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Ohio State’s Luke Fickell ready to take step into head coaching again

After serving as interim head coach for the Buckeyes in 2011, Fickell is ready for a real head coaching job of his own.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“Being here is a blessing and a curse. It's the greatest thing that has happened to my family. It's been stable and you made great memories. The curse is it hasn't pushed you to go do some of these other things. If you're at a place that is not this tradition-rich, where you don't have these roots, maybe it's different. But I'm in an incredible place, so you think we don't have to go.”

- Luke Fickell via Doug Lesmerises,

Luke Fickell has served as the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State since Urban Meyer was hired before the 2012 season. Before that, Fickell served as the interim head coach when Jim Tressel resigned from his position as head coach following TatGate and the ensuing NCAA sanctions handed down. That season was rough for many reasons, as the Buckeyes went 6-7 for the year before Meyer led Ohio State to an undefeated record the following season. But Fickell stayed on staff after his brief stint as head coach, despite reportedly getting interest from other programs as a head coach. And his loyalty has helped solidify one of the toughest defenses in college football the past few seasons.

Now, after four seasons under Meyer, Fickell appears finally ready to take the next step in his career and go for a head coaching job. Fickell has been in Columbus since the 2002 season either as an assistant coach or coordinator. Now he’s looking to finally make the move of being a head coach along with his family. Fickell isn’t looking for a stepping stone but somewhere where he can be long term as a head coach. It will be interesting to see where he lands once he decides where that is. But based off his players feelings, he’ll likely have success wherever that may be.

“I think it's a blessing just to be healthy throughout the long season. Just to be able to play, man, it's crazy. I'm thankful for that. ... It's one of the things when I first came here, I wrote down my goals. One of them was to win a national championship. We won one, but I didn't get to play in it.”

- J.T. Barrett via Austin Ward, ESPN

The last time Ohio State made it to the College Football Playoff, J.T. Barrett was not the quarterback leading the Buckeyes to a national championship. He helped the team get there, for sure, but after suffering a season-ending injury against Michigan, Cardale Jones famously took over for the Big Ten championship game and the rest was history. And although Barrett has a championship ring for his efforts, he no doubt wanted a shot of his own in the biggest game of the year. Now, with Ohio State heading back into the College Football Playoff, Barrett finally has his shot. After a narrow win in double overtime against Michigan, the Buckeyes were placed into the playoff as a third-seed and are now slotted to play No. 2 Clemson and quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Barrett started the season hot and even was discussed as a potential Hesiman Trophy candidate. But some inexperience as a team and inconsistency from the junior quarterback derailed that track and a loss to Penn State sealed his chances pretty much off. Still, if you ask Barrett, there’s no other spot he’d rather be in than where his right now. And that is healthy, with a chance to prove his worth and add to his legacy at Ohio State. It’s not a given that the Buckeyes will beat Clemson, but if they did, Barrett would find himself at the very stage he yearned for when he first came to Columbus - a spot in the national championship game.

“We're so young. There's so much improvement. Everybody in this room knows that it, too. We have to get much better, and the challenge has already been laid across the table last week with the players and coaches. For us to compete at this level, we have to be nine [position units] strong. At times we're not nine strong. That has to happen. So we have [four weeks] to get to be nine strong.”

- Urban Meyer via Austin Ward, ESPN

Ohio State has been here before. After all, the Buckeyes were a four-seed in the first ever College Football Playoff when they upended a favored Alabama team that was ranked as the top team in the country. That win propelled Urban Meyer and his team to the national championship game where Ohio State would win decidedly over Oregon to capture its first national championship since 2002. That team was just as young as the current team that Meyer coaches, and perhaps even younger. There are plenty of distinct differences though this time around. Regardless, Ohio State will have its work cut out against Clemson as they face a high-powered offensive attack.

And it’s not the first time Urban Meyer and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney have met, either. The Buckeyes fell to the Tigers in the 2013-14 Orange Bowl in a tightly contested matchup. Ohio State was coming off a crushing upset to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game. A lot of things are different now, but a chance to avenge the loss would certainly be good for Meyer and Ohio State. A win would place the Buckeyes in the national championship game, but after Clemson fell short in last season’s playoff, they’ll be just as hungry.