Inside Luke Fickell’s move to Wisconsin, why he decided to leave Cincinnati now

The Athletic

Cincinnati – Cincinnati Head coach Luke Fickel will be the next head coach at Wisconsin, Sources confirmed to the athlete Sunday. Veckle informed Cincinnati Sunday morning that he is leaving to take the new job.

Vickel leaves Cincinnati as the program’s all-time leading coach with a record of 57-18 in his six seasons at the helm, including 53-10 over the past five years. He led the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff in 2021 as Cincinnati became the first Group 5 school to reach the four-team playoffs, earning multiple Coach of the Year awards in the process.

in every Revive a sunken program When he took over before the 2017 season, he turned Cincinnati into a legitimate, consistent force on the field and in the local recruiting scene, helping catapult the Bearcats into the Power 5 conference. Cincinnati has made a three-game winning streak for the American Athletic Conference from 2019 to 2021, winning the last two and had six consecutive New Years appearances to the Peach Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, the latter of which was a CFP semi-finalist. The Bearcats finished the 2022 regular season 9-3 (6-2 AAC) and in third place in the AAC, and will officially join the Big 12 Conference next summer before the 2023 season.

sources close to the Cincinnati program said the athlete On Sunday, the athletic department’s top officials realized and prepared for the possibility of Fickel’s two-week departure, with Nebraska and Wisconsin interested. A source familiar with the negotiations also said the athlete that Fickel’s wife, Amy, visited Madison, Wisconsin, this month to scout the Badgers’ interest in Fickel for the head coach position.

said sources close to Cincinnati the athlete Bearcats managers had had a conversation with Fickell in recent weeks about what could be done to keep him at Cincinnati, including wanting to increase the assistant’s payroll, among other things, but when Wisconsin’s offer finally came through, Fickell felt it was the right time and the right situation. him to follow.

bears Lost the regular season finale 27-24 to Tulane on Friday, missing an opportunity to host a third straight AAC Championship game on Saturday. Cincinnati was officially eliminated from the conference title game on Saturday night.

Friday evening was asked after Tulane Fikl said he would lose out on how he would approach the prospect of an extra week of recruitment rumors and mentioned his name on the coaching circuit: “It’s very hard to think about it. Hopefully some things can happen, we still have a chance to play, so you just don’t know. It’s not the time to think about it.” Those kinds of things. We’ve got to get back out there and take care of those seniors in particular, make sure they have their heads up and they’re ready to roll whatever’s thrown our way this next week or two.”

Fickel informed Bearcats officials of his decision to accept the Wisconsin job Sunday morning and then met with the Cincinnati players and staff. There was a previously scheduled team meeting set for 4:30 PM on Sunday, but it was moved to 1:15 PM, and Feckle delivered the news to the team. Bearcats special teams coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kerry Combs has been named interim head coach, sources said. the athlete. Director of Athletics John Cunningham is scheduled to hold a press conference at 6:15 p.m. Sunday on campus.

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Kerry Combs is back at home in Cincinnati

The question many Bearcats believers are asking in the wake of Fickel’s passing is: Why now? After a decade in the wilderness, Cincinnati is set to finally join the Big 12 and Power 5 conference in a matter of months, due in large part to Fickell’s continued success on the field. he is She signed a new contract extension in February through the 2028 season that paid him $5 million annually, increased his total annual salary to $5.2 million and included promises of a new permanent indoor practice facility, the latter two being Fickell’s top priorities. The training facility, to be built over the existing Sheckley Athletics Center practice field footprint in Cincinnati, was At a total cost of $100 million, it is in the planning stages. The Cincinnati program has always been a go-to, dating Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones. But many of the resources and benefits that Bearcats coaches have long sought, including Fickell, are finally available.

There’s also the fact that Fickell has either deferred or declined interest and offers from several Power 5 programs during his six years in Cincinnati, starting with West Virginia After the Bearcats’ surprising 2018 campaign, too FloridaAnd the Baylor In particular, Michigan State after the 2019 season. The same benefit from USC And the Notre Dame In the past year, the latter was a job always thought desirable by Fickell and one of the few that might be able to wean him out of a comfortable situation in Cincinnati. But Fekle didn’t land other jobs while the Bearcats hunted for a playoff spot last season, and Notre Dame ended up hiring Fekle’s former assistant and intern Marcus Freeman.

The feeling among many sources close to Fickel is that the experience with Notre Dame last year, along with other previous coaching opportunities, influenced his decision to be more proactive as the show circuit ramped up this year and led to him taking the Wisconsin job. .

The culture, evaluation, and development that Fickell nurtured in Cincinnati lifted the Bearcats to the four-team playoff round and earned a Big 12 invitation, as well as increased resources, season ticket sales, and public investment from the university and community. But the team also felt the impact of losing nine NFL teams from the playoffs roster last season, including four-year starting quarterback Desmond Reeder and All-American Sauce Gardner and Coby Bryant. The Bearcats continued recruiting at the power conference level and even saw an uptick with the impending move to the Big 12, but the athletic department was a little behind in terms of creating and strengthening NIL routes. (It was Sensei Raines, an all-athlete sports group aimed at benefiting Bearcats athletes It was launched and announced last week After being in the business for several months.) Fickel, who had been reluctant to adopt the NIL as a recruiting tool, has become frustrated with several decommitments and lost recruiting battles due to a lack of new recruits in recent months, the sources said. the athlete.

Even as Fickel remained in Cincinnati despite the constant and great outside attention, he had to deal with regular turmoil among his assistants and support staff. Freeman left the defensive coordinator position at Notre Dame after 2020, and four assistants left this past season for Power 5 positions of Class 1 or NFL.

In the end, the sense among sources familiar with the process and Fickel’s decision is that there was no single issue or subject that instigated his departure from Cincinnati. The most recent contract extension, Big 12 move, upcoming practice facility, new NIL pool, offers for an increased salary pool and other resources weren’t enough to offset the money, resources and infrastructure that exist in Wisconsin and in the Big Ten, a conference Fickell is all too familiar and fond of from his playing and coaching days in Ohio State.

Add USC and University of California to the Big Ten, and the expected move away from the divisions will no doubt make it difficult for the Badgers to be perennial contenders alongside Ohio State, MichiganAnd the Pennsylvania stateand USC, among others. But Feckle has always been drawn to the cultural and program-building aspects of college coaching. With the playoff round set to expand to 12 teams, and with the Big Ten and the SEC further separated financially from other Power 5 conferences, Fickell saw the opportunity to build something in Wisconsin — where winning a national championship would be at least on his list of potential prospects, perhaps easily. Bigger than Cincinnati – too good to miss.

The other obvious and straightforward question for the Bearcats is who will be assigned to replace Fickell and the sizable shadow he leaves behind. Combs and offensive coordinator Gino Guidogli, a former Bearcats quarterback, are possible inside candidates, but as Cunningham explained, While searching for men’s basketball coach Wes MillerHe is known for keeping things under control and is not afraid to go for an off-the-radar candidate.

Whoever becomes the next coach of the Cincinnati football team will do so It assumes a mix of significant challenges, benefits, and aspirations. As painful as Fickel’s departure will be for Bearcats stakeholders, the fact is that he stayed for six seasons—an eternity in Clifton—and lifted the program from rock bottom to unheard-of, unprecedented heavenly heights.

Over the past few seasons, many of the great players who have come under Fickel have spoken of leaving the program better than they found them. There is no denying that Feikl did it to an extraordinary degree. The next boss will be tasked with doing the same. It will be a much different and more engaging challenge than the one Fickel inherited, but with much greater scrutiny and expectations.

(Photo: Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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