Ohio State holds on to Luke Fickell, its good soldier

Graham Watson
November 28, 2011
View photos

Luke Fickell isn't going to find another head coaching job waiting at the end of the season. But he should find an appreciation across Buckeye nation for his role in steering Ohio State through the darkest storm in its history in one piece.

When incoming coach Urban Meyer is announced as Fickell's replacement this afternoon, he's expected to keep the young coach, who filled in admirably as a stopgap for his ousted boss, Jim Tressel. It's a token of gratitude for Fickell, who bore the brunt of Ohio State's scandal and somehow steered the program into less choppy waters. Ohio State is in a much better position now than it was when Fickell took over at the end of May, and it sets up Meyer to use his name and clout to put Ohio State back among the college football power brokers.

View photos

Obviously, a 6-6 season doesn't scream "Ohio State." In fact, the last time the Buckeyes won just six games was in 1999, leading to then-coach John Cooper's exit a year later. Since then, the Buckeyes have just three seasons with fewer than 10 wins. This year's bowl game will be the first one that isn't emblazoned with a BCS logo since 2004, when an up-and-coming team beat Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl. Tressel's next six teams all beat Michigan and won at least a share of the Big Ten title.

But it's important to remember the dire situation Fickell inherited.

With Tressel's exit, Ohio State was at a low point. The school had spent the previous six months dealing with fallout over several players trading memorabilia for cash and tattoos, and the coach who had made Ohio State one of the beacons of college football for a decade had just resigned in disgrace.

Less than a month on the job, Fickell made the tough decision of cutting ties with starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was the center of an NCAA investigation for allegedly selling autographed memorabilia and accepting money from a hometown "mentor" who had been specifically warned to cut all financial ties with Pryor after Pryor signed with the Buckeyes as the most-hyped recruit in the nation in 2008.{YSP:MORE}

It wasn't the way Fickell — a loyal assistant coach under Tressel since 2002 — envisioned being elevated to head honcho at his alma mater, but after a rough start, he made it work. He plugged the holes vacated by Pryor and the other suspended players and he dealt with more suspensions and setbacks along the way. He toggled between quarterbacks Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller before settling true freshman Miller, even though the poor kid could barely hit the broad side of a barn. After Saturday's loss at Michigan, Miller looks like a future star. Ohio State rallied to beat Illinois and Wisconsin, nearly upset Nebraska on the road, remained in the Big Ten title hunt well into November and kept fans interested throughout an essentially lame-duck campaign.

It would be shortsighted to call this season — or Fickell, for that matter — a bust. Considering the hand they were dealt, Fickell and Ohio State arguably overachieved. No one would have blamed a young, first-time head coach thrown unexpectedly into the fire if the team had tanked, but the fact that it didn't, that it played hard for Fickell and will go on to play for a winning season in a bowl game, is worth some applause.

- - -
Graham Watson is on Facebook and Twitter: Follow her @Yahoo_Graham.