Temporary King

By Chris Lauderback on August 13, 2012 at 1:00p

Luke Fickell always aspired to become the head coach at Ohio State but not in a manner that called for him to replace his mentor amid turmoil and inherit a team without its planned star quarterback, running back, left tackle and wide receiver, all under the dark cloud of impending NCAA sanctions.

Luke took on a tall task out of loyalty to the program

But if there’s one thing we know about Fickell, it’s that he’s as Buckeye as they come and taking on the impossible challenge of steering the shell-shocked and woefully inexperienced 2011 Buckeyes through rough seas was something he did more so out of loyalty and respect for the program and its players than for the glory that comes with being named the head coach at The Ohio State University.

He knew he was now the King.

He also knew it would be temporary.

How could it not be? Full or partial season suspensions had decimated the offense, leaving it with a talented but raw freshman quarterback and no offensive assistant coach capable of accelerating his development.

On top of that, through no fault of his own, Fickell simply wasn’t yet ready for all that comes with being the head coach at a nationally elite program like Ohio State. He’d never say it but his own self-awareness of this fact makes what he did for the school that much more special.  

Falling on the sword, Fickell willingly allowed his inexperience to be broadcast across the country, a situation he would not have faced had he been able to gain meaningful head coaching experience at a school with less national limelight such as in the MAC or Big East.

Luke was noticeably uneasy in front of the media so he typically diverted to the Tressel approach of not really saying anything while speaking a lot of words. It just didn’t work like it did for Tressel because Fickell didn’t exude the stoic confidence in what he was saying.

On Saturdays, again in what everyone knows were ridiculous circumstances, Fickell failed to put his own signature on the game or his team. Instead, he essentially made decisions by not making them at all. This included the half-hearted idea of not having official season-long captains and allowing Bollman to be so conservative that the offense essentially never had a true game plan – certainly not one that showed any signs of aggression or determination to win. Defensively, he was significantly more involved but with Jim Heacock still around, Fickell opted not to take over the play calling. That made sense in a lot of ways but seemingly left Fickell as a man without a country on game days considering many coaches typically oversee one side of the ball.

Fickell looks much more comfortable as the D-Coordinator

Through the week, however, Fickell performed yeoman’s work behind the scenes keeping together a team that wasn’t used to losing or dealing with the ongoing national stoning as the NCAA uncovered DiGeronimo.

Sans a functional offense, Fickell did manage to win six of his first nine contests, including the dramatic finish in the ‘Shoe against Wisconsin but four straight losses – all by a touchdown or less – finally euthanized a 6-7 season all Buckeye fans were hoping they’d be able to erase though selective amnesia.

The ability to forget became far more realistic on November 28, 2011 when Urban Meyer was named the 24th head coach in the history of Ohio State Football.

It’s telling that one of Meyer’s initial actions at the helm was to meet with Luke to determine if he should be a part of the new regime – something Ohio State brass didn’t require – and decided it was paramount that Fickell be part of his inaugural staff in a prominent role.

How impressed was Meyer with what Fickell brings to the table?

He made it clear in his opening presser:

"There's no doubt I wanted him to be a part of this team. I thought that he's a man's man. Obviously he's everything that you hope for from an Ohio State former player."

In the coming weeks, Meyer determined that Fickell would be his Defensive Coordinator, also in charge of the linebackers, and most importantly that Luke would be the man making the schematic calls despite Meyer also adding Everett Withers, a man with 24 years of coaching experience including stops at four different schools as the overseer of the defense.

Since his appointment as the defensive play caller, Fickell has eased back into a role in which he’s inherently more familiar, and as a result, considerably more comfortable.

Now that’s not to say he isn’t putting in long hours and attacking his post with the intensity Meyer requires from anyone associated with the program, or that he still isn’t hell bent on being a head coach someday, but Luke is back where he’s currently most valuable – as a hands-on coach overseeing player development and overall defensive strategy.

Fickell said as much last week when he met with the media offering:

"You have to find what's exciting and what you have a passion for. Coaching is what I love. It doesn't matter if you're coaching or you're helping out academics, you're a strength coach or the head coach or you're an assistant coach, helping these young people has to be one of your passions. To be around these young people and be around the sport, that's what I love to do."

As the man calling the defensive shots, Fickell has a chance to bring the Silver Bullets back to a nationally elite level after the 2011 campaign saw them finish 19th in Total Defense, 65th in 3rd Down Conversion Defense and 50th in Rushing Defense.

Catch up on everything you need to know ahead of the season kickoff.

With a bevy of talent across the defensive line and a reinvigorated group of coaches and players across the board, Fickell’s defense should improve in every major statistical category and will no doubt be leaned on at times while Meyer continues to execute the chore of installing and calibrating the offense.

A successful 2012 season will once again have schools making overtures, trying to convince Luke to leave Columbus for his first true head coaching gig.

No matter how long he stays, where he finally goes to become a head coach or if he makes his way back to someday once again take over the reins at Ohio State, he’ll always be royalty in the eyes of Buckeye fans.

Maybe being the King won’t be so temporary after all.


Comments Show All Comments

Devin1024's picture

Ohio State is forever in debt to Fickell, and I hope they know it.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

Luke is just one of my favorite Buckeyes and I was so elated to hear Urban was going to keep him and Vrabel.  The best thing for Luke's career would be to hang out and learn from the master how to be a successful head coach of an elite program.  The amount of experience and knowledge he can soak in under Urban will be priceless!
The Brutus is strong in Luke!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

osu07asu10's picture

Bro Fickell!

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

I love the "broseph" factor on the defensive coaching staff this year.  With Vrabel leading up the D-Line and Luke back coaching the LB's.

How firm they friendship...

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

One hugely noticeable difference this year from last - we get to see Luke Fickell crack a smile.

How firm they friendship...

Bucksfan's picture

It's rather amazing how much you can infer about the inner workings of a football team simply by watching the play on the field and listing to little tidbits from the head coach every once and a while.  The 2011 season validated everything we had come to learn about Jim Bollman and the Ohio State offense.  So, to Bollman we all were able to ask this about four years too late.
Thanks, 2011, for showing us what we already sorta knew but never wanted to observe in real life.
Plus, how different would 2011 have been if Bauserman didn't light up the scoreboard in the opener?  If Bauserman was Bauserbomb in those first few series, Braxton probably would have had the starting job right there, and you could maybe say one or two more wins were in the cards...maybe 3 and a Leaders title?  Who knows?
Anyway, Fickell was the best option on short notice, and 6 wins is a pretty big accomplishment.  The team looked very good at times, and that helped them win the games they won.  Go Bucks.

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

+1.  Last year's squad was like a pack of dogs who didn't know who the Alpha male was.
Some other random thoughts:

  • It is very telling that Bollman didn't recruit/offer Dymonte Thomas and Taylor Decker.
  • Prior to Darrell Hazel taking the job at Kent State, there was widespread talk about how he was #2 in command of the offense.  So Bollman wasn't even offensive coordinator in name, either.
  • It's been corroborated (mostly) that Vrabel did in fact get into a verbal argument of how poor Bollman's gameplan was.
  • Last year's offense was so inept that I think it affected the defense.....there were many times last year when the defense just fell apart (Miami, Nebraska), how could they not when you watch Bausermann go 3 and out every single time?


How firm they friendship...

southbymidwest's picture

I am glad that Urban saw Fickell's strengths, both as a Buckeye and a coach, and made him an important cog in the coaching machine that is Urban Meyer. I hope for only the best for him, and hope that he sticks around Columbus for a few more years before he becomes a head coach, this time, with more tools in the toolbox. Happy that Vrabel is coaching for us also.

Doc's picture

I'm glad Luke didn't get the job as HC permanetly, I am glad he is still on staff.  The guy is as Buckeye as Archie in my eyes.  Taking over responsibilities of a train wreck in progress was heroic.  He'll get his shot to be a head coach some day, and he'll do well at it.  Nothing was right with last year.

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Doc's picture

Why doe it say "Access Denied" when I try to open the other stories in the linked 11W 2012 Season Preview?  Am I missing something?

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Johnny Ginter's picture

you'll be able to access them through the preview listing once they're published on the site

Jason Priestas's picture

Because they're not published yet. Hang tight.

Doc's picture

Thanks guys.  I thought I had been punished for something.

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TheBadOwl's picture

When Urban's done, I really hope that Fick is the guy to take over. I know we're a long ways away from that happening, but regardless, he deserves a special place in the hearts of all Buckeye fans.

When I walked in this morning and saw the flag was at half mast I thought, "Alright, another bureaucrat ate it." but then I saw it was Li'l Sebastian. Half mast is too high. Show some damn respect.

Crimson's picture

I'm hoping the same thing, so long as he gets some HC experience.  His downside now is that he doesn't know the offense, so he should learn something about it.  He can always have an out clause for OSU, so it's doable.

Roman Brutus's picture

I find it interesting that most don't recognize or at least refer to the fact that Luke Fickell was moved up to HC with his hands tied behind his back. He never got a fair chance to be a real HC because he didn't have his OWN assistansts working for him. I doubt Meyer could have had a better record last year with the assistants that Luke had to work with and overcome.

tennbuckeye19's picture

It was certainly a tough spot. He had almost everything going against him. He dealt with a lot: the suspensions, the assistant coaches, the on-the-job training,the constant media speculation about him warming the coach's seat for someone else.

OSUBias's picture

Meyer would have had a heart attack or punched out Bollman week 1 when he got the offensive gameplan and it was just one 4 letter word.

7 yards and a cloud of dust is a beautiful thing

One Bad Buckeye's picture

The closest I've been to tears in several years was during Ficks presser following the SCUM loss.  Watching him fight off the tears while taking on the media really pulled on my heartstrings quite a bit.  It was a testament to his character and loyalty to the Buckeyes.  

"I'm One Bad Buckeye, and I approve this message."

sir rickithda3rd's picture

that was tough to watch after the scum game...meyer would have won many more games bcuz he wouldnt let bollman call the plays. im pretty sure meyer has run the offense at all his coaching stops

mark may wins douchebag of the year... again

Crimson's picture

Agreed.  It seems like that's why he hired Herman rather than a bigger name -- others wanted to run the offense.

Boom777's picture

The coaching staff gave me an ulcer last year, but you can't crucify Fickell for it. He was practically forced into it( he couldn't, wouldn't, can't say no to his school even if he wanted to!) But he deserves as much praise as scorn he received for last year

Wherever you are, there you be!

collisionbend's picture

They should re-retire #99 by adding Fick's name next to Mr. Willis'. The guy is True Buckeye: when you hear someone use the phrase "bleeds Scarlet & Gray," Luke's picture is there.

"There's a fine line between perception and reality." -- Luke Fickell

thatlillefty's picture

I appreciate what Coach Fickell did for this team in a tough spot last year... but isn't anyone worried about him calling the defense this year? Jim Heacock managed one of the most elite defenses in the country for a decade. Now we're handing the reins over to Fickelll... same guy who was LOST last season and led our buckeyes to the first losing season n forever...

I like the guy, but I'm nervous for the future of this defense.

Crimson's picture

In which seasons did Fickell call defense?  I would like some examples of how bad the D is when Fickell calls things versus others.

JJB's picture

I wouldn't blame the coaches for the defense last year. You can only motivate people so much, but when you are on the field for 80% of the game because your offense is so inept that motivation leaches away. Also, there was no real player leadership present, so the unit as a whole stagnates and quite possibly regresses. With the depth and quality of the defensive line this year... nope, I'm not worried at all about the future. After all, nowhere to go but up.

Ken-Yon Rambo's picture

Last year the defense fell apart....with Heacock calling all the shots (prior to that they were co-defensive coordinators).  Also, LF's value on the defensive coaching side REALLY showed up in the linebacker crew.  Last year was the only year he wasn't in charge of the LB's......and his first year goes back to the year Bobby Carpenter, AJ Hawk, and Anthony Schlegel were seniors.

How firm they friendship...

osubuckeye4life's picture

Not to mention Coach Winters is a co-d coordinator that has 24 years of experience coaching football. 
I believe the defense will be just fine.