Tomorrow afternoon, the final chapter of another Ohio State season will close. In terms of production, it has been a team far removed from that to which Buckeye fans are accustomed.
Luke Fickell will lead the team in his last game in what was a short tenure as head coach. It began in the spring of 2011 when he was named as the interim head coach who would lead the team in the (at the time) five game abscence of the suspended Jim Tressel. As information came to light which proved that Trsssel had lied to the NCAA, he had no choice but to resign at the end of May, and Fickell was named the coach for the whole season.
Regardless of what happens with tomorrow’s game, I will always respect the way in which Fickell handled this season. I believe that he has been a leader and has conducted himself as a class act. Having to play without several key offensive contributors for the first part of the season, in his public comments, Fickell never complained.
Fickell never made it about himself, and when facing such unfavorable odds, he never threw a personal pity party about how difficult the situation was for him.
The growing pains of his first season were exacurbated by game management issues. When he failed to call time outs at the end of the Miami loss, people began to complain that Fickell was in over his head and that the job was too big for him. He would again receive similar types of criticisms at various points throughout the season. I don’t think he ever made any calls that were necessarily horrible, but as the team struggled, those types of problems were magnified.
It was a one year audition, and it was frought with off the field problems. In the same week in which the suspended players were suppose to be eligible to return, news of further violations caused extended suspensions for DeVier Posey and Daniel Herron. Jordan Hall got in trouble shortly before the start of the regular season and had to miss two games. Dominic Clark got in trouble during the week of the Illinois game for using horrible judgement and participating in shooting bbs at fellow OSU undergraduates. Jaamal Berry faced discipline at the end of the season for assaulting a man in a fight. It was a revolving door of problems this year. The fan base grew frustrated, yet Fickell remained strong as the top man.
Some argued that players shouldn’t have been reinstated on the team, which put Fickell into a procarious situation. From day one, he needed to coach this team as though there were no tomorrow in order to see his contract extended. Ultimately, that dream would not be realized.
With the most high profile college football coach in the country “single,” Fickell doing a good enough job to be retained as head coach for 2012 and beyond was always a nearly impossible feat.
Throughout the season, he was forced to endure constant questoins pertaining to his future. At times, he seemed clearly annoyed – who could blame him? – but he still continued to be gracious and respectful to the institution. After the loss at Michigan, with discussions about Meyer replacing Fickell becoming even more rampant, he looked emotional. It seemed clear that he knew that he was soon to be out as head coach.
When Meyer was hired the Monday after the Michigan loss, Fickell was offered a position to remain on the staff, and for that, Fickell again received criticism.
When Tressel resigned and Fickell became head coach, I had said that I didn’t think Luke could stay on as an assistant after having already served as the head coach. But his true love for the university won out and he was humble enough to go back onto the staff. I really think that’s why it was so odd. Most coaches seem too egocentric to be willing to go from the top position back to being an assistant, but that wasn’t the case with Fickell.
Urban Meyer won’t be the head coach forever and Fickell is only in his mid thirties. I sincerely hope Fickell is a strong candidate to reclaim the head coaching position again someday.
With all of the issues, situated with a staff who Fickell hadn’t personally hired, and an early season debacle of a quarterback situation, some wanted Fickell to be given a legitimate full season as head coach. I might have agreed with such sentiments, but passing up on the best coach in the country would have been inexcusable. The stars were too perfectly aligned.
I hope Ohio State is able to beat what has likewise been a very disappointing Florida team. As with every other game this season, I know that coach Fickell will put his heart and soul into winning. Regardless of the outcome, I think he should leave with a sense of pride for having led this program with honor.