Luke Fickell is what you call a ‘lifer’ at Ohio State, or so many thought. Fickell grew up in Columbus, Ohio and played all of his collegiate career at The Ohio State University (1992-96) as a defensive lineman. After a short career in the NFL (due to injury) he returned to his alma mater to coach on the Buckeyes’ staff. What was a dream come true for the kid from local Columbus school, Desales High School, he now had the opportunity to learn under one of the best coaches of the era, Jim Tressel. After three years on the staff (2005) he was appointed assistant defensive coordinator/ linebackers coach, where he had the Buckeyes’ defense ranked number four after his first year.
Throughout his coaching career, Ohio State, statistically, has had one of the best defenses of this decade. Since Fickell has taken the reigns of assistant defensive coordinator, the Buckeyes have had five top 5 defenses, seven top 10 defenses and ten top 25 defenses. He has only two lone years where the Buckeyes fell out of the top 25, that coming in 2013 (84th) and 2014 (29th). Buckeyes’ fans remember the excitement of 2012 when Urban Meyer stepped into the head coach position and revived a struggling offense that made up for a defense that was special but not special to the standards of Fickell. However, when it mattered most, Fickell’s defense stepped up and pitched the first shutout in in a conference championship game in power five history on their way to a national championship in 2014.
Behind the scenes, Fickell has kept these Buckeyes’ gelled together throughout the years; whether it be leaving for the NFL, injuries, suspensions, or weak defensive recruiting classes, Fickell has demanded the most out of his players and usually gets what is demanded. Fickell has seen 37 of his defensive players get selected in the NFL draft since 2005, including three in the first round of the 2016 draft alone (Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Darron Lee). Luke is a player’s coach and will be sorely missed by the staff and the players alike. Although the addition of Greg Schiano (discussed in previous article) to the coaching staff will ease the transition, Fickell will be one of the hardest coaches to replace for Ohio State in the modern era.
Ohio State’s Replacement
Ex-Defensive Coordinator of Philadelphia Eagles (2013-15)
Longtime Friend of Urban Meyer
Ohio State has been known for hiring ‘Ohioans’ to the coaching staff and has promoted analyst Bill Davis to a defensive coaching job for the Buckeyes. Davis is a graduate of University of Cincinnati, the same as Meyer, and has been friends with Urban for many years. Although Davis spent the 2016 season as an analyst for the team, he has spent the last ten years coaching and coordinating in the NFL, most recently for the Philadelphia Eagles (2015). It is unclear exactly what his role will be on defense but with Fickell’s departure to Cincinnati, it is expected that Davis takes on a similar role to that of Fickell’s.
What Davis Brings to the Table
Davis has spent the majority of his coaching career in the NFL and will be returning to college for the first time since being a graduate assistant coach at Michigan State in 1991. Yes, NFL coaching does not guarantee success in the FBS but like Schiano, he can help these young Buckeye’s see the end goal. The Buckeye’s defense has been one that was developed by Fickell for many years so expect Davis and Schiano to take ownership and incorporate some of their own ideas into the playbook. Davis ran a 3/4 defense in Philly but will have to adjust to Ohio State’s 4/3 in the Big Ten. To the benefit of Davis, he has managed to get the most out of his linebackers year in and year out, similarly to Fickell. Davis is a name that many know but will still have to manage replacing one of the most common faces in Ohio State’s program for the last 20 years.