Luke Fickell leaves Cincinnati to take over as Wisconsin’s coach

Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer/USA TODAY NETWORK
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Wisconsin is bringing Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell back to the Big Ten.

Athletic director Chris McIntosh announced that the Badgers had hired Fickell to take over their program after his successful run with the Bearcats.

Fickell posted a 57-18 record in six seasons at Cincy and helped the Bearcats earn a College Football Playoff berth last year. The former Ohio State defensive lineman and longtime assistant went 6-7 as the Buckeyes’ interim coach in 2011 after Jim Tressel‘s resignation.

“This is a destination job at a program that I have admired from afar for years,” Fickell said in a statement released by the university. “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.”

Fickell informed the Bearcats players earlier Sunday that he was leaving the school. Cincinnati named veteran assistant Kerry Coombs interim coach.

Fickell, 49, takes over for interim coach and former Badgers defensive back Jim Leonhard, who replaced Paul Chryst on Oct. 2.

Chryst went 67-26 in 7 1/2 seasons. He was fired one day after the Badgers lost 34-10 at home to an Illinois team led by former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.

“Luke is one of the top football coaches in the country. He is a proven winner, recruiter and developer of players,” McIntosh said in a statement. “Equally as important, he shares our values. Coach Fickell is focused on giving our student-athletes the best opportunities possible and is attuned to the changing landscape of college athletics.

“I have every confidence that he will respect and honor the foundation that has been set for our football program over the years while embracing the exciting opportunities ahead.”

Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) is awaiting its bowl assignment. A loss in the bowl game would cause the Badgers to finish below .500 for the first time since 2001.

Leonhard was promoted from defensive coordinator after Chryst’s firing and led Wisconsin to a 4-3 record over the final seven games of the regular season. Leonhard said Saturday after the Badgers’ 23-16 home loss to Minnesota that he had interviewed with McIntosh.

“We were able to sit down earlier this week and had a great conversation,” Leonhard said. “I think that’s between us, what was said, but hopefully there’s decisions that are made soon in the best interests of this university.”

Many Wisconsin players publicly called for Leonhard to get the job.

“I think whoever hires coaches is going to be an idiot if they don’t hire coach Leonhard,” safety John Torchio said after the Minnesota game. “I don’t know if I should say that, but I’ll say it.”

The Badgers instead opted for Fickell, who led Cincinnati to the first CFP berth for any Group of Five school. Fickell won several national coach of the year awards last season for helping Cincinnati go 13-0 before losing to Alabama in a Cotton Bowl semifinal.

That 2021 Cincinnati team produced nine draft picks for the third-highest total of any school, behind only Georgia’s 15 and LSU’s 10. Five Cincinnati players were selected among the top 100 overall picks.

After replacing all that NFL talent, Cincinnati has gone 9-3 this season. The Bearcats didn’t qualify for the American Athletic Conference championship game that takes place Saturday.

Fickell has been sought after for the last few years, most notably an offer from Michigan State after the 2019 season. But the Ohio native has been picky, knowing he had a good thing at Cincinnati.

“This was always going to be a family decision and he felt this was the right time for this decision to be made,” Cincinnati athletic director John Cunningham said.

Cunningham said he will move quickly to replace Fickell, considering both external and internal candidates.

Internally, offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli, a former Bearcats quarterback, would seem to be the most likely candidate.

The job is becoming even more appealing as Fickell leaves it. The Bearcats are switching conferences next year, moving up to the Big 12. The move will bring more revenue into the program, but also tougher competition.

“This is not a stepping-stone job,” Cunningham said. “We can do everything we want to do at the University of Cincinnati.”

Cincinnati went 4-8 in Fickell’s debut season of 2017 but has gone 53-10 since.

Fickell’s Cincinnati players also succeeded in the classroom. Heading into this season, Cincinnati had a 100% graduation rate among players who had stayed in the program for four years under Fickell.

No. 19 Tulane tops No. 24 Cincinnati, will host AAC title tilt

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CINCINNATI – Michael Pratt found Shae Wyatt with a 30-yard touchdown pass with 5 minutes left to lead No. 19 Tulane to a 27-24 win over No. 24 Cincinnati on Friday, making the Green Wave the hosts for the upcoming American Conference Championship game.

Tyjae Spears rushed for two touchdowns and had 181 yards to contribute to the cause for Tulane (10-2, 7-1 AAC), which beat Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2) for the first time in five tries.

Tulane also snapped a 32-game home streak for the Bearcats (9-3, 6-2), who now must wait for the outcome of Saturday’s UCF game to know whether they’ll be in the conference championship, too.

“I told Tyjae we were going to ride him and we did,” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said. “I’m proud of the guys and the adversity we went through against one of the best defenses in the country.”

Pratt went 13-for-22 passing for 162 yards and the winning touchdown. He also rushed for 30 yards on nine carries. Fritz said Pratt was “really sharp” on the final drive, and noted that Pratt had played all last season with with an injury he sustained in the first game of that 2-10 campaign.

Redshirt sophomore Evan Prater started at quarterback for Cincinnati in place of Ben Bryant, who suffered a foot injury in the win over Temple. Overall, Prater was 10-for-26 for 102 yards and rushed for 83 yards on 18 carries.

But he was intercepted by Dorian Williams on a tipped pass to Devean Deal midway through the third quarter. Bryon Threats was flagged for pass interference on a fourth-and-3 pass attempt to set up Spears’ go-ahead two-yard run.

“I thought Evan did a great job,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. “I didn’t look at the stats just yet. I know he’s heartbroken. He’s crushed. … we talk about taking care of each other but putting him in a situation with a minute-30, a minute-40 and no timeouts is not taking care of him. He played with poise. He played with a lot of confidence.”

Tulane had a 13-10 lead at halftime after Valentino Ambrosio kicked a 47-yard field goal with 21 seconds left. The kick followed a 28-yard pass from Pratt to Lawrence Keys III, which was ruled a touchdown on the field as Keys appeared to roll over Arquon Bush for a 58-yard score but overturned when replays showed Keys’ knee touched the turf.

“This is a tough one to swallow,” Fickell said. “It wasn’t from lack of preparation but we didn’t get it done today. We wanted to send our seniors out the right way. Tulane is similar to us. They grind it out they’re aggressive. They did a better job than we did of not giving up the big play.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Tulane: Has something special in Spears, who passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season with 103 yards in the first half. He leads the AAC in touchdowns with 16.

Cincinnati: Missed its bid to win three consecutive AAC regular-season championships in its final three years of membership. The Bearcats move to the Big 12 Conference next season.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Green Wave Will Likely move up with the win.

UP NEXT

Tulane: Hosts the AAC Championship game on Dec. 3.

Cincinnati: Awaits their fate, which depends on the outcome of the UCF-South Florida game on Saturday. If UCF wins, it will be tied with Cincinnati in the conference standings – and holds the tiebreaker because UCF beat the Bearcats on Oct. 29.

Harvey scores 2 TDs as UCF beats No. 20 Cincinnati 25-21

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ORLANDO, Fla. – RJ Harvey had a 17-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds remaining, sending UCF to a 25-21 win over No. 20 Cincinnati on Saturday.

Harvey’s go-ahead TD capped a seven-play, 75-yard march directed by Mikey Keene. The backup quarterback was 4 for 4 for 57 yards on the drive.

Cincinnati (6-2, 3-1 American Athletic Conference) took a 21-18 lead with 3:04 remaining. Ryan Montgomery scored on a 39-yard touchdown run, and the Bearcats added the 2-point conversion on a Ben Bryant pass to Tyler Scott.

UCF (6-2, 3-1) took a 10-6 lead into halftime on the strength of a 26-yard touchdown run by Harvey. The Knights added a safety in the third quarter when Josh Celiscar sacked Bryant in the end zone.

Cincinnati had won six in a row since a season-opening loss to Arkansas. Bryant passed for 298 yards and a touchdown, and Montgomery had a team-high 40 yards rushing on three carries.

Harvey had 18 carries for 84 yards for UCF. The Knights finished with 258 yards on the ground and 247 through the air.

Following a fumble recovery, Bryant threw a 14-yard touchdown to Josh Whyte to make it 13-12 at the end of the third quarter. Whyte’s TD capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive.

UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was 7 of 11 for 71 yards when he was knocked out of the game late in the first half. He also rushed for 31 yards.

THE TAKEAWAY

Cincinnati: Outside of Montgomery’s touchdown run, the Bearcats couldn’t get anything established on the ground.

UCF: Keene’s experience from starting 10 games last year as a true freshman proved to be invaluable. He walked into a tough situation, but one he was familiar with. Keene put together his best drive of the day when the Knights needed it most and kept UCF in contention for the American Athletic Conference championship.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: Will host Navy next Saturday.

UCF: At Memphis next Saturday.