Madison, Wisconsin - After six seasons leading the Cincinnati Bearcats football program, Head Coach Luke Fickell has resigned. Fickell, the winningest coach in Bearcats history, left his post Sunday to assume the same position at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst this past October after a 2-3 start to the season. Chryst led the team to a 67-26 record in his eight seasons at the helm, but the program had taken a considerable step back in recent years. Under Chryst, critics cited Wisconsin’s failure to adapt to the changing landscape of college football, including the transfer portal and NIL.
Fickell, an Ohio native, takes over a storied Badgers program coming off a down year in which they limped to a mediocre 6-6 record. The Badgers have consistently been the premier program within the Big Ten West division, and despite Cincinnati’s impending move to the Big 12 next fall, Wisconsin was able to lure Fickell away from the program he built from scratch.
Cincinnati chose Fickell, who had served as defensive coordinator at perennial powerhouse Ohio State, to succeed Tommy Tuberville back in December of 2016. The Bearcats endured a 4-8 campaign in Tuberville’s final season in charge, and despite two prior 9-win seasons, both sides agreed to part ways after four years. Although UC was viewed as one of the better Group of 5 programs in the nation, Fickell had a long and difficult road ahead to restore the success of previous regimes in Clifton.
The Bearcats struggled again in Fickell’s first year, once again winning just four games. However, over the next five seasons the Bearcats would lose only ten contests, while capturing two American Athletic Conference championships and appearing in consecutive New Year’s Six Bowl Games.
Cincinnati finished 9-1 in 2020 culminating in a Peach Bowl loss to Georgia, before becoming the first Group of 5 team in College Football Playoff history to be ranked in the end of season top 4 and qualify for the annual Playoff. That 2021 Bearcats squad, composed of elite talent on both sides of the ball, is considered by many to be the best in school history. Led by senior quarterback Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats won road games at both Indiana and Notre Dame, before winning the AAC Championship to cap off consecutive perfect regular seasons. Of all schools, Cincinnati also had the second-most players taken in April’s NFL Draft, a rare feat for a Group of 5 program.
Fickell’s impact on the University of Cincinnati stretches far beyond the turf at Nippert Stadium. The success of Fickell’s football program during a lackluster stretch for the historic men’s basketball program was paramount in allowing the university to move into a much more financially lucrative conference, the Big 12. This move places the university on a level playing field across the board with many of its competitors, while also generating substantially more profit for the university through television deals and overall exposure.
Cincinnati Athletics Director John Cunningham announced Sunday that Defensive Coordinator Kerry Coombs will step in as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Cunnincgham and staff will then conduct a national search to name the 43rd Head Football Coach in school history.