University of Wisconsin announced the hiring of Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell as the school’s football coach Sunday.
Fickell spent six seasons at Cincinnati, compiling a record of 57-18 and leading the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff last season. It was the first time a Group of Five team was selected to the semifinals.
“I am incredibly excited to announce Luke Fickell as our new head football coach and to welcome his entire family to Madison,” Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh said in a statement. “Luke is one of the top football coaches in the country. He is a proven winner, recruiter and developer of players. Equally as important, he shares our values.’
Multiple people told the Journal Sentinel that McIntosh’s list of candidates was interim head coach Jim Leonhard, Baylor coach Dave Aranda, Kansas coach Lance Leipold and Fickell.
Fickell, 49, initially told Wisconsin officials he was not interested in the opening. However, multiple reports emerged Sunday suggesting Wisconsin had decided to pursue Fickell again to replace Paul Chryst, who was fired on Oct. 2.
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In addition to last season when Cincinnati went 13-1 and lost to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl, Fickell led to Bearcats to two other 11-win seasons and separately an appearance in the Peach Bowl after winning the American Athletic title in 2020.
“My family and I are thrilled to join the Wisconsin family,” Fickell said in a statement. “This is a destination job at a program that I have admired from afar for years. I am in total alignment with Chris McIntosh’s vision for this program. There is a tremendous foundation here that I can’t wait to build upon.”
Cincinnati cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs will serve as the interim head coach with Fickell’s departure.
Fickell was asked about potential job openings after his team’s loss to Tulane on Friday. It was the final regular-season game for the Bearcats, who are moving to the Big 12.
‘You know what? It’s too hard to think about,’ Fickell said. ‘Hopefully there are some things that can happen and we still have a chance to play so you don’t know. It’s not the time to think about those kinds of things. We’ve got to get back up there and take care of those seniors in particular. Make sure their heads are up and they’re ready to roll, whatever’s thrown our way this next week or two.’
Fickell, a native of Columbus, Ohio, played for Ohio State from 1993-96 and coached there from 2002-16.
He served as interim head coach in 2011 and saw the Buckeyes upset Wisconsin in Columbus. The Buckeyes finished 3-5 in the Big Ten and 6-7 overall that season and Urban Meyer was hired as head coach.
Fickell stayed on the Buckeyes’ staff through the 2016 season before taking at Cincinnati.
Aranda, Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator from 2013-15, was intrigued by the idea of returning but is happy at Baylor. Leipold, a graduate assistant at Wisconsin from 1991-93 who had won at Wisconsin-Whitewater, Buffalo and at Kansas, was not offered the job.
Fickell signed an extension with Cincinnati last offseason that paid the coach $5.05 million per year through 2028. The school will receive $3.5 million for the contract buyout.