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Wisconsin hires Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati

Following a 4-8 start at Cincinnati, Luke Fickell went 53-10 over the past five seasons. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP)

Wisconsin announced Sunday that it hired Luke Fickell away from Cincinnati to be the Badgers’ football coach.

While guiding the Bearcats to unprecedented heights over the past six seasons, the 49-year-old Fickell had become a coveted target for Power Five programs. In Madison, he replaces Paul Chryst, who was fired last month after Wisconsin got off to a 2-3 start.

Jim Leonhard took over as interim coach of the Badgers and has gone 4-3 in that role, leading to some calls for the former Wisconsin safety to keep the job on a permanent basis. However, Athletic Director Chris McIntosh managed to land a name that should more than satisfy most supporters of the program, given Fickell’s success and Midwestern roots.

A native of Columbus, Ohio, who played at Ohio State and served as interim coach of the Buckeyes for one year after Jim Tressel resigned in 2011, Fickell on Sunday described his new position as “a destination job at a program that I have admired from afar for years.”

“My family and I are thrilled to join the Wisconsin family. … There is a tremendous foundation here that I can’t wait to build upon,” he said in a statement. “This world-class university, athletic department and passionately loyal fan base all have a strong commitment to success and I can’t wait to be a part of it.”

“Luke is one of the top football coaches in the country,” McIntosh said in a statement. “He is a proven winner, recruiter and developer of players.”

Hired by Cincinnati in December 2016, after staying with the Buckeyes as an assistant to Urban Meyer, Fickell took over a program that had just gone 4-8 and produced the same record in his first season. From 2018 through this season, though, he went 53-10, including a 13-1 campaign last season that saw the Bearcats reach No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll, their highest-ever ranking, and become the first Group of Five team to earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

That showing earned Fickell a number of coach of the year awards, as well as a two-year contract extension from Cincinnati with a raise to $5 million per year. His salary terms with Wisconsin were not disclosed. Matt Rhule, the former Carolina Panthers coach hired Saturday by Nebraska, is set to make $9 million annually over eight years, according to NFL Network.

Fickell’s prowess in recruiting and player development was on display at this year’s NFL draft, where Cincinnati had nine players go off the board, including cornerback Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner at No. 4 and four additional players in the first 100 picks. The overall total was the third most of any program, behind only national champion Georgia (15) and fellow SEC power LSU (10). Of the five players drafted out of Wisconsin this year, none were selected in the top 100.

Playoff picture getting clearer (college football winners and losers)

At 6-6, Wisconsin is eligible for a bowl, and a loss in a postseason game could give the Badgers their first losing season since 2001. Cincinnati, 24th in the most recent CFP rankings, is 9-3 following a loss Friday to No. 19 Tulane. That result and a win by Central Florida on Saturday denied the Bearcats a berth in the American Athletic championship game.

Even before this season began, Fickell had been linked over the years to vacancies at programs such as West Virginia, Florida State, Baylor, Michigan State and Notre Dame.

“I am thrilled with our hire of Luke Fickell as the head football coach of the Badgers,” Wisconsin Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin said in a statement. “He is a transformative hire for our program.”

“I think it’s a home run hire,” former Badgers coach and athletic director Barry Alvarez said Sunday (via madison.com).

“There’s a new era and I’m excited for it,” he added. “Our fans should be excited for it.”

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