A Columbus, Ohio native, Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell has been a Buckeye his entire life—literally. In fact, he has been considered a member of the scarlet and gray in some way, shape, or form for over two decades. It started when he played for the Buckeyes and made a school-record 50 consecutive starts as a nose guard from 1993-96, then he became a graduate assistant for Ohio State in 1999 and never looked back. After leaving for Akron for two seasons, he returned to his alma mater in 2002, where he has been an assistant ever since. Fickell was even an interim head coach for the 2011 season after Jim Tressel resigned. At Ohio State, he went from a grad assistant to special teams coordinator to linebackers coach to co-defensive coordinator. During his time in Columbus, he has won nine Big Ten titles (seven as a coach, two as a player) and been a part of two (and possibly three) national champions.
But, on Saturday, he decided that it’s time for the next step in his coaching career. While the Ohio State Buckeyes are preparing for their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against Clemson, Fickell was named the head coach of the Cincinnati Bearcats.
During his introductory press conference Saturday afternoon, the 43-year-old credited the two coaches he worked under while at Ohio State: former head coach Jim Tressel and current head coach Urban Meyer.
“Jim Tressel showed me what coaching was really about. Urban Meyer pushed me to where I am today.”
Throughout his career as an assistant at Ohio State, Fickell rarely ever wanted to leave the school and place he loved to further his coaching career and become a head coach. But things seemed to change prior to the 2016 season, as Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel stated on the first day of September:
“Luke Fickell made a conscious decision this off-season to pursue college head coaching jobs after years of not making a concerted effort to pursue any. (He switched agents in the off-season to aid the effort.) The defensive coordinator served as Ohio State’s interim coach in 2011 and has interviewed over the years at Pittsburgh (twice), Northern Illinois and Akron.”
Throughout his time at Ohio State, Fickell’s defense was virtually one of the best in the country year in and year out and that continued into 2016. In 12 games so far this season, Fickell’s Silver Bullets unit was one of the best in the country. They have allowed just 281.6 yards (fourth-best in the country) and 14.2 points per game (third).
Fickell was a great coach, but his ability to recruit could arguably be what Ohio State will miss most. His best recruiting tool was being able to spot raw athletes, no matter what star rating they had. He knew that if given the right coaching and development, that player can eventually be a star. He did this very well in Ohio and knew the football players in the state better than anyone. Former linebacker Darron Lee (was a quarterback in high school), who was a first-round pick in the NFL draft this past summer, was a three-star athlete out of high school, but Fickell knew he could be special. His ability to recruit will be hard to replace, no matter who takes his spot. The loss of the defensive coordinator and recruiting extraordinaire is significant, but Meyer has been here before and has obviously been able to find other great assistants.
If you think the head coach was in any way sad, you thought wrong. Meyer was proud of and couldn’t be more happy for Fickell, in a statement released by the school:
“Today is a proud day for Ohio State and Buckeye Nation with the news of Luke Fickell becoming head coach at the University of Cincinnati. Few have invested as much time and effort and passion into Ohio State and its football program than Luke. We all knew this day was coming. Now that it is upon us, I want to thank Luke for being such a terrific coach, mentor and person. And I wish him, Amy and their young family all the best as they begin this new journey.”
With Fickell’s departure, Meyer has plenty of potential replacements that he could look to. Here’s some that he may consider, along with others:
- Former Texas and Louisville head coach Charlie Strong
- Former Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator Billy Davis
- Wisconsin defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox
- Houston defensive coordinator (and interim head coach) Todd Orlando
- Notre Dame linebackers coach Mike Elston
If a player in the state of Ohio can’t play for The Ohio State University, their second option could now be the University of Cincinnati. That’s all because of the great hire the Bearcats made by bringing in Luke Fickell to be their next head coach.
Meyer now has 10 former assistants who are now head coaches in the FBS, further proving just how good of a head coach he is:
- Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
- Gary Anderson, Oregon State
- Kyle Wittingham, Utah
- Steve Addazio, Boston College
- Doc Holliday, Marshall
- Everett Withers, Texas State
- Tom Herman, Texas
- DJ Durkin, Maryland
- Chris Ash, Rutgers
- Luke Fickell, Cincinnati
Although Fickell is now the head coach of the Bearcats, like former assistants Tom Herman (in 2014 through the Buckeyes’ national championship run) and Chris Ash (in 2015 through the Fiesta Bowl), he will remain part of the Ohio State coaching staff through their the playoffs.
Looking ahead to 2017: For those who may now be fans of the Cincinnati starting today, they travel to Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on the Wolverines in Week 2 next season.
Luke Fickell may be leaving Ohio State, but he will always be a Buckeye For Life.