Those expecting major bombshells or pronouncements from Luke Fickell's first media gathering since he became Ohio State's head coach for all of 2011 were bound to be disappointed.
Fickell, as expected, stuck to a few talking points and tried to steer most questions toward the future, not recent troubling news surrounding the program. He emphasized three values he wants the team to embody: "Respect, toughness and being men of action." And he said that Ohio State would aim to lead the nation in effort, turnovers and toughness.
Nothing earth-shattering there. But what the 37-year-old former defensive coordinator really needed to do was project an image of leadership and provide some stability to a Buckeyes fan base that badly needs both of those qualities. In that way, Fickell succeeded. He was put in an extremely difficult position of having to face a large media contingent as head coach for the first time, especially under these circumstances. For the most part, I thought he handled himself and well and did his best to offer reassurances to Buckeye Nation, even if more turmoil is coming.
It's been two full weeks since Jim Tressel resigned, and this is the first time we've heard from the new man in charge. Fickell said the reason for the wait in addressing the public was because he wanted to make sure his players' minds were right heading into final exams, and then he had to prepare for high school camps that were held over the weekend. Though it would have been good to hear from him earlier, the fact is he had a lot on his plate.
Here are some highlights from both Fickell's 35-minute news conference and his interview with the Big Ten Network immediately before that press appearance:
Fickell said he didn't have time to think or reflect about Tressel's resignation, because he was told the news in the same breath he was asked to take over. It's kind of hard to believe, however, that he hasn't thought much about his former mentor's departure in the two weeks since. Later, when asked for his emotions on all the recent developments, Fickell said, "Yes, it hurts at times. ... I'm not saying I'm not disappointed, I'm not saying I'm not upset. But again, we're moving forward." Fickell thanked Tressel in his opening remarks.
As for Terrelle Pryor, Fickell said he had no contact with Pryor since the day after Memorial Day and did not speak with the quarterback about his decision to leave the program. He said Pryor tried to contact him but that the two never hooked up.
Fickell denied being aware of any NCAA violations committed by players or coaches on the staff. "I'm not going to say I had blinders on, but I was very focused on the task at hand. I was not informed of any information before it became public knowledge."
Tressel's departure opens up a spot on the staff. Fickell said he has not decided who he would hire but that he plans on the new assistant working on the defensive side of the ball. Fickell said there may be changes in staff responsibilities, but that he wouldn't discuss them until later in the summer. He said there shouldn't be much change in approach on defense or offense, where longtime offensive coordinator Jim Bollman will continue to call plays.
Fickell said there really hasn't been an opportunity to have a full team meeting since Tressel's departure. The players came in for team workouts on Memorial Day and the following Tuesday. "The mood was a little bit eerie at times," he told the Big Ten Network. "But it gave us a chance to go out and attack and have a great workout. It allowed them to get some emotions out in a great workout, and we had that for two nights straight." He said he has met with some players individually but has mostly focused on speaking with the seniors, who he expects to set the leadership tone.
Fickell gave no indication of whom he might choose as a starting quarterback this season, saying that would be determined in fall camp.
As far as recruiting, Fickell said he hasn't noticed any negative effects yet on the trail. He continually stressed that "Ohio State is bigger than one coach, one team or one situation" and that this is a time for unity. "We're looking for a few good men, ones who can step up and understand what Ohio State is all about."
Will there be divisions within the team over Pryor and other controversies? There has already been a hint of that. Asked about it, Fickell said, "That's one of those things we'll keep internally. We ask guys to have respect for one another. That's something in our family that we will handle."
Fickell was also asked how much importance he would place on the Michigan game, which Tressel always made sure was at the forefront of his players' minds. "Our guys will know about November 26th," he said. "I promise you that."
More to come in a bit ...