But if he ultimately does go at some point in the future, it’s clear that Luke Fickell has not used the Bearcats as a stepping stone to bigger and better things, but rather hoisted the program on his shoulders back to relevancy and success.
I wrote that in February 2020, after Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell turned down Michigan State to stay with the Bearcats following a very public search process. It came on the heels of consecutive 11-win seasons, but was before Fickell had led Cincinnati to an American Athletic Conference championship, let alone the Peach Bowl or a College Football Playoff semifinal, collecting Coach of the Year honors like loose change along the way. Even then, three full seasons ago, Fickell’s continued presence in Clifton felt like a pleasant, celebratory surprise.
Fickell finally did leave Sunday, trading the Bearcats for the Badgers. He departed as Cincinnati’s most decorated and winningest coach after six seasons and was introduced at Wisconsin on Monday.
It became clear in the immediate aftermath of Fickell’s decision that he was ready to go, to try something new. The Athletic reported that Fickell’s wife, Amy, visited Madison, Wisc., earlier in November to explore the Badgers’ interest in Luke and that administrators in Cincinnati’s athletic department were aware of mutual outside interest for the past couple weeks. The Wisconsin State Journal reported that Fickell interviewed with Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 12, after the Bearcats defeated East Carolina the day before.
We may never know exactly when Fickell determined in his mind he was taking the Wisconsin job, but it was clearly a very real possibility before Friday’s regular-season finale loss to Tulane. He abandoned his previous, self-imposed stance on not interviewing or entertaining offers during the season, an impact of missing a legitimate chance to pursue the Notre Dame or Oklahoma jobs in the midst of last year’s College Football Playoff run. Fickell is a principled man and self-described creature of habit, but even that rock he so often professes to live under wasn’t enough to withstand the shifting landscape of college athletics. Things change. So do people. It’s a thin line between steadfast and stubborn.