CHICAGO — Every day presents a new challenge for Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell.
Thursday’s big surprise was facing a swarm of media members — he was expecting just to give a speech at a luncheon. After all, this was his first time here.
But questions keep coming and he had to react.
“It’s been exciting in itself because you don’t know what’s going on,” Fickell said during the Big Ten football media days at the Hyatt McCormick Place. “What I had prepared mentally to be ready for (the speech) . . . To me that’s some of the greatest things you do. We try to get our guys ready mentally and throw them in situations they’re not prepared for to see how they react.”
Fickell, who graduated from Ohio State in 1997, got the job when Jim Tressel resigned on Memorial Day weekend amid the NCAA allegations — primarily Tressel’s decision to conceal information about rules violations from his superiors — and Fickell had to respond quickly.
“Everything happened pretty fast. The greatest thing I guess I could say is I had no time to sit and think,” he said. “I had no time to feel sorry of any sort, to have a whole lot of emotion. The situation arose and obviously I had to stand up.”
Ohio State seems to have caught a break with the NCAA sending the university a letter last week declaring that failure to monitor was not found in its investigation.
Fickell said he knows the NCAA rulebook and has always done well on his compliance tests, but he is focusing on football because the NCAA investigation, including the Aug. 12 hearing before the committee on infractions, is out of his hands.
He said he only knows so much about his players because he had just one week with them before they left on summer break.
Since then, he’s had little contact with his players by rule — and Tressel by choice.
“Just out of obviously respect and what Coach Tressel believes in and the respect for the entire team, what we’re doing, we know we need to be who we are and continue to move forward and focus on the things we have, not the things we do not have anymore,” he said.
He has gotten advice from many people — including former Ohio State coaches Earle Bruce and John Cooper, whom he played for. And the best advice was simply to be himself.
Fickell faces extraordinary expectations are taking over a program that has won six straight Big Ten titles, but he also knows what rules the day in Columbus — including understanding the Michigan rivalry, but not focusing on it.
He avoided questions about Michigan coach Brady Hoke specifically, steering the talk to the game itself.
“That’s an exciting time, no matter what,” he said. “If that starts hopefully a long rivalry as some of the ones in the past have had, that’s what it’s all about.
“Nobody will overlook that. I know that’s not something that will ever be overlooked at Ohio State.”