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Monday, May 7, 2012
Buckeyes' Luke Fickell back in familiar role

By Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Like most coaches, Ohio State's Luke Fickell has neither the time nor the desire to look backward.

Fickell isn't going to publish his memoirs about his 182-day term as Ohio State's head coach last year, when he guided his alma mater through an adversity-filled season that produced subpar results on the field. After Ohio State named Urban Meyer as its head coach on Nov. 28, Fickell's life didn't exactly slow down. He coached the Buckeyes through their bowl game, interviewing for Pitt's head-coaching vacancy during the span, before opting to remain with Ohio State as defensive coordinator. When Meyer introduced his staff at a Jan. 15 Ohio State men's basketball game, Fickell received the loudest ovation.

Since then, Fickell has spent most of his time recruiting, with some coaching sprinkled in this spring.

Luke Fickell
Luke Fickell says he learned a lot during his brief stint as Ohio State's head coach.
"From the day after the [bowl] game, I pretty much started moving on into the next page," Fickell told ESPN.com. "Since then, we've had spring break off, so that was probably about the only time you may have had to reflect, but you were so far into everything else. ... Then again, I'm not a person that is going to dwell upon the past."

He might not dwell on what happened, but he hasn't forgotten, either. The unique situation provided lessons for a young coach.

"There's things you take from every experience, but especially that one," Fickell said. "Not just about being a head coach, but being in the midst of adversity. It's everything from how you react and respond to how others around you react and respond to how an 18-year-old reacts and responds, to a 22-year-old. There was an incredible amount of things learned, not just about what things would I do different, but more emotionally."

Fickell is back in the familiar role of assistant coach, a position he held at Ohio State from 2002 until Jim Tressel's resignation on Memorial Day of 2011. The 38-year-old shares coordinator duties with coaching veteran Everett Withers, and he'll also coach the linebackers, as he did from 2005-2010.

Fickell shared defensive coordinator duties with Jim Heacock before taking over the head-coaching duties, but Heacock was regarded as the unit's leader. The 2012 season marks the first where Fickell moves into the primary play-calling role, although he downplays the idea that he'll have more ownership with the defense.

"In 2002, it wasn't Mark Dantonio's defense," Fickell said. "It was Ohio State's silver bullet defense. In '05, when Jim Heacock and myself were doing our thing, it wasn't our defense. It was every bit [former assistant] Paul Haynes' defense and [former assistant] Tim Beckman's defense."

Withers has been a defensive coordinator at three FBS programs (North Carolina, Minnesota and Louisville) and boasts NFL experience with the Tennessee Titans and New Orleans Saints. He also shares a kinship with Fickell after serving as North Carolina's interim head coach last season.

While Fickell stepped into a tough situation on Memorial Day, Withers' promotion came even later, as he took over July 28 for the fired Butch Davis. Although they occasionally joke around about their experiences, Withers, like Fickell, hasn't had much time to look back.

"When Coach Withers and I had some opportunities to sit down and spend some time together, there were no egos involved," Fickell said. "That's Coach Meyer's biggest thing. He said, 'The most important thing is I want an alignment with the staff.' ... That's why we've been successful here and been good, not just at Ohio State but on defense as well."

Fickell inherits a defense that returns nine starters, including All-America defensive end John Simon, but backslid at times last season. Although Fickell spent most of his time with the defense last fall, he's no longer burdened by head-coaching duties.

"He's awesome," Simon said. "With the passion and fire he brings every day, especially with his knowledge of defense, it's great to have him back."

The scheme will remain more or less the same -- "Nothing that anybody would notice unless you were really studying us," linebacker Etienne Sabino said -- and so are the demands.

"We always talk about, 'Be on the same page,'" Sabino said. "We can both look at a play and he'll ask me, 'Is that good or not?' And if I say no, he's probably thinking the same thing. We're on the same page. He would never let you get complacent.

"He's still pushing me just as hard as when I first walked in here. That's great."