Fickle About Fickell
To close friends, I have uttered a thought that is akin to Buckeye heresy. My thought is that Luke Fickell, our much beloved player, assistant coach and now Defensive Coordinator, MAY NOT have the “right stuff.” Remember the operative words here are, “MAY NOT” as compared to definitive forms such as “does not.”
•I know it is early in the season and perhaps too soon to accurately make season-long observations.
•Our opponents so far have not been entirely indicative of the rest of the Big Ten
•We have a new defensive scheme and a number of new defensive coaches, as well as a new head coach
•I know we have injuries that no doubt influence play
MY OBSERVATIONS AND CONCERNS ARE THE CURRENT TENDENCIES AND TRENDING DIRECTION OF THE DEFENSE.
The coach preparing our defensive schemes and game-plan, as well as calling defensive plays, SEEMS to be taking an extremely conservative, non-aggressive, risk averse approach. To me, the only explanations for this are;
1.We don’t have the horses (players.)
2.They are not being coached in a way to produce winning results (or both)
Urban Meyer just this week said, “Well, we haven’t pressured and there’s two ways to get home.” “One is have a great player beat the guy (across from him). We haven’t done that enough. The other is to bring more than they can block and we haven’t done enough of that, either.” You don’t need to have graduated from business school or have a psych degree to decipher this.
Mark Dantonio and Fred Pagac used lights-out, aggressive defensive play calling. Relentless passion and commitment were the foundations for everything they did. Their plans created confusion for opponents, were disruptive and were intended to not just stop an offense but to cause the opponent to change their game plan. Dantonio continues this at Michigan State. THIS IS NOT WHAT WE HAVE NOW.
Those in true leadership positions (vs. managerial positions) must provide vision for their organization (team they coach). As the senior coach/leader of the defense, Luke Fickell creates the “brand” for everything defensive. A leader’s vision is the result of their background, values, philosophies, MENTORING and their own motivation. No one ever questioned Luke Fickell’s heart, loyalty and commitment to success as a player. I believe as a coach he is as sincere as he was as a player. Unfortunately, these qualities are not enough when you are in a leadership role.
What concerns me, I guess, is the apparent conservative play-calling and schemes. It is impossible to judge Luke as a coach last year. He was put into a miserable situation. In my own opinion he was also not ready to be a head coach either. To me, all last year he looked lost and confused. He looked like a man who was managing JUST enough to barely hold on let alone be proactive.
I personally think last year the entire team played much like that too. To me, that is how he looks this year as well, and it appears the defense is acting very similar. To me, he still looks like someone that is uncertain and deliberately thinks through each decision. You might say, “Well isn’t that how it should be – thinking through everything”? In my humble opinion, NO. When you are in a command role, COMMAND. Tentativeness is usually a major indicator of a lack of confidence and insecurity.
As a leader you have to respond almost instantly to situations, especially in sports. As a game moves, coaches do not have the luxury of taking time to analyze and think through each detail. This appears to be what Luke is doing. Leaders must see and respond – seemingly to others as if by instinct. Of course, it is not just “instinct” but the sum of experience interacting with their vision, philosophies and mentoring.
IF this is happening I can partially see why – Luke did mentor under Jim Heacock. Heacock had good statistics. However, a clearly different defense was on the field compared to Dantonio and Pagac. Heacock was more conservative. We seemed to have a ‘bend don’t break’ approach. Instead of a riskier, attacking defense we kept most teams in check until they self destructed. On occasion, they didn’t and we looked weak, reactive and at times lost.
Jim Heacock always looked pensive, thoughtful and deliberate. This is not necessarily bad. In the long run, your overall averages are good. It is on occasion you can look like chumps (think the National Championship game against Florida). You can be made to look like chumps by teams that scout you REALLY well and are not afraid to exploit your tendencies to be predictable. Conservative teams area always predictable. It is well known from inside circles that Heacock was extremely slow to adjust during a game. Smart opponents know this and exploit it. The tendency to not change can be HIGHLY exploited.
SO WHAT IS MY POINT?
Simply, to watch the actions and development of Luke Fickell. Urban is the type of person to coach and mentor both players AND coaches. Great leaders are constantly improving and evolving everyone in their organizations. The evolution of any coach takes time. What we SHOULD expect is to see slow but steady change and improvement. THIS is what we should watch.
Be observant to what our defense is doing as a group. Look to see if we make adjustments on the fly. Look to see if we provide a variety of different looks. Notice how often we blitz, both run-blitz and pass-blitz. To some, these are seemingly “risky” things to do. In the first two games we were very predictable. That is REALLY, REALLY bad. Lack of adjustments are worse. See if we can notice defensive schemes evolving during a game.
When people say it all starts at the top, believe it. Organizations and teams take their cues from their leaders. In this category, I think we have the best of the best in head coach Urban Meyer. Great leaders demand excellence and constant improvement and will not tolerate anything less. The key issue for any leader is whether someone CAN be grown.
This is going to be a very interesting little drama to see unfold. I think Luke is capable of ascending to where Urban wants and needs a defensive coordinator to be. Right now, I THINK Luke is not there. No one wants Luke to succeed more than me, but staying where he is at right now is not going to get our team where they need and want to be.
I am not calling for Luke’s head, just for him to evolve and grow – if that is possible. Time will tell, I am still supporting him, just concerned and saying we need to watch this.
This entire coaching staff needs a lot more time and endless support.