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Monday, July 11, 2011
Mike Vrabel injects optimism for Ohio State

By Brian Bennett

It obviously has been a rough couple of months for Ohio State, from Jim Tressel's resignation to Terrelle Pryor's departure to some disappointing news on the recruiting front.

Mike Vrabel
Former Ohio State and NFL star Mike Vrabel brings instant credibility to the Buckeyes' staff.
But Buckeyes fans could celebrate Monday after hearing the official word that former player and Super Bowl hero Mike Vrabel has joined Luke Fickell's staff as linebackers coach.

There's nothing not to like about this move from an Ohio State perspective. Vrabel, a former two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year, played 14 seasons in the NFL and won three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots. He was respected enough as a leader that he was closely involved from in the NFL negotiations over a new labor contract as a member of the NFL Players Association's executive committee.

"He is something for our kids to emulate," Fickell said. "They want to be like him, with what he's done here at Ohio State, what he's done in the NFL and what he's done later in life with his family as a father and husband."

Few people know Vrabel as well as Fickell, who hosted Vrabel on his recruiting visit to Ohio State. The two later roomed together as Buckeyes teammates. They are so close that Fickell said he asked other coaches, including Ohio State basketball coach Thad Matta, about whether there would be any problems hiring your best friend to work for you. He said the responses were all overwhelmingly in favor of it.

"Sometimes it's great to have somebody come in the door ... and give you true, honest feedback," Fickell said. "Somebody who has your back and your best interests at heart, but who knows you well enough to stand up and say, 'All right, this is wrong.'"

Fickell might well need such a trusted sounding board during his first season as head coach, especially with all the distractions that might potentially come up in Columbus in the fall. Vrabel might not have official coaching experience, but he played the role of quasi-coach the past two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"That was a young football team, and it was a great role for me not only helping them on the field but in the locker room and in the film room," he said. "The last two years, I was really coaching guys who were 21, 22 years old and fresh out of college."

Vrabel is the son of a coach who said he always envisioned coming back to coach the Buckeyes. Fickell used to tease him that the dream had passed when Vrabel signed big pro contracts. But Vrabel always assured him that the plan remained the same.

This offseason, the NFL veteran knew the time had arrived to follow that plan. He said he could no longer train the way he wanted to get ready for the grind of a pro season.

"If there was another coach here, I'd still want to be at Ohio State," he said. "But it makes it interesting and fun, I guess, that a guy you played with is leading this team."

Vrabel said he would suggest to players techniques and ideas that he used during his career. But he also said he would defer to Fickell and defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

And although Fickell said Vrabel has "instant credibility" with the players and recruits because of his name recognition, don't expect Vrabel to be flashing his bling in prospects' homes.

"The only people who want to wear Super Bowl rings are the ones who never won one," he said. "I don't anticipate putting three rings on and going out on a recruiting trip. My fingers aren't really much for rings, anyway."

Vrabel's talent, energy and character are what led to those Super Bowl rings. That's what he will bring to Ohio State. After a rough few months, his arrival gives Buckeyes fans something to cheer.