Greg Schiano made an admission about Luke Fickell, then opened a window into the routine part of coaching.
“I do miss him. But in coaching, that’s kind of the way it is. Change is inevitable in this business, I guess in any business,” Ohio State's defensive coordinator and safeties coach said last week. “It’s such a cyclical thing, right? You recruit, you have winter workouts, then you have spring ball, then you have spring recruiting, then it’s back to summer stuff and camps and into training camp.
“So you just go, you don’t really think about it much.”
For the first time in essentially two decades, Fickell no longer works in Columbus. He is the head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Fickell's new job is not even two hours away, yet his absence on the Ohio State coaching staff resonates.
“Yeah, when someone asks me if I miss him, I do,” Schiano said. “I enjoyed working with Luke.”
Urban Meyer filled the lone vacancy on his defensive coaching staff with the hire of Billy Davis on Dec. 21, the best man at the head coach's wedding and a longtime veteran on NFL sidelines. A week before spring drills began at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, Ohio State casually slipped in a press release that Schiano had assumed sole responsibility of the team's defense as the coordinator. On March 7, his boss refuted that. Sort of.
“You want guys that have strong opinions But at the end of the day, we always come to what’s best for Ohio State football. It’s not always like that. I’ve been places where it isn’t.”– Greg Schiano
“I didn't release that he's the sole defensive coordinator. I don't know where that came from. That was not an Urban Meyer release,” Meyer said. “He's the defensive coordinator. I'm going to evaluate what's the best for our program.”
Fickell was Ohio State's defensive coordinator for the first five seasons of Meyer's tenure, and Schiano received the title of co-coordinator when hired ahead of last season. The natural progression would be for Schiano to step into Fickell's role with him gone. Kerry Coombs will have a larger influence on things while he coaches the team's cornerbacks, and we can't forget what Davis or Larry Johnson bring to the table. The latter also has the title of Assistant Head Coach next to his name, after all.
“I want to watch Coach Davis, watch Coach Coombs and obviously Larry is a very integral part,” Meyer said. “Kerry will have a much-expanded role just because [of] the nature of it. Greg's going to be defensive coordinator and now Luke Fickell's gone.”
So, it sounds like Schiano is the defensive coordinator like the program released before spring drills started, even though the head coach claims there was a disconnect between him and his spokesman.
Regardless, one thing Meyer did confirm was Schiano will have more of impact on what the front seven does.
“That means Kerry will have a little more responsibility on the back end of our defense,” he added.
That makes sense. So where does Davis's piece as linebackers coach fall into the pie? Apparently right on top next to the whip cream and cherry of a bevy of tenured assistants.
“I’ll be honest, the three guys that we have in our room other than myself, Billy Davis, what a great resource,” Schiano said. “He’s been coaching for so many years at different places. He brings a wealth of knowledge. Certainly, you can’t change everything you do but there’s little tweaks and things you pull from each other that let you continue to enhance it.”
Schiano's own NFL experience is extensive. He served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the 2012 and 2013 seasons and worked as an assistant in Chicago in the late 1990s. So he and Davis specifically know what it takes for players to make it to the next level.
Add that to the track records of Coombs and Johnson — multiple first-round draft picks and a tangible improvement in their units the last few seasons — and Ohio State's defense looks mighty good on paper. At least in terms of its staff.
“I said it many times, in that room we have such experienced coaches,” Schiano said. “You’re talking about Larry Johnson. He’s the best D-line coach in America. He’s turned down coordinator jobs right and left. This is a special place. People come here and stay here for a reason. Kerry Coombs is one of the elite coaches, one of the elite recruiters. Look at what his guys have done. He chooses to be here and stay here. Billy’s an experienced coach.”
So even though a stalwart like Fickell is elsewhere and Davis has never coached at the college level, Schiano says "nothing's changed" with regards to how Ohio State's staff operates.
“I haven’t been here that long but it’s always been a four-way conversation that we always come to a consensus,” Schiano said. “I’m not saying we don’t disagree with some things but if there wasn’t we’d really be in trouble, right? You want guys that have strong opinions.
“But at the end of the day, we always come to what’s best for Ohio State football. It’s not always like that. I’ve been places where it isn’t.”