Luke Fickell to Wisconsin: Great timing, great attitude as Badgers look to make the next move

The timing was right for Luke Fickell this time.

Wisconsin surprisingly shut down the 2022-23 coaching carousel by pushing Fickell away from Cincinnati. ESPN.com’s Pete Thamel reported the news. Fickell, who was Ohio State’s interim coach in 2011, has been a candidate for other Power 5 jobs in recent seasons.

Fickell turned down the Michigan State job in 2020. He was a candidate for the Notre Dame job, but the Bearcats were in the midst of a college football playoff run in 2021. Notre Dame decided not to wait and hired former Cincinnati defense coordinator Marcus Freeman. With the Bearcats ending a season 9-3 and failing to make the American Athletic Conference championship game, Fickell’s timing was spot on.

Wisconsin still comes as a surprise considering interim coach Jim Leonhard was considered a strong replacement for Paul Chryst, who was fired on Oct. 2 after a 2-3 start. Candidates like Lance Leipold of Kansas and Dave Aranda of Baylor seemed like more logical candidates for the Badgers.

However, Fickell is a home run contributor for a program that can now move forward — and perhaps take the next step toward the college football playoffs. The Badgers are 82-32 in the CFP era, which is the sixth-best record among the Power 5 schools at that stretch. The other five — Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson, Georgia and Oklahoma — have monopolized most of those gigs.

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Still, Fickell found a way to incorporate Cincinnati into a program that made the first CFP appearance for a Group-of-5 school. The Bearcats have been 57-18 since his takeover in 2018. Wisconsin is 50-23 on the same stretch. Fickell went 7-5 against the Power 5 competition in Cincinnati, with four of those losses coming at Ohio State, Michigan, Georgia and Alabama.

Fickell — with Midwestern roots combined with a Catholic school background — will be in position to improve Wisconsin’s recruiting in these Big Ten states. The Bearcats were close to the Badgers in recruitment in 2022 and have a better class in 2023 according to 247Sports.com.

YEAR CINCINNATI WISCONSIN
2019 64 30
2020 41 27
2021 50 16
2022 48 41
2023 27 62

Fickell is said to help improve talent development. In the last three NFL drafts, Cincinnati has produced 14 NFL draft picks. That’s two more than Wisconsin, which is a traditional design factory in the trenches. Ahmad Gardner and Alec Pierce made an immediate impact in their rookie seasons.

Fickell also helped make quarterback Desmond Ridder a two-time AAC player of the year and third-round pick. Wisconsin’s last drafted quarterback was Russell Wilson, who was drafted into the third round in 2012. If Fickell can develop third-round talent at the position for the Badgers, they’ll be right back in the CFP mix.

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This was a smart move for Wisconsin athletic director Chris McIntosh. Fickell is a hard-nosed coach who can adhere to the principles former Wisconsin coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez used to build the program, but Fickell can also use the lessons learned in Cincinnati to create a better version of the Badgers program build up.

The timing is perfect – and could create an interesting scenario for the Big Ten West. Nebraska hired Matt Rhule on Saturday. USC and UCLA will attend the conference. Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren could just keep the division format by sending Purdue to Big Ten East. It’s still not quite as even, but Fickell will get Wisconsin back into 10-win realm pretty quickly. If you like what Bret Bielema did in Illinois, just wait ’til you see Fickell in Wisconsin.

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We’re finally going to see Fickell against some of those schools where the timing wasn’t right.

Fickell played at Ohio State and was an assistant coach from 2002 to 2016 – staying after a year as interim coach in 2011. These encounters against Ryan Day are highly anticipated.

Michigan State hired Mel Tucker after Fickell turned down the job. These will be fun matchups too.

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Notre Dame? This is not planned until 2026. Both programs should be in top form for this.

Those are just added perks for what Wisconsin hired Fickell for. The Badgers have been the second-most successful program in the Big Ten since 2014, sandwiched between Ohio State and Michigan. Now the Badgers have a better chance of making things interesting against the Big Two.

It’s only a matter of time before Fickell does the same.

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