Less than 24 hours after finding out that he won't have the opportunity to lead the University of Cincinnati football team to a third straight American Athletic Conference championship, Luke Fickell is headed to Madison, Wisconsin, to take over the Wisconsin Badgers program.
Sources confirmed to The Enquirer that Wisconsin has reached an agreement with Fickell and is expected to name the 49-year-old Ohio State alumnus and former Buckeyes player and longtime assistant its next head coach as early as Sunday.
Fickell informed Cincinnati that he was leaving, according to sources. Cincinnati cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs will serve as the interim head coach.
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Fickell, who is 57-18 in six seasons at Cincinnati, including a 9-3 mark this season, was asked following Friday's home loss to Tulane if he would entertain any suitors if he was pursued this offseason. Fickell said it was "too hard to think about" that at the moment.
"You know what? It's too hard to think about," he said. "Hopefully there are some things that can happen and we still have a chance to play so you don't know. It's not the time to think about those kinds of things. We've got to get back up there and take care of those seniors in particular. Make sure their heads are up and they're ready to roll, whatever's thrown our way this next week or two."
Following a win by Central Florida over South Florida on Saturday, Fickell and Cincinnati were officially eliminated from playing in their fourth straight AAC championship game.
A total of five FBS coaches were fired before Week 6, including Wisconsin's Paul Chryst. Fickell was asked about the trend Oct. 4 during his weekly news conference.
"It's really a bad place that we're headed in this profession," he said.
Wisconsin decided to part ways with longtime coach Chryst following a 2-3 start. The Badgers, under interim coach Jim Leonhard, wrapped up their regular season with a 6-6 (4-5 Big Ten) record following a 23-16 home loss Saturday to rival Minnesota.
Chryst, a Wisconsin alumnus, was let go after seven-plus seasons. Chryst went 67-26 in his time in Madison, including a 6-1 record in bowl games. Chryst's Badgers lost three of their first four games last year but finished 9-4.
"I think it's a little sad to see a guy like Paul Chryst, who has been at his place as long as he has and done what he's done, to be out after five games," Fickell said in the Oct. 4 press conference. "Same thing at Nebraska (Scott Frost), your alma mater. Look, I don't know what's going on there. I just think it's a bad trend for our kids. Not for us; we're professionals. We understand you're evaluated on wins and losses. But I think the example that we're setting for our young guys is, hey, if it's not right, just change it and get rid of it in the middle of what you're doing. No wonder we have more transfers."
Fickell led the Bearcats, who are set to join the Big 12 Conference on July 1, 2023, to back-to-back AAC titles in 2020 and 2021. Fickell was named the AAC Coach of the Year three times (2018, 2020-21). He was named the consensus National Coach of the Year last season after leading Cincinnati to a 13-0 record and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Fickell's Bearcats lost to top-ranked Alabama in the CFP semifinal after becoming the first Group of Five team to crack the four-team playoff.
Fickell won at least nine games in each of the last five seasons at Cincinnati. No other head coach accomplished that feat in the 135-year history of the Bearcats football program.
Fickell, whose eldest son Landon is a sophomore offensive lineman for the Bearcats, signed an extension with Cincinnati last offseason that paid the coach $5.05 million per year through 2028. UC will receive $3.5 million for the contract buyout.
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Luke Fickell leaving Cincinnati to take Wisconsin football job