Thursday, July 28, 2011

FICKELL: NO TIME FOR EMOTIONS; MILLER MAY START THIS FALL

Luke Fickell
CHICAGO — Ohio State interim head football coach Luke Fickell addressed reporters at the 2011 Big Ten Media Days in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, and hit on a number of topics ranging from the quarterback battle entering camp next month, to his and the team's overall mindset following a whirlwind off-season that saw a head coach and starting quarterback get booted out of Columbus.

Fickell stated that he really hasn't had time to sit down and process the situation emotionally.

"Everything happened pretty fast," Fickell said. "The greatest thing I think I could say is I have had no time to sit and think. I've 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.

"I think that's what's been best for me is that I haven't had the opportunity to sit down and think about the situation ahead, just hit the ground running, do what I know how to do best and that's compete.

"Obviously, it's been exciting, it's been challenging, but that's what you get into this deal for."

Fickell said the turmoil this off-season seems to have brought the team more closer together than ever before.

"All indications show that the group has really come tight together," Fickell said. "They're saying the right things and they're doing the right things, but we keep referring to them and trying to remind them that when they have the opportunities, we see a lot better than we hear.

"So we're anxious to see that (tightness) come August 6th and 7th."

The cold hard truth is — it doesn't matter if the team feels emotional about the losses of head coach Jim Tressel and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor — the Buckeyes must put it all behind them and move on when camp begins in the coming weeks.

They have some huge questions to answer before the season begins, most notably on who will be the team's new starting signal caller?

"That's going to be an interesting question," Fickell said. "I think our focus is going to be on the competitive nature. We have four very capable guys, one being maybe a 25-year old senior and one being an 18-year old freshman, and everywhere in between ...

"I think we're obviously going to give them every opportunity and put them in situations where we think they can be successful. And each one is a little bit different in their own right. As we move along in camp, we'll really focus on who we think gives us the best opportunity to win as a team."

The "18-year old freshman" Fickell is referring to is Braxton Miller, a multi-dimensional passer out of Huber Heights (OH) who has been tabbed by many this spring as the heir apparent to Pryor.

Fickell appeared confident when asked if he can see Miller coming in as a true freshman and taking over the offense like Pryor did in 2008?

"I hope so," Fickell said of Miller. "I think he has a lot of similar qualities (to Pryor) in what he can do as a football player. Again, we're excited. Obviously, we had him through the spring practice, but again excited to see how he can continue to grow and how he can put our football team in the best position to win."

Although he wouldn't come out and name Miller the starter on Thursday, he did elude to him possibly being the man when asked a question about red-shirt freshman tailback Rod Smith — another youngster who could see the field early and often this fall.

"Rod is a guy with great size and great running abilities," Fickell said. "Obviously the thing about the running back position is, they'll have to take a lot of the load off of some of the things that we do as far as having a young quarterback (Miller)."

It will certainly be a challenge for the interim head coach this fall to take over the Buckeyes program after all that it's went through in the past eight months.

Of course, it's a task Fickell fully accepts.

"From Day One, the biggest thing that I've tried to do is instill leadership, as well as trying to pound home the culture that we believe is important in moving our program forward," Fickell said. "I believe as we talk about our players, I think the foundation has been set. I'm really excited about growing and continuing to grow upon that foundation that has been set.

"I know our focus needs to be on our young guys who will be joining us and helping them to develop and mentoring them along and learning our foundation. I think and believe the number one most important thing for our program right now, as well as for me, is the stability that we've had in our coaching staff. The experiences that we've had as a staff for the past eight, nine, 10 years is invaluable.

"I think this alone will allow us and help us to move forward, and allow us to focus on what we need to do to be successful, on and off the field. And do it now."

Fickell — in his first appearance at the Big Ten Media Days — also spoke about the great advice he has been given, his best friend Mike Vrabel being the new linebackers coach and how recruiting hasn't really seen a huge "backlash" following Tressel's exit.

However, the coach couldn't escape the podium without discussing the Buckeyes historic rivalry with Michigan, and what it will be like entering a new era with first-year coaches in both Columbus and Ann Arbor.

"Well, as you know, that is an exciting time no matter what. Hopefully that starts a long rivalry as some of the ones in the past have had, that's what it's all about," Fickell said of the rivalry and facing new Michigan head coach Brady Hoke. "Nobody will overlook that. I know that's not something that will ever be overlooked at Ohio State.

"Obviously, I look forward to that rivalry and continuing that great tradition (against Hoke)."

The new Michigan coach agreed with Fickell's take on the rivalry.

"The rivalry with Ohio (State) is as big a rivalry as there is in sports," Hoke said. "It never has been who the coach is. It's always about those two great institutions. We have an utmost respect. It's fun.

"If you can't get geared up for that and get goosebumps and all those things for that game, then you may not be human."