July 5, 2011

Fickell, Bucks boosting compliance efforts

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COLUMBUS, Ohio - It will be the results on the field that will likely be the deciding factor in whether Luke Fickell is retained as Ohio State's head coach on a more permanent basis.

It would be difficult enough if that were all Fickell had to worry about. Instead, the 37-year-old with no previous head coaching experience has to first lead Ohio State out of the darkness of scandal and toward a brighter - and cleaner - future.

"I'm not sure there is one quick solution right now," Fickell said in his introductory press conference while discussing the importance of being more prepared to take on compliance regulations in the future. "I know we're going to step up some monitoring ideas."

The first idea Fickell implemented is a more thorough education process, as players on the team have already seen an increase in time spent helping them understand what is permitted by NCAA rules.

The education comes in the midst of great turmoil within the program, just weeks after from Jim Tressel's resignation as the team's head coach after it became public that he had previous knowledge of NCAA infractions being committed by players and deciding not to come forward.

The original problem stemmed from five players - including Terrelle Pryor, who has since left the program - selling memorabilia for money and extra benefits.

When those infractions were announced in Dec., Gene Smith and Tressel admitted in a press conference that Ohio State could have been more thorough in its education with the players.

Other reports have since asserted that selling memorabilia and other infractions may have been a widespread problem at Ohio State, though none of those reports have been substantiated.

Fickell promised he had no knowledge of the infractions, saying he was "focused on the task at hand." Moving forward in his new role as head coach, he'll be directly responsible for such violations, an immense contrast to the past where assistants aren't held accountable for off-the-field actions of players.

"Coach Fick told us to respect our teammates and when we're doing something think about how it can affect your team," senior center Michael Brewster said. "During camp we usually have compliance come in and run us through everything for a two hours, but they are now trying to break it up over the summer and having meetings to help educate guys.

"I think they're saying they need to do a better job of informing us," Brewster continued. "There are so many rules it really is hard to know what is what. Most are black and white, but there are some little things that you may not know."

Perhaps the biggest thing Fickell has done to help move Ohio State forward was not keep one of the biggest pieces from the past in Pryor, who left while being the target of an NCAA investigation into his personal life.

Pryor had attempted to reach out to Fickell before announcing his decision to leave Ohio State, but Fickell said he was unable to connect with Pryor. As it turns out, Fickell was at a Taylor Swift concert with his daughter and goddaughter and didn't find time to return the former quarterback's phone call.

That may have been an indication that Fickell was fine with separating his program from the troubled quarterback, as a first-year head coach would have likely wanted to keep a standout player around under different circumstances.

Former linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who played directly under Fickell, said that's the way he will run the team. No matter who a player is, Carpenter said, it is imperative to follow the rules. Pryor didn't, which is likely why Fickell didn't jump out to return his phone call.

"He'll make sure, 'these are the expectations we have and everyone is held to them,'" Carpenter said. "It doesn't matter if you're the starting quarterback at Ohio State or the third-string punter, you're part of the team and we're all in this together."

Having already put his team through a series of compliance refreshers, Fickell is likely to continue to change things up education-wise so the team is completely clear on what's permissible according to NCAA rules.

The first step for Fickell - and perhaps the most important - is getting Ohio State through its Aug. 12 hearing with the NCAA. On the field results and guaging the team's record comes long after.

"I don't think there's any question that you're going to try and improve on any problems that you've had. That would be pretty common sense," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said.

"I'm not sure we have really sat down and said 'here's exactly what we're going to do,' but it is common sense that when you have a problem when something happens like this you're going to do everything you can to get it straightened out and do a better job in the future."

Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.


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