CINCINNATI — Sources have confirmed that Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickel will be the next head coach at Wisconsin. 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.
Fickell revived a sinking program when he took over before the 2017 season, and has 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 three straight American Athletic Conference Championship appearances from 2019 to 2021 , winning their last two games and taking six straight New Year’s bowl bids to the Peach Bowl and the Cotton Bowl, the latter being a CFP Semifinalist. 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.
The Bearcats lost the regular season finale 27-24 to Tulane on Friday, missing out on a chance to host their third straight AAC Championship game on Saturday. Cincinnati was officially eliminated from the conference title game on Saturday night.
When asked Friday night after losing Tulane how he approached the possibility of an extra week of recruiting rumors and being named on the coaching circuit, Fickel said: “It’s hard to think. Hopefully some things happen, we still have a chance to play, so you don’t know. It’s not It’s a good time to think about those kinds of things. We’ve got to get back out there and take care of those seniors in particular, and 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.
Kerry Combs is back 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 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 training facility, the latter two being Fickell’s top priorities. The training facility, which is slated to be built on the existing Sheckley Athletics Center practice field footprint in Cincinnati, has been estimated at a total cost of $100 million and 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’ surprise 2018 campaign, as well as Florida State, Baylor, and most notably Michigan State after the 2019 season. Same for interest from USC and Notre Dame last year, the latter a job he always thought coveted by Fickell and one of the few that might be able to wean him away from 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. (Cincy Reigns, an all-sports collegiate group aimed at benefiting Bearcats athletes, was announced last week after being in the works for several months.) Recruitment battles have been lost due to a lack of personnel in recent months, 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 to be the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame after 2020, leaving four assistants this past season for Power 5 positions of Division I or the 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 at Ohio State.
The addition of USC and UCLA to the Big Ten, and the expected move away from the divisions, will make it difficult for the Badgers to be perennial contenders alongside Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, USC and 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 potential inside candidates, but as Cunningham showed during the hunt for men’s basketball coach Wes Miller, he’s known for keeping things steady and not afraid to go outside the radar filter.
Whoever becomes the next coach of the Cincinnati football team will face a mix of important challenges, advantages, 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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