Luke Fickell is the head coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes football team, and with a 42-0 victory over the Akron Zips on Saturday, his era as head coach has officially begun. The win gave fans a little more breathing room, a little more confidence that their beloved Buckeyes weren’t going to miss a beat. And besides the talent on the field, coaching played an integral roll in that win.
Ohio State has a young squad, now. Not just in age, but experience. On Saturday they were missing six starters who have a high impact on the game when they’re on the field. The experience and leadership that DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas bring to the field surely left a void to be filled. Then to find out that backup running back Jordan Hall, who was supposed to get the start, would not be able to play and corner Travis Howard would be missing as well was even more of a blow. But it never showed on the field. That has less to do with talent and more to do with coaching than most people realize.
Fickell was prepared for the losses of Posey, Herron, Adams and Thomas. He had a mere two days to prepare for the losses of Howard and Hall. It’s not just about replacing those guys on the field, it’s about getting the other players on the field adjusted to the change as well. Fickell did an excellent job of preparing the team for the changes that took place, including getting backups up to speed on what needed done on Saturday.
In perusing the transcripts of his press conference after the game, two things stuck out to me:
Q. The guys that were suspended two days ago, are they back? Was this a one game thing or is it defined?
COACH FICKELL: We’re going to continue to focus today on the guys that we have, the people and the kids and young men that were out there. We’ll worry about those things here as the next week comes in.
But I’m excited. I’m proud. I’m happy for all those guys down in that locker room that battled the conditions and fought through everything. That’s what I want to make sure I focus on and we focus on now.
Q. When is the last time you talked to Coach Tressel about this game in preparation? And also, for yourself, so much is made up of the sweater vest that he wore. Is this the attire we’re going to see as you move forward in your career?
COACH FICKELL: This is what they gave me. This is how I’ll go. I kind of like to be hot. I’d rather be hot than cold. Maybe that is the wrestler mentality that I grew up with.
But, no, I have not talked with coach. That’s about all we’ve got on that. I know he’s rooting for us and for these guys. We’ll focus on what we have and not what we’ve lost, and we’ll continue to move forward. (ohiostatebuckeyes.com)
Those were not the only things that stuck out, but by far the ones that meant the most. Focus on the guys we have. Now that’s the right attitude. Don’t focus on the why or think about how devastating and distracting that news is, but focus on how to fix it. That’s what he did. That’s how he prepared the team. He kept them focused on the game at hand and not the distraction of further missing players on the field. Always look forward.
Then there’s the inevitable “vest” question. You knew it would come, it was only a matter of time. Fickell’s response tells us that he could care less what he wears on the sidelines. “This is what they gave me.” I can almost see him shrug it off. Wearing black on a day when heat indices reached 100 degrees or more and he blows it off as if it doesn’t matter. That not only tells us that he doesn’t care what he wears, it tells us that he knows his players were sweating a heck of a lot more than he was and he wasn’t going to fuss about wearing black. It tells us that he was more focused on the game, not what the fans might think of his attire. It tells us that he is his own man and will not try to emulate former head coach Jim Tressel.
The Luke Fickell era of Ohio State football has truly begun. It’s an era of forward thinking, an era of team unity. He’s starting out with a bum wrap, but he never mentions it. He doesn’t care what happened before he was head coach, he only cares about what happens now. He keeps the players focused on being a team and making adjustments as curve balls are thrown their way. He is not Jim Tressel, nor will he pretend to be something he is not.
Fickell started the season right, with a huge win over Akron. He also made a statement in the process: Ohio State is still here and we’re not going away. With the level of support he has from players, coaches, staff and fans, right now it feels like Fickell isn’t going away either.
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