Live long enough and your sure to find your share of surprises in life- some good, some bad. Luke Fickell got the most shocking of all surprises when the Ohio State administrators gave him the de facto keys to the Lamborghini of a college football program. This after only warming the car up a few times and taking a joy ride around the block a time or two. Training over. It is now time to take that car out in rush hour traffic with speed traps at every turn.
Things appear good for Fickell on the surface. He at least looks the part and is saying the right things in front of the media and other onlookers thus far. Truth be told, if you were to tell Fickell that he would be The head coach at The Ohio State University six months ago, he probably would have been looking for a punch line somewhere. There is no joking now. Fickell has been set up for a dream job with more asterisks than a credit card terms and conditions notice. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the Columbus area native has before him.
The old adage states that you never want to be the man to replace a legend. Despite the feelings of some critics, Jim Tressel will be known as a legend in the annals of Ohio State for the way that his teams performed on the field. A national championship, seven-league titles, and eight BCS games (five of them culminating with a victory) in ten years is enough to build statues at almost any program. That, is before we even mention the record against “that school up North.” Add to it all the work that he did in the community, and the way that Tressel carried himself at the podium before and after games, and anyone in their right mind would have to agree that Woody has company on the banks of the Olentangy.
How will Fickell emerge from such an enormous shadow? Anything short of the torrid pace that the “sweater vest” set will leave the fans of one of the most rabid fan bases in America with a case of scarlet fever. Fall outside of the national championship race and folks will be uneasy. Break the string of Big Ten titles (excluding the ridiculous blotting out of last year) and people will be even more anxious. Worse yet, lose to those winged helmets in year one and everyone tied to the program will already be pining for the days of old just one year removed from them. Out with the new, and in with the old. Don’t let the removal of the interim tag fool you-if there is a regression from the standard that has been set, there is going to be enormous pressure to replace it with a clearance tag.
Remember the polish that senator Tressel had in front of the media? Sure it was frustrating to hear the same clichés and tones each and every time the man answered questions, but he at least make you think that he had it all under control. Fickell is, at least thus far, uncomfortable to say the least in the limelight. He has had two opportunities to show his moxy in front of the cameras and has looked less than composed both times. He has almost too much energy in front of the cameras, and gives the impression that his nerves overtake his train of thought. Before we get too bent out of shape, let’s remember that he has been thrust into the most extreme case of on the job training, and should improve his composure over time. Even if he doesn’t improve, the best news of all is that a coach will ultimately be defined by what his teams do on the field (right Ron Zook?). Still though, this is a far cry from the man that everyone will remember leading pressers and befuddling all.
Aside from the expectations, there is that little thing about pending sanctions hanging over the scarlet and grey. It has already cost the program one blue chip recruit, and one gets the feeling that others are waiting for things to crystallize before making any type of commitment. How far will it go? Despite the news that a failure to monitor citing will not be forthcoming, there is still the possibility of sanctions that could mean a loss of scholarships or more. Realized or not, the enormity of the tattoo scandle and the subsequent penalties will have an impact on the recruiting trail. There are more than likely going to be some of those aforementioned leaner years that will make it tough for Fickell to really gather steam with administrators, media, and fans alike. That brings us to our next point…
An Urban legend? There is that big ‘ole elephant sitting in the offices of the football offices. You know it, I know it, and even the man to which much speculation has been made knows it. That alone makes the intriguing desires of many to hire Urban Meyer an interesting proposition. Meyer has been very coy with his responses of whether he would be interested in taking on reigns to a program that he has longed to run. Rather than end any and all rumors, he has made a point to word his responses very wisely to let those that make the decisions at Ohio State know that he is not removing his name from the mystery of the possibility. Can the actions of one man say keeping the options open more? Hardly.
People will be quick to judge a man cutting his teeth in a big time college football program, but patience would prevail by hiring a proven winner. Gene Smith and company might be committed to Luke Fickell this season, but if and when things get close to anarchy within the ranks, the captains of good old state U could have their proven winner in the person of the former Gator coach and Ohio native. Despite the rumors, Meyer has not yet bought a house in the affluent Columbus suburb, but it may not be long if all of the stars that seem to be aligning shine even brighter.
There is a lot to like about Luke Fickell. He has passion for everything Ohio State, is a native to the area, and seems honest, hard-working, and sincere. He is the kind of guy that you root very hard for. What remains to be seen though is who Luke Fickell really is. The better question may be who will Luke Fickell be? Will he be the next stable and successful coach at his alma mater, or will he be a bridge to perceived better things? Time will tell, and it may be as soon as this season.
The question then begs to be asked: On May 30th, when the head coaching job at Ohio State fell in Luke Fickell’s lap, will he ultimately judge this life surprise as a splendid opportunity taken, or one that will result in apprehensive reflection?