Luke Fickell’s first appearance at Big Ten football media days as Ohio State head coach turned out to be yet another surprising episode in a year full of unexpected occurrences.
"It's never been something that I've worried a lot about, but it's been exciting in and of itself because you don't know what's going to happen,” Fickell told a small group of reporters in a hallway moments after addressing the media contingent at large in Chicago. “You get a schedule and you have an idea of what it is, but you don't really know. I had a completely different idea of what that last 15 minutes was going to be, so as to what I had prepared for maybe mentally, to be ready for it was completely different.”
He was not cursing that misunderstanding, however. Instead, he viewed it as the type of learning experience he tries to put his players through.
“We want to challenge them mentally and put them in situations they're not prepared for, to see how they react,” Fickell said. "I guess I thought it was a luncheon. I thought it wasn't a question-and-answer period, it was more of a talk. I guess not knowing sometimes exactly what's happening… I like the mental challenges sometimes just to see how you can adapt to things."
As far as challenges go, few schools have been presented with as many as the Buckeyes since December, when revelations of some players’ involvement in an illegal extra-benefits scandal first came to light.
The program’s problems escalated in March when Jim Tressel admitted publicly he had committed ethical violations by withholding knowledge of the situation during a previous investigation, an announcement that later led to Tressel’s being forced into retirement at the end of May.
Last week the NCAA released its response to Ohio State’s investigation and seemingly indicated no serious charges would follow the school’s decision to vacate its 2010 season and Big Ten championship while putting itself on two years of probation, but Fickell was not ready to say he felt relieved yet.
"I'm sure you can respect the fact that we don't know anything more,” he said. “Nothing is finalized. We're not really concentrating. For me the focus is solely on moving this program forward and what we can control."
In terms of moving forward, Fickell’s first team is set to begin practice Aug. 8. The team will take 105 players to camp, a group that may or may not include junior linebacker Jonathan Newsome, who has been the subject of transfer rumors in recent days.
"Nothing is completely set in stone yet,” Fickell said. “Coming into camp we'll have the 105 and I'm sure we'll have better clarity with what is going to happen with all that."
The coach said Newsome, who spent much of spring practice in Tressel's doghouse for academic reasons, is still in school, “but I'm not sure he's part of the 105 as of yet."
The offseason upheaval including the loss of Tressel and three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor has led some to pick Wisconsin as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Leaders division and play in the inaugural Big Ten championship game.
Fickell had no problem with that.
“That makes perfect sense to me,” he said. “They’ve been successful, and obviously they have some things returning. They were Big Ten champs last year, so that’s a part of the game. We don’t put a whole lot of stock into all those things, but it’s obviously something people like to talk about.”
That does not mean he thinks his team should not expect to be at the top once again when the dust settles in November.
"I don't think the expectations really ever change at Ohio State,” Fickell said. ?That's something I think is big for us. Our guys know what was done before them. That's what we expect and what we'll continue to push for."
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