Fickell becomes much more than a fill-in

Ohio State tried to maintain a business-as-usual approach this spring, and Luke Fickell excelled at it.

Sure, the 37-year-old knew his role would change during the first five Saturdays of the fall, when he would fill in for suspended Ohio State coach Jim Tressel. But other than those five Saturdays, Fickell would be just another assistant, focused on his position group and following Tressel's lead. The Vest, remember, would be with the team the rest of the time.

Neither Fickell nor Tressel was thinking too far ahead. Asked by ESPN.com in April when he'd begin grooming Fickell for game day, Tressel replied, "The week of the game. You don't rehearse anything about the game until the week of the game. We don't do it in spring, we don't do it in preseason. ... There probably will be very little differences before game week."

Fickell's mantra throughout the spring was: "This is Coach Tressel's team."

Ohio State is now Fickell's team, at least for the 2011 season. Tressel's resignation Monday morning vaults the 37-year-old Fickell into a much more significant leading role than four hours on five Saturdays.

Although Fickell undoubtedly will lean on his fellow assistants, he becomes the face players will turn to before and during the season. He'll now have final say on the big-picture decisions.

A position coach can worry about his group and his recruiting territory. A head coach, particularly at a program like Ohio State, has to be the CEO and attend to everything.

It's a tough situation, particularly for a first-time head coach in Fickell, but none of Ohio State's opponents will feel sorry for the Buckeyes this season.

Fickell clearly is a rising star in the coaching ranks. A former Buckeyes defensive lineman who grew up in Columbus, his passion for the program is tremendous. If he can steer the Scarlet ship through incredibly rocky waters, he'll not only help his cause for the permanent job but increase his stock to coach elsewhere. But it won't be easy.

I can't imagine what's going through Fickell's mind today. The news has to be overwhelming.

But he's no longer a four-hour head coach. It's 24-7 now, and Fickell is on the clock.