Ohio State is in its final preparations for a football game at Purdue on Saturday, but a different topic dominated head coach Luke Fickell’s last media appearance of the week. That, of course, was the sexual abuse scandal at Penn State and the firing of Nittany Lions head coach Joe Paterno that took place Wednesday night.
Rather than talk about the effect on the legacy of Paterno, major college football’s winningest coach, Fickell stressed the focus should remain on the plight of the alleged victims of former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky and their families.
“Obviously it’s very sad. It’s disturbing,” Fickell said Thursday when asked about the situation. “Most importantly, I feel for all of the families that are involved, especially the kids that are involved. I think that’s probably the thing you can’t lose sight of. How many lives are truly changed because of the events that have happened? Who knows?
“Our hearts, thoughts and prayers go out to all of the families that are involved.”
Later he was asked about Paterno’s exit, Fickell replied, “Obviously it’s sad because of the families. It’s sad because we’re dealing with a lot of young children. That to me is what is the most sad. Coach Paterno will have his legacy and the program will continue, but for now I think we’re not going to talk a whole lot about that. It’s all about the kids.”
Long-time assistant Tom Bradley will coach the Nittany Lions for the remainder of the season, but Fickell said he did not see many similarities between his situation and that of Bradley’s. Fickell is serving this season as head coach of the Buckeyes after Jim Tressel was forced into retirement in May for violating NCAA rules and his contract by withholding information about possible NCAA violations.
“Obviously Coach Bradley has been coaching for over 30 years so he is well-equipped to do what he has to do,” Fickell said. “Our situations are very different as well as some similarities. I don’t think he needs any help from me, of course.”
Though he has been on the job for more than five months and led the team through nine games, he said he still does not quite feel settled into the role of head coach. He has found there are always new challenges lying around each corner once one ascends to the top.
“There are things that come across your desk because you’re in charge of things a little bit grander than you were before,” said Fickell, who was an assistant to Tressel for nine years. “I’m not sure if that truly changes if you’ve been a head coach for 20 years because there are always things that are going to come up, but I think that’s the most difficult thing, to be able to balance and not know what’s coming up.
“Every day is a little bit different. The most difficult thing is not having a routine. As an assistant coach for nine years, obviously things come up but you can meet your family on a Thursday night and maybe after you do a couple interviews on Wednesday night when you have to. I didn’t mean to rush out on you guys a couple times but you meet your family at 7:30 and have a quick dinner and put them to bed. You have those routines. You’re use to going home and knowing when you weren’t going to be there. That’s a difference as a head coach.”
As far as his own team is concerned, Fickell said right tackle J.B. Shugarts is likely to miss the game in West Lafayette because of a knee injury he suffered last Saturday in a 34-20 win against Indiana. Tailback Jordan Hall, who missed the Indiana game with a sprained ankle, is expected to be able to play this week.
“I don’t think J.B. will make it,” Fickell said. “I think it will be too quick for him. Jordan Hall looks all right. He felt better again today and continues to make progress. We’ll see how he turns out to be.”
If Shugarts is unable to go, he likely will be replaced by Antonio Underwood, a true freshman from Shaker Heights, Ohio, but the staff could also to choose to juggle the lineup by moving one of the starting guards, Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort, to tackle and inserting someone else into the lineup.
“There are some other combinations we can kind of jumble around if we have to,” Fickell said.
Underwood finished the game against the Hoosiers and turned in a solid performance.
"He stepped in last week and did a very good job for us, and we expect him to do better even this week," Fickell said.
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