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COLUMBUS, Ohio - Walking off of the practice field following Ohio State's second full day of fall camp, Luke Fickel met with an OSU spokesperson to discuss his plans for the immediate future. The Buckeyes' defensive coordinator was scheduled to meet with the media, which was currently surrounding offensive coordinator Tom Herman.
The spokesperson advised Fickell to go take a shower before returning for his time to be interviewed. Fickell smiled.
"Let Tom have them," he said. "I'm sure they've had plenty of me and they could probably recite what I'm going to say.'"
Or perhaps it was the other way around.
The Columbus native and former defensive lineman is no longer a stranger when it comes to addressing the media. Not after spending the 2011 season as Ohio State's interim head coach.
Part of his duties as the Buckeyes' head coach included holding a weekly press conference, in addition to meeting with the media after games. Fickell has admitted that he didn't particularly enjoy that part of the job, and it's probably safe to assume that he enjoyed it even less as Ohio State endured its first losing season since 1988.
As rumors swirled that Urban Meyer would be hired as his successor in the days leading up to the Buckeyes' regular season finale against Michigan, it was clear that Fickell had had enough.
"I know that there's a game at noon on Saturday," Fickell said. "My ass will be there."
Two days after the Buckeyes lost to the Wolverines for the first time since 2003, the rumors of Meyer's hiring proved to be correct. And in one of his first acts as the Ohio State head coach, Meyer reached out to the man that he was taking the job from.
"I know what kind of guy he is. He's an Ohio guy, a Buckeye. I knew him from afar. I watched closely how he handled the situation. I thought he's a man's man. Obviously he's everything that you hope for for a Ohio State former player," Meyer said of Fickell in his opening press conference. "There's no doubt I wanted him to be a part of this team."
Despite facing a potentially awkward situation of taking a demotion to stay with the program he just spent a year as the head coach at, Fickell accepted Meyer's offer, and returned to the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator positions that he occupied from 2005 to 2010.
Fickell's admitted that he's had to make an adjustment in moving back to his old role, even if it's one that he's more comfortable filling.
"More like previous years. Just a different feel, a different perspective as a coach out there. All the years have been exciting. All the years have been fun. Different challenges at different times," Fickell said. "This is definitely an exciting time and I think you can see it in our guys' eyes as well."
From dealing with the negative attention that comes with a 6-7 season to the suspensions (and sometimes re-suspensions) that seemed to be constantly occurring with his star players, it's clear that 2011 took a toll on Fickell. But despite the tough year, claims he's moving on with lessons learned.
"It's getting back into the things you love to do. I think that's the thing, you know, where's your focus? No matter what you're doing. You could switch sides of the ball, you can switch positions, and you've always got to focus yourself back to what you're doing," Fickell said. "If you worry about too many things outside of what you have control over, it's very difficult. Whatever your job is, that's where your focus is. The ability to stay on task and do that is probably the key. That's maybe what I learned the most."
For the defensive players who may have lost some of Fickell's attention to the offense and the minutia that comes along with being the head coach of a major college football program, the coach's return to his coordinator position has been a welcome one.
"Any time you can put Coach Fick's full attention on defense, it's a scary thing," defensive end John Simon said. "You add him with the coaching staff that we have on the defensive side of the ball, the game plans are going to be awesome, it's going to be up for us to players to execute them."
And for his part, Fickell's just glad to still be coaching the game he loves in the city that he grew up in. Regardless of what position he's in.
"This is what I love, yes. I love being with the defense, I love being with a young group of guys. It doesn't matter what position you are, whether you're coaching, you're helping out academics, you're in the strength room, you're a head coach or you're an assistant coach, being around young people has got to be one of your passions," Fickell said. "Whether that's as linebacker coaching, as defensive line coach, maybe they'll make me a trainer, I don't know what it is, but to be around young people, to be around this sport, that's what I love to do."
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