COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two weeks after Jim Tressel was forced to resign because of an improper benefits scandal at Ohio State, interim football coach Luke Fickell said Monday that he didn't know of any NCAA rules violations.
"I wasn't going to say that I had blinders on, but (I was) very focused on the task at hand," Fickell said. "I was not informed of any information until it became public knowledge."
Fickell spoke at an introductory news conference, during which he promised Buckeyes fans a team that would be about "respect, toughness and being men of action."
The 37-year-old Fickell is a former Ohio State player who has been on the staff for the last 10 years, coaching linebackers and, most recently, serving as co-defensive coordinator.
Fickell was selected to fill in as head coach when Tressel was suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for knowing players were accepting cash and discounted tattoos in exchange for memorabilia from a local tattoo-parlor owner but failing to notify his superiors.
After weeks of revelations and rumors, Tressel resigned under pressure on May 30 amid an ongoing NCAA investigation of his ultrasuccessful program. In the hours that followed, Tressel spoke briefly with Fickell and gave him some simple advice: Be yourself.
Athletic director Gene Smith spoke briefly before introducing Fickell.
"I want to share with you why for me it was pretty easy to sit down with him and ask him to take on this leadership role," Smith said. "You know his great success in teaching and recruiting and that's represented in the number of student-athletes who came here and became Big Ten players and All Americans and ultimately went onto the NFL at the professional level. It's recognized in the great years of service (and) the respect that the high school coaches in the state and the coaches on our staff have for him. We're very, very pleased he's going to step into this role."
Smith also announced that Fickell's two-year contract would be modified to pay him $775,000 a year in addition to some bonuses. Tressel was paid an estimated $3.5 million per season. He was 106-22 in his 10 seasons, leading the Buckeyes to the national championship in 2002.
Fickell said he had been contacted by star quarterback Terrelle Pryor, one of the five players who was suspended for five games in the memorabilia-for-cash scheme, while Pryor was making up his mind whether to return to Ohio State. The new coach said he never called the QB back.
Pryor then announced last week that he would give up his senior season and would refuse to answer any more questions from NCAA investigators. The NCAA infractions committee will meet with Ohio State officials on Aug. 12.
"We're going to continue to educate, educate, educate our guys," Fickell said of his plans for heading off further problems in the once-proud program. "We understand that we are going to deal with compliance. We are going to go through this situation thoroughly and methodically so we can figure out what is best and the best ways we can handle this stuff for the future because, again, we have to plan for the future."
Pryor signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus earlier on Monday and took the first steps toward making himself available for an NFL supplemental draft this summer. Also, the lawyer who first sent emails to Tressel to tell him of the violations is being investigated by the Ohio Supreme Court for misconduct for revealing to Tressel what he learned from a potential client.
The NCAA's committee on infractions could levy penalties including vacating seasons, a bowl ban and restrictions on recruiting, among other possibilities.
Born and raised not far from Ohio Stadium, Fickell comes in with an appreciation for one tradition which remains near and dear to Ohio State fans: The annual season-ending rivalry game with Michigan.
"Our guys will know about Nov. 26," he said of the game in Ann Arbor, Mich. "I promise you that."
Rusty Miller can be reached at http://twitter.com/rustymillerap