Wisconsin coach Fickell says focus shouldn't be on him as Badgers face his alma mater Ohio State

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell wants to keep the focus off himself as the former Ohio State nose guard and interim head coach leads the Badgers against his alma mater.

“It’s not about me,” Fickell said at his Monday news conference. “I know we have some guys on our staff — myself included — that have some obvious history there, whether they went to school there or played there. But that’s not what it’s about.”

But after going through similar scenarios a few times already, Fickell understands the questions will come as the Badgers (5-2, 3-1 Big Ten) prepare to host the third-ranked Buckeyes (7-0, 4-0) on Saturday night.

Fickell was born in Columbus, Ohio, the site of Ohio State's campus. He started 50 straight games for Ohio State from 1994-96. He spent the 1999 season there as a graduate assistant and was an assistant for the Buckeyes from 2002-16, making him a part of two national championship teams.

He worked as an assistant coach on Jim Tressel’s staff, posted a 6-7 record as interim head coach in 2011 following Tressel’s resignation and stayed on a co-defensive coordinator on Urban Meyer’s staff for five seasons.

Fickell is hardly the only Wisconsin coach with ties to Ohio State.

Defensive coordinator Mike Tressel, who worked as a Buckeyes graduate assistant from 2002-03, is Jim Tressel’s nephew. Cornerbacks coach Paul Haynes was an assistant coach at Ohio State from 2005-11.

Fickell has faced his alma mater twice before. He was Akron’s defensive line coach in 2001 when the Zips lost 28-14 at Ohio State. He was head coach at Cincinnati in 2019 when the Bearcats visited Ohio State and fell 42-0.

He says those experiences taught him the attention should go to the players rather than to any coaches who might have connections to both schools.

“It’s about our team," Fickell said. "It’s about our program. It’s about the journey we’re on and the process we’re in, not the specifics of, ‘Hey, you went to school there. Hey, you played there. Hey, you’ve got guys on your staff from there.’ When the ball’s kicked off, that will have absolutely no effect on anything that happens on that field. So we try to just focus on the things that will have the greatest effect on Saturday night.”

Wisconsin’s focus will be stopping Ohio State’s recent domination of this series.

The Buckeyes have won their last nine meetings with Wisconsin, including a 52-21 blowout last season. Wisconsin’s last victory came in 2010, when the 18th-ranked Badgers beat a top-ranked Ohio State team 31-18 in Madison.

Wisconsin comes into this game with some momentum after erasing a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit Saturday in a 25-21 victory at Illinois. That marked the first time since 2018 that the Badgers had won a Big Ten game after trailing by at least 14 points.

Fickell, who is in his debut season at Wisconsin, said the Badgers showed a different level of will, passion and intensity during that comeback than he’d seen from them.

“That was probably to me more exciting than the win itself, was to see how our guys handled, how they came back and to show that will and that passion that I needed to see from us,” Fickell said.

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