Fickell Embracing Defensive Rebuilding Project

By Kyle Rowland on March 7, 2014 at 9:15a

For the better part of two seasons, Luke Fickell’s been under siege from opposing quarterbacks and fans alike – and pizza deliverymen. Asked Thursday evening about fearing for his job, the Ohio State defensive coordinator gave a rambling, two-minute response.

Yes or no was not part of the equation.

“Statistics, at the end of the year, you really look back at them, do you want to dive into statistics?” Fickell said. “Well, where were you in scoring defense? What is the most important? You can always find something that you can get better at. You gotta find something that you can hang your hat on.

“But the reality is, as you go on battling, if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. But what are you going to do, live your life worried about everything? How would that be? How much excitement? What would that do for you? You know what, you’re confident in what you do and you believe in, what you do. If that's what the plan is, that’s what the plan is. I want what’s best for this place.

“Coach Meyer knows that, and we talked about that from Day 1. If something is better for this place, then so be it, because I want what is best for my alma mater, my university. Obviously we have enough confidence in what it is that we do. We don’t just look at one single stat. I know you keep dwelling upon it and everybody dwells upon it, but the reality is this is a team game. People ask all kinds of questions. Why is this the best sport known to man? Because it’s a team sport. It’s more like life. If something happens to one of your buddies and he doesn’t pick you up, do you defriend him for the rest of his life? Things like that. That’s what you learn from this.

“The examples we set for our guys are the same examples we all live our life by. You can’t worry. Because there was a bombing in the World Trade Center a few years ago, do you never want to fly again? What are you going to do? I know it’s comparing it to different things, but the reality is you have confidence in what you do and believe in what you do and whatever happens, happens.”

The disjointed retort was part of Fickell’s first public remarks since the Orange Bowl, the capper in a dismal three-game defensive stretch to end the season. The Buckeyes allowed nearly 540 yards and 38 points to Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson. Devin Gardner, Connor Cook and Tajh Boyd reaped the rewards.

Fans’ outlook on Fickell has gone through a winding evolution from his playing career, when he was a beloved four-year starter from DeSales, to a coaching career with mixed results. The Columbus native has spent all but four years of his life in the city and every year since 1993, save for 1997, ’98, 2000 and ’01, at Ohio State.

But it’s a results-oriented business, and Fickell’s defenses have been subpar. More than 1,700 yards and 115 points given up in three games doesn’t instill confidence.

“This isn’t exact science,” Fickell said. “You’re dealing with 18-22-year-olds. Somebody can stand and have the greatest opinion and stand up and do a lecture and tell you what the greatest defense, and this is how you do it.

“You know, hey, Michigan State was No. 1 in defense this year, so you should play their defense. Or, hold on, Alabama was No. 1 in defense the year before, so you should play their defense. The reality is it’s what those guys understand. What you believe in and what you can get through to them, and what their talents have, too. That’s the trick of being a coach, you gotta be able to adapt and adjust.”

One of 2014’s offseason themes has been altering and correcting. The coaching staff welcomed two new additions in secondary coach Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson. Ash in particular is vital in the defensive makeover. The Buckeyes ranked 112th nationally in pass defense last season.

“It’s been a great transition, to be honest with you,” Fickell said. “I know that we haven’t had the real stresses and the reality of a season. But we battled through a lot of things in about the last month or so. It’s been a great growing experience for me.

“I’ve always had a little bit of a comfort level since I’ve been here with the people that I’ve known. That’s one of those things that Coach Meyer likes to challenge you to do is get out of your comfort zone. Having some new guys has made me do that. It’s made me broaden things that we do.”

Implementing a more aggressive scheme and press coverage is likely part of that growth. The path to championships and the epicenter of college football is on the defensive side of the ball, hurry-up offenses be damned. It puts even more pressure on a defense that’s been spread thin at linebacker for three years.

“[Fickell’s] concerned, but we’re going to take that as a challenge to stick together," senior linebacker Curtis Grant said. “We’ll work on the stuff that we need to work on to get better.”

Said Fickell: “We have to understand that we’re going to challenge things. If a guy catches one, he catches one. But the idea of bending but don’t break is not exactly the mentality that Coach Meyer likes. Those are some of the things that, as you get into the third year of it, you figure out each other. And hopefully we’ll do a better job of it.”

With the sport’s apex a goal, there’s no other choice. 


Comments Show All Comments

osu07asu10's picture

I've been a staunch Fickell defender and no matter what happens this season he is and will always be a great buckeye and one that we all should be thankful and appreciative for.

That being said, Fickell is the DC and this year is sink or swim. I don't think we need a top 20 defense in order for this season to be a "success" as far as defense is concerned but there has to be a vast improvement in play.

CJDPHoS Board of Directors // Best friends with Homey Hache

The 0 is silent.

+14 HS
Furious George 27's picture

Other than depth issues at LB, there is undoubtly the talent to field a top 20 defense.... Its just a matter of coaching it up. LJ has his track record of success, Ash seems to have the tools based on experience with less talented groups in the past. I think he said it best keep it simple and have an identity. Hoping this group of coaches mesh well and that Fickell gets off the hot seat.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+4 HS
buckeyestu's picture

I agree osu07. This is the year that Fickell needs to put a quality defense on the field. I am a Fickell defender myself, and he is a great buckeye. I think he now has the talent at linebacker that is needed to get the silver bullets back to what they use to be.

+1 HS
gm3jones's picture

Love Fickell also, but we cant turn a blind eye to his D because he is such a good person, coach and recruiter. Like two above me said, this is sink or swim year for him. He needs to figure things out and become one of the greatest buckeyes ever. I would LOVE for that to happen-- him become HC after UFM wins us multiple titles-- but his D last few years have been mediocre at best.

There is nothing more remarkable as learning to think better.

Furious George 27's picture

Exactly! He is paid a lot of money to produce a championship caliber D. I appreciate a ton of former players but none of them are being paid to coach. Sometimes people have a hard time separating the player from the coach and I sincerely hope he gets it turned around.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

mobboss1984's picture

I was never a Fickell defender, but I have had tons of respect for him and his allegiance to the buckeyes. I hope he gets everything together and stay a part of the dynasty that could be in Columbus. He has the tools to be a great coach, but it starts by learning from the best.

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
Bruce Lee

+1 HS
NC_Buckeye's picture

I'm proud of you Luke.

There are times in a person's life when you face adversity. These are the times when those around you get a sense of your character. From the last two years my sense of you is that you put your nose to the grindstone and try to quietly work thru the challenges. Keep doing that and you'll be fine when you get to the other side. As will the Buckeyes.

Going to wear my #99 Fickell jersey for every game next year. I'm pulling for you.

Go Bucks!

+8 HS
causeicouldntgo43's picture

With Larry Johnson on the front end and Chris Ash on the back end, redemption for the D is at hand.

+4 HS
Hovenaut's picture

All we are sayin', is give Ficks a chance...

Not going to sit here and say I haven't, uh, spoken favorably of him during some choice games the past couple years. But I'm very interested to see how his unit performs with a serious uptick in talent we just haven't seen in the back seven lately.

I believe the right personnel are in place - on field and off - it's time to see some serious results.

+2 HS
rayjack01's picture

I have never posted a bad word about Coach Fickell and I do not intend to. I hope the silver bullets returns this year and with the quality of the players that we have I believe that it will. Then maybe a lot of our arm chair coaches will get off of his back.

+3 HS
IGotAWoody's picture


“The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” ~Carl Rogers

ogama843's picture

I remember getting manhandled by Fickell in high school. I had to resort to tackling him and holding onto his ankles so he wouldnt get to my quarterback every play. He complained to the refs about it, but they didnt call me on it. Prolly because they felt bad for me. Anyway, much respect for Luke and I do not pin all of last season's defensive woes on him. I think there was a lack of player leadership in the backfield (among other things) with a very talented Roby who just wanted to make it through the season injury free while counting down the days to the NFL draft.

Holy Buckeye!

+3 HS
UrbanRenewal's picture

I agree with you all on the sink or swim for 2014. He's got the talent to succeed now hopefully he can get it done. There is something to be said for sentimental value of a guy that's obviously bled scarlet and gray but at the end of the day, the results on the field are what matters. I'm rooting for him to succeed but I can't say I'd lose any sleep if he gets the pink slip.

You don't get a virgin to the volcano by telling her you're gonna push her in.

Ahh Saturday's picture

Okay, I'll say it.  I'm bothered by the evasiveness in Fickell's responses to the media.  His incoherent response to a simple question yesterday could have been avoided if he just manned up.  The defense was not good last year.  He needs to acknowledge that, acknowledge his role in it, and accept the heavy responsibility of turning it around.  He is under pressure, as he should be.  His inability to express or acknowledge that pressure does not bode well for his ability to deal with it.

+3 HS
Ericgobucks's picture

I'm with you completely. I have voiced my admiration for Luke as a Buckeye and as a former player enough times. Now I am get concerned with rambling "unabomber" like statements which would make the master Jim Tressel proud. He could do a lot to quell the public's anxiety by admitting he and the others didn't do nearly as good a job that is required at Ohio State. And to be honest, if there are huge improvements in defense this year...are we all going to say is was Luke's doing? I'm not. We all know Larry Johnson, Sr. and Chris Ash have produced consistently and at very high levels. I am not trying to be a jerk to Luke, but if we do see major improvements, I am going to look at what was DIFFERENT this year from the past 3-- LJS and CA. 

-1 HS
kdogg72's picture

Thank you for saying that. It's easy to place blame on others, but great leaders place blame on themselves too. Everyone wants to see Luke succeed, I just wish he would take ownership in the fact that we stunk defensively last year. 

+1 HS
buckeyeradar's picture

I agree that we have the talent to go on the field now all we need is to be aggressive.  Tight coverage and aggressive line play no more teams coming in and nickel and dime us to death.  If Luke can be aggressive and get back the killer instinct we go forward.  No more teams coming in and feeling they can do what they want.  The first game against Navy will not tell us anything about the whole defense but it could tell us something about our linebackers.  It's up to you Luke.

I may not be the sharpest crayon in the box but I'm one of the most colorful.

Blackbeards Delight's picture

Everyone seems to be doing the proverbial damage control before getting to the point. That being said if the D isn't better this year there will be no one left to blame. No reasonable fan wants to see Luke fail but as pointed out before if you or I struggle for three weeks, regardless of the circumstances, let alone three years (this year included if not improved) at our job, it's hit the bricks pal. Interim year aside. Get er done Luke, not only for Buckeye Nation, but for this great nation, Merica! 
Jack Burton: May the wings of liberty never lose a feather. 

"Pappy Van Winkle's Family Reserve 23yr, it's what's for breakfast"

- Me


Furious George 27's picture

Not related to the article, but I see a great 11W photo shop opportunity with the guy holding up the cards in the background... The 11 is already there for you.

Yeah, well…that’s just like, your opinion, man.

+1 HS
NW Buckeye's picture

So Luke is getting panned for an expanded answer to a simple question.  Perhaps he should have kept it simple like Griffey - er wait, seems like he got panned for keeping it simple. 

Griffey Interview

I think Luke would be panned for any answer he gave.  There are enough people out there who will jump on him for whatever he says until he produces the results they want on the field regardless of the hand he is dealt.  Hopefully the addition of Ash/LJ and keeping most of the D healthy will help bring the Silver Bullets back to where we all want them to be. 

+2 HS
Ahh Saturday's picture

Expanded?  He is getting panned for giving an incoherent answer. 

-3 HS
NW Buckeye's picture

Incoherent?  Yeah, but I understood what he was trying to say.  Maybe it's because I understand coach speak, or worse yet, politician speak.  That said, I do prefer coaches who are more direct.  But, most of us understand that there is one facade that some coaches present to the press that is quite different than what they use with their team.  In Luke's case I think it is a little that he is very tired of these questions coming up time after time (yes, he needs to be a little more thick skinned), and he is trying not to scoff off these questions.  I know for fact that he is not like this with his players at practice. 

Woody could get quite verbal, almost verbose, at times with the press, but he was entirely a different person when he was coaching.  Heck, even Urban presents a different side to the press than what you will witness at practice/on the sideline.  That said, one of the things they all have in common is that they are/were all great recruiters.  I don't think that would be the case with Luke if his delivery was similar to this one interview in front of recruits/parents. 

+1 HS
Buckeye_in_SEC_country's picture

After reading the last paragraph, it seems like Fickell had the "bend, but don't break" mentality and Meyer has told him to change it.  Looks like there will need to be a lot of improvements this coming year or Ash could be taking Fickell's job.  

cinserious's picture

The last part stuck out at me. Meyer doesn't believe in the bend but don't break philosophy. Its in Urban's nature to be more aggressive. Seems like Larry Johnson and Chris Ash were brought in to install just that type of mentality. Now that Fickell's dealing with more and more of Meyer's recruits, he can buy into the aggressiveness more.

OFF TOPIC: Considering this is Urban's last career stop, year three will set a new and final precedent for unbelievable success for coach Meyer.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

D-Day0043's picture

His comments were defensive. When you get to the point where you get defensive when questioned about your teams performance, that is usually not a good sign. 

Man up and take responsibility. Don't make excuses. I love Luke and he is a great Buckeye, but his attitude when questioned isn't conducive to someone secure in their position.

I am D-Day0043 and I approve this message.

Crazybuck's picture

I think this is very frustrating for Fickell. When he was co-defensive coordinator with Heacock, those defenses were great. Stingy  against the run  and not giving up the deep ball. Now Fickell is not experiencing the same success as before. I don't think he is making excuses. I think he is trying to make sense of this lack of success he is having right now. Fickell is going to be alright. This defense will once again be worthy of the name "THE SILVER BULLETS".

+1 HS
HaVy NuTs's picture

How many times do we need to re-visit last years short falls and  job security with Fickell? He's obviously tired of being questioned about it by that rant of an answer but I cant say that I blame him. Though the WTC comparison is ridiculous and I'm sure he could have thought of something a little more relevant to what he is trying to do. But when it's all said and done let the guy coach and develop this next group of guys. If he doesn't measure up we all know that a move will be made and some already have been made. We all have to remember that Fickell has had a hand in bringing in a lot of the recruits/talent that we currently have. He loves this university and wants what is best whether he is a part of it or not!  Stand by him and let the cards fall as they may. We wont be having this conversation next year if we finish with a top 10 defense will we?

SaudiBuckeye's picture

I am optimistic that defense will become the Silver Bullets again. Unfortunately, I believe Fickell will only get most of the blame for any failures and very little credit for the successes - perhaps for recruiting and LB position coaching. This problem is further compounded by the ambiguity of who is really in charge of the defense that is associated with co-DC title. I can hear them now: "Ash fixed the secondary and he was the "real" DC running the defense", "LJS took the D-Line to new level", "Urban had to get involved to fix the D".  The results of last three years will continue to weigh heavily on his capabilities in many people's minds and the rambling comment does not help the perception. If I were advising Luke, and thank God I am not, I would be telling him no matter how much he loves this university if he wants to be tOSU HC he needs to seriously consider making his mark, either as sole DC or as HC, somewhere other than tOSU. Only after a successful career elsewhere will fickle fans know his worth, finally given his due credit and hopefully one day consideration for the HC position at tOSU.


BroJim's picture

I'm not sure what Fickell said.

I season my simple food with hunger

Balkestud's picture

I would love too see this as our nickel, which we seem to be in alot:

SSDE. Washington( should handle most right tackles)

SSDT. Bennett( good leverage pushing center back into QB's face)

Under Tackle. Bosa( his tenacity and talent should overwhelm most left guards)

WWDE. Spence( him and Bosa next to each other will force O-Line to shift protections to left side creating confusion and giving us the                                ability to bring blitz off the strong side with LB destroying the QB)

SSLB. Booker( I honestly believe he will end up our best backer by his Jr year. he knows how to blitz and is the perfect size for position)

WSLB. Johnson( spent last year learning and I believe will bring some much needed playmaking ability to position)

Star. Worley( free to roam and blast anyone stupid enough to come into his space)

LCB. Grant( he is the one who I think will benefit most from Ash's arrival. All he lacks is size)

SS. Big Cam( good combo of size, speed and ball skills and isnt afraid to stick his helmet in there)

FS. Bell ( perfect centerfield type with plus range and ball skills)

RCB. Conley( great size for the position and should be ideal for press coverage with super long arms)

 I realize the odds of this being our nickle unit, but I would love to see it. All of these guys can run, have good size and should be a very intimidating group

It gets kind of rough in the back of my limousine,



Crimson's picture

This sounds about right if you want to run it on 3rd and long.  However, you have no size in the middle, so I'm not sure how well it would fare against a power run.