Luke Fickell has taken the University of Cincinnati to the verge of the College Football Playoff. He also has placed himself squarely on the radar of NFL teams -- even before this year.

The Detroit Lions quietly spoke with Fickell about their head coaching vacancy last year before they hired Dan Campbell, sources say, and the expectation within the league is Fickell will be in the mix for NFL jobs again in the upcoming hiring cycle, if he's interested.

Fickell, 48, spent one season on injured reserve as a player with the New Orleans Saints in 1997. He has never coached in the NFL. But his excellent reputation as a leader of men during 15 years on staff at Ohio State and the past five years with the upstart Bearcats makes him intriguing, in much the same way Titans coach Mike Vrabel rose from the same Buckeyes staff.