’s toughness and they need his tough love. If Fickell had a hand in ushering Terrelle Pryor out the door, then that might have been the first step in the right direction.
With an entire university on thin ice, fortitude is the best thing Fickell can give the program, no matter how long he is walking the sidelines.
If he can do that, there is no reason to think Fickell won’t be successful at Ohio State; if they give him the chance.
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