Watch video of the press conference
Saying all the right things in June or July doesn't mean any extra points go on the board when Akron comes to town for Ohio State's season-opening game Sept. 3, but new head coach Luke Fickell’s debut seemed to go pretty well.
I know a lot of people put a lot of emphasis on winning press conferences, but maybe we should view that more like we do spring football: Bad ones are much more likely to undo you than they are to put you ahead of schedule.
You can lose them, as Fickell's former and current bosses unfortunately showed in March, but they don’t preclude putting in significant work when they are done to get anything real accomplished.
Nonetheless, the interim coach of the Buckeyes acquitted himself well on Monday afternoon at the Fawcett Center in Columbus in front of TV cameras and microphones from all over the state he so enthusiastically calls home.
As his former boss, Jim Tressel, did so well, Fickell stayed on point, and he did so with a certain sincerity that has sometimes lacked in the same setting.
He said all the things you would expect to hear from a football coach, presenting three pillars for his program ("respect, toughness and being men of action") and of course credited those who mentored him and preceded him in his new job.
Fickell sounded a bit scripted both at the beginning and the end, but that can be forgiven this time around given the circumstance.
He stressed the importance of perspective, that Ohio State is bigger than any one player or coach, and he stayed away from dissing the fallen coach and quarterback who left the program in the past two weeks.
Fickell did some dancing around a few questions, but he managed to avoid being as obvious about it as some are in similar circumstances.
He was forceful in explaining his philosophy, and his love for the university was laid out raw for all to see, as plain as the white shirt, black suit and scarlet tie he wore.
Fickell made no attempt to hide the fact he has always viewed Ohio State as his dream job, but he didn’t oversell it, either, and he seemed sincere in saying he had few if any qualms with taking it under these unfortunate circumstances in the face of potential NCAA sanctions.
If anyone is fit to pick up the pieces of the surprising end of the Tressel era, I have no idea if it is Fickell, but he took a step toward confirming he can handle it by the way he handled himself.
There are more important things he will have to do than face the media, but the difference I saw between him at this time as opposed to many of his meetings with local reporters over the past three or four years makes me think he has a better chance to succeed than I might have given him a day earlier.
Fickell has been considered an up-and-comer in the coaching business for quite some time, but his dealings with the press left something to be desired. That's not unique for a football coach, but it was striking about him because he seemed to have flipped a switch at some point in 2006 or '07.
Early on in his career, he was engaging, open and honest with reporters, but he seemed to withdraw in the past few years.
Although he only had to come out for interviews a handful of times in a given season and he was never involved in any kind of controversy that I’m aware of, he seemed wary of being "got" by some enterprising reporter waiting for him to slip up.
I found that a bit strange because I always thought he had the capacity for being interesting without tripping over himself. Like it or not, accepting probing questions is a fact of life for a major college head coach, and Fickell’s seeming hesitance to do so called into question his fitness for such a job.
If he didn’t have the patience or the stomack to handle that, how was he going to react on third-and-long in the belly of Ohio Stadium on a Saturday afternoon?
He was not so reserved in his first appearance as head coach of his alma mater, though.
Fickell joked a bit at one point with one long-time member of the Ohio State football beat, and he never got the slightest bit cross at any questions, even when asked about the ongoing NCAA investigations, Tressel's resignation and the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
He was brief but respectful in talking about this feelings regarding Tressel's fall and curt (and maybe just a tad salty) in talking about his dealings with Pryor after taking Tressel's place.
It felt like Fickell had a hand guiding the path of the proceedings, but he never gripped it as tightly as Tressel typically would.
That's not an easy performance to pull off, and there will be many more times he has to do that dance, but Monday he seemed more fit for a large part of being Ohio State head coach than he had during his time as an Ohio State assistant.
That's some good news for a program that sorely needs it.
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