For just the third time in more than a century of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and the first time since 1929, both teams will feature a first-year coach when the two teams meet on Saturday afternoon in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Michigan hired Brady Hoke in January and OSU named Luke Fickell as the replacement for Jim Tressel in the spring.
While neither Fickell nor Hoke have ever been a head coach in “The Game,” both have been assistants for their respective programs and have shown plenty of appreciation for the rivalry between the two schools.
Fickell grew up in Columbus and played for the Buckeyes from 1992-1996. He has been a member of the coaching staff since 2000 and said he is well aware of what the annual game against Michigan means to people involved with the program.
“It’s always something you remember,” Fickell said. “The people around here always remember it. That’s what they talk about. Right, wrong, or indifferent. You know that when you come here, you know when you sign up for this. You know that when you become a coach here, it doesn’t matter. That’s what you’re measured on. That’s what it’s going to be about.”
Hoke, an assistant for the Wolverines from 1995-2002, has made it a point since returning to Michigan prior to this season to only refer to the Buckeyes simply as “Ohio,” never Ohio State.
When asked if he was trying to send a message by doing that, Hoke told reporters during his weekly press conference Monday that there was no message behind it and that it is something he has always done.
Fickell said he has never actually heard Hoke refer to the Buckeyes as “Ohio,” but that he is aware that it is something the Michigan coach is known for and “it is what it is.”
“You know we all get our guys ready in different ways,” Fickell said. “Whether they get that from however (former OSU coaches Earl Bruce and Woody Hayes) used to not refer to the ‘team up north’ or whatever that is, hopefully it’s no disrespect to Ohio University. They are Ohio.
“And we might refer to Michigan in different ways too,” Fickell said with a smile.
Though Hoke was coach at Ball State from 2003-2008 and is very familiar with fellow MAC school Ohio University, he said he just refers to that team as the “Bobcats,” the school’s nickname.
While Fickell and Hoke may disagree on what exactly to refer to each team as, it is clear both coaches have a great amount of respect for the traditions of the schools and view Michigan-Ohio State as one of the premier rivalries in sports.
“The thing is it’s still a football game,” Fickell said. “It’s about a football game and there’s a million different stories, there’s a million different storylines. It’s not about me, it’s not about coach Hoke. It’s about the greatest rivalry in all of football, their team, our team, and the history and traditions.”
Speaking at Big Ten media days in July, Hoke shared similar sentiments, saying “The Game” has never been about the coaches.
“It’s always about those two great institutions,” Hoke said. “We have an utmost respect.”
OSU carries a six-game winning streak into the game. Last season’s 37-7 win against Michigan on Nov. 27, at Ohio Stadium was vacated as part of OSU’s self-imposed penalties for NCAA infractions.
Fickell said he doesn’t feel any pressure added pressure to continue the winning streak that Tressel began.
“I mean, everybody’s going to point the finger from the time (Tressel) was here,” he said. “But it still comes down to the players. Yes, it’s understanding what the rivalry is all about. I think that’s why it’s been such a great tradition here.”
“That’s what makes the whole week exciting,” Hoke said. “It makes it fun. Because you know at 12:07 or whenever we kick off here, there will be two teams on the field playing for the pride of their schools and the tradition of those programs and what it stands for. To me, that’s what makes it the greatest rivalry.
“It’s fun. I mean, if you can’t get geared up for that and get goosebumps and all those things for that game, then you may not be human.”
Kickoff between the Buckeyes (6-5, 3-4) and the Wolverines (9-2, 5-2) is scheduled for noon Saturday.