By Tim May
The Columbus Dispatch
Having been a college football player himself, new Ohio State coach Luke Fickell knows that players, at their core, are young men of action.
Yet there are few situations as inactive as sitting in a meeting room with coach droning on about the details of, say, a zone blitz package or a pass protection scheme. That’s one reason Fickell has instituted shorter meetings, maybe 15 minutes instead of 30, or 30 minutes instead of 60.
“We used to have long, long meetings [under former coach Jim Tressel] where guys didn’t pay attention toward the end,” junior linebacker Storm Klein said. “But now you focus for 20, 30, 40 minutes, and then you’re out of there.”
Being on the field running and hitting beats sitting at a desk, Fickell said. That’s why the NCAA’s move in recent years to limit preseason practices, especially back-to-back days of two-a-day sessions, in favor of more meeting or idle time hasn’t sat well with him.
“I think the two-a-days are still necessary at the college level,” Fickell said. “I think it is harder sometimes for our guys — 18, 19, 20 years old — to concentrate. It [takes] more energy to concentrate through a two-hour meeting than it is to go out there and practice for an hour and 45 minutes.
“I think at this age you need to be on the field to learn a lot more things. As you get older in the NFL, you can get a lot more out of a two-hour meeting.”
He’s not the only one thinking along those lines. Kevin Wilson, the new coach at Indiana, is all about streamlining what were once thought to be the traditional formalities of preparation.
Wilson came from Oklahoma, where he had been offensive coordinator, and one idea he brought with him was doing away with a formal playbook.
One reason is because that way it “can’t be sold on eBay,” he said. “Nobody reads it anyway. So there is no Indiana playbook. We play to what the kids can do, to what the line can block, to what the quarterback can handle.”
Ohio State has a playbook, but the Hoosiers and Buckeyes are a lot alike in their the shorter meetings.
“I don’t know if it’s the new head coaches as much as it is the way to interact with the new kid,” Wilson said. “For example, we will have meetings, and after 20 minutes I will get up and say let’s take a break, because the attention span with those guys doesn’t last.”
He’s into the visual aspect of teaching, something Ohio State had been moving to under Tressel, Fickell said.
“I think we’ve done a great job here over the years of not being in-writing [presentations], it was more visual,” Fickell said. “We did a lot more straight through video as opposed to just talking and writing like you do in a classroom.”
But now those meetings also move at a faster clip.
“When we are in meetings we cover a lot of ground, and we work fast,” defensive tackle Adam Bellamy said. “You’ve got to work the minds just as fast as the body, you know.”
Klein sees it as one way that Fickell is putting his stamp on the program.
“He wants to establish himself as the head coach this year, and we’re doing things a little bit different,” Klein said. “Meetings are a little shorter. He is doing some things to make it his own camp, and the players really like that.”
Is it having the desired effect?
“What is effective and what isn’t effective? I will tell you on Saturday afternoons after the games,” Fickell said. “But we think it’s going well. We think the guys’ effort level and energy level, and their concentration and their focus has been very good throughout camp. Is there any reason why? Is it because of different [lengths of] meetings, or different structure? Who knows?
“But there’s different ways of doing things, and we’re going to try to do what’s best for us right now.”