CINCINNATI — Luke Fickell won the press conference. Whether he’s successful as the University of Cincinnati’s new football coach will depend on how many games he win.
But anyone who heard his introductory press conference was left with this thought: This guy gets it.
Fickell, who signed a six-year deal, came across as a guy with tremendous passion, as someone fully prepared to go from coordinator to head coach.
He answered the most pressing questions about himself. Yes, he knows he has to sell the program. Yes, he’s better for the experience as Ohio State’s interim coach. Yes, he knows he’s got to recruit the Cincinnati area to turn the program around.Yes, UC will play an uptempo offense.
But Fickell also won points for two other things he touched on. His decision to remain at Ohio State through the playoffs is rooted in his commitment to his players.
“The only reason is because of the players,” Fickell said. “I want (the UC players) to know and understand that. I’m committed to players. I was never going to start something that I couldn’t finish."
That means a lot in college football these days. Fickell would be better off personally by starting the UC job today, and his choice should go a long way with his current and future players.
The other thing that came out was Fickell wanted the UC job very badly. He and his wife, Amy, talked about UC as an ideal landing place five or six years ago.
“I was pretty aggressive,” Fickle said of pursuing the job. “I never wanted something like this since I can remember.”
Fickell comes into a tough spot. UC is coming off a 4-8 season. The Bearcats lost the last five games badly. Tommy Tuberville, who Fickell replaces, lost the city as a recruiting base.
“We’ve got to do the best job in our city, in our state, in 300-mile radius of our campus,” Fickell said. “We must reconnect with the high school football coaches and let them know how passionate we are. There’s no better high school football than the city of Cincinnati."
A brief stint as a head coach is the one bad line on Fickell’s resume. He spent one year as the interim head coach at Ohio State. The Buckeyes went 6-7 that year. The next year under Urban Meyer, they went 12-0. To be fair, Fickell took over at a difficult time. Jim Tressel had been fired, and the program was under the cloud of an NCAA investigation.
“I’m a much better person,” Fickell said. “I’m as much better coach because of that. There were three things I learned: No. 1, you’ve got to be who you are. You can’t fake it... you’ve got to have great people around you. If you don’t have great people around, you’re going to struggle.
"The ability to delegate, to trust in those people around you is paramount. There’s some things offensively and defensively that I just know. I learned in those type of situations you’ve got to be able to draw back on the way that you’re trained.”
UC went back to the old formula when it picked Fickell. The real turnaround of the program began when the UC hired Mark Dantonio as head coach in 2004. Dantonio’s previous position? Ohio State defensive coordinator. That’s the job Fickell currently holds.
Fickell has a Dantonio connection.
“He’s one of really good friends I have in this profession,” Fickell said. “He had a lot to do with this situation I’m in right now. He helped me out getting my foot in the door.”
Fickell said he came close to taking a job with Dantonio when he took the UC job.
“The time wasn’t right for my family,” Fickell said.
Speaking of which, Fickell said he hasn’t hired anyone from the Ohio State staff. Kerry Coombs was reportedly coming with him, but tweets from Meyer and Coombs indicate otherwise.
Great news! My rt-hand man, Kerry Coombs, is a Buckeye! In add to coordinating the SPT, he will have an expanded coordinating role on our D
— Urban Meyer (@OSUCoachMeyer) December 10, 2016
— Kerry Coombs (@OsuCoachCoombs) December 10, 2016
Coombs would have helped Fickell greatly with selling the UC program, and Fickell knows that’s part of the job.
“There’s no doubt,” Fickell said. “We’ve got to do everything we can to endear ourselves to the entire city. That’s a big part of it. Just like we’ve got to recruit, not just the high school football players, but we’ve got to recruit the city of everybody. We’re going to have a great product. We want to make them proud.
“That’s not just my job. That’ll be a big part of it. But it’s the players’ job as well. We’ll be out in the community. We’ve got to make sure we’re out front. We’re going to support every athletic program in the this university. In turn, they’ll support of us as well. I’m fully committed to it.”
It certainly sounded like it on Day 1.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.