Luke Fickell eager to build upon Wisconsin’s winning culture

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

New coaches often spend their first several months dwelling on the need to instill a different culture into their programs.

Consider Wisconsin’s Luke Fickell an exception.

Fickell says the Badgers already have what he calls a “really good footprint,” something backed up by Wisconsin’s 21 consecutive bowl appearances. He just wants to find ways to boost it as the former Cincinnati coach prepares to start his first spring practice at Wisconsin on March 25.

“Sometimes the biggest mistake you can do is you go into a place thinking you’re just going to completely change the culture,” Fickell told The Associated Press in an interview. “You can enhance and do things the way you want to do them, but I think by nature a lot of places have unique cultures, especially here, that have been kind of bred for a long time.”

Fickell believes the lack of rampant roster turnover following a tumultuous coaching transition offers testament to that culture.

Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst on Oct. 2, a day after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois. Athletic director Chris McIntosh hired Fickell after many players had called for popular defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Leonhard to get the job.

Yet the Badgers didn’t lose many major contributors to the transfer portal aside from three-year starting quarterback Graham Mertz, now at Florida. Offensive lineman Michael Furtney and wide receiver Markus Allen entered the transfer portal but then decided to stay.

Most notably, Wisconsin managed to hang on to two-time 1,200-yard rusher Braelon Allen. Fickell said he reached out to Wisconsin’s current players by reminding them why they signed there in the first place.

“I kind of sold it as just because I’m new, just because you don’t know me, trust and believe that the things that brought you here and the things that have kept you here so far are the same things that are going to be what you love when you finish up here,” Fickell said.

But there will be notable differences under Fickell, who went 57-18 at Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to a College Football Playoff appearance in 2021.

Those changes should be most apparent on offense.

New offensive coordinator Phil Longo ran a variation of an Air Raid attack during his four seasons in the same position at North Carolina and intends to bring some of that to Wisconsin. Although Longo has said running the ball will remain a priority, his arrival represents a dramatic shift for a program known for its ball-control offenses.

“It will be a different tempo and pace to what they’ve seen maybe offensively here for a while,” Fickell said. “But when you really go to study it, it’s still going to be about being physical. It’s still going to be about being able to run the football and control the line of scrimmage.”

There also are plenty of new faces.

Since Fickell’s arrival, Wisconsin has added 15 transfers, including two walk-ons. Tanner Mordecai, who threw a school-record 72 career touchdown passes at SMU, is one of three quarterback transfers on Wisconsin’s roster.

Fickell says he would prefer to take no more than three or four transfers per year moving forward. He noted that most of his incoming transfers have at least three more years of eligibility, giving the new staff more of a chance to develop them.

“I would not want to be in the transfer quarterback world,” Fickell said. “I just don’t think that’s the way you continue to sustain and build a program. Obviously we took three of them this year. We had low numbers in that room, so we had to do it.”

Wisconsin reached the Rose Bowl as recently as the 2019 season but hasn’t won a Big Ten title since 2012 and has gone 20-13 over the last three seasons, including a 7-6 mark last year. That’s a step back for a program that played in six of the first nine Big Ten championship games and won the first two.

Perhaps a new approach can prove beneficial.

“The footprint’s there, but it just gets a little bit faded at times,” Fickell said. “Sometimes that’s when change isn’t bad. I told my own son (Cincinnati offensive lineman Landon Fickell) that as I left Cincinnati. I said: ‘The culture is embedded here. Someone’s going to come in and adapt and adjust things a little bit. In some ways, that can give you a chance to be greater.’

“I feel the same way here. Recognize the things that are really, really good and then make sure that you can enhance the things that you know are important for what you want to do and how you want to do them.”

South Carolina gives AD Tanner raise, two-year extension

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner received a two-year contract extension that ties him to the school through June 2026.

Tanner, 64, is a two-time College World Series champion as the Gamecocks’ baseball coach who moved to leading the athletic department in July 2012.

The new deal was approved by the school’s board of trustees Friday and replaces Tanner’s old agreement that was set to expire in June 2024. Tanner will receive a raise of more than $153,000 per season, increasing his total compensation to $1.175 million.

Tanner has had his ups and downs leading the department. He took over when football coach Steve Spurrier was in the middle of three straight 11-2 seasons with players like defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and receiver Alshon Jeffrey.

Tanner’s hire to replace Spurrier, Will Muschamp, lasted less than five seasons before he was let go in the middle of 2020. Muschamp’s replacement, current coach Shane Beamer, has had back-to-back winning seasons and been to a bowl game his first two yeas.

Tanner has also overseen the rise of women’s basketball under coach Dawn Staley, who signed a seven-year contract before the 2021-22 season worth $22.4 million. Staley and the Gamecocks won the national title last April and are favorites to repeat this season.

Michigan RB Blake Corum says he’ll be back by fall camp

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan All-America running back Blake Corum said his surgically repaired left knee has gotten strong enough that he’s been cleared to run on an anti-gravity treadmill next week.

Corum said that he is “100%” sure he will play in the season-opening game on Sept. 2 against East Carolina

Corum tore a meniscus and sprained a ligament in his left knee against Illinois on Nov. 19. After playing sparingly against Ohio State, he sat out when the Wolverines won the Big Ten title and advanced to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Instead of entering the NFL draft, Corum decided to stay in school for his senior year.

“Feeling great all-around mentally, physically spiritually,” Corum told The Associated Press.

The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Corum ran for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and had 952 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2021.

“I’ll be back definitely by fall camp,” he said. “I plan on doing everything in the summer workouts, depending on on what doctor says. He told me I shouldn’t be cutting until maybe June. I’m taking my time, but I will be ready by the season.”

Corum will be watching when his teammates face each each other in the Maize and Blue spring game on April 1 at Michigan Stadium.