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Scott Satterfield leaves Louisville for Cincinnati ahead of bowl showdown

Scott Satterfield went 25-24 over four years at Louisville after six seasons at Appalachian State. (Michael Clubb/AP)

When Cincinnati plays Louisville next week in the Fenway Bowl, a head coach will be physically absent but, figuratively, very much looming over both sidelines.

That’s because Scott Satterfield left Louisville for Cincinnati less than two weeks before the showdown takes place, then said Monday that he won’t participate in the game. Instead, Satterfield told reporters at his introductory news conference with the Bearcats, he will focus on “putting together a staff and recruiting,” all the better to “hit the ground running” when Cincinnati joins the Big 12 next year.

As it is, Satterfield has big shoes to fill, given he is replacing Luke Fickell, who led the Bearcats to unprecedented heights that included a berth in last season’s College Football Playoff. After six successful seasons with Cincinnati, Fickell was hired last month to fill the vacancy at Big Ten power Wisconsin.

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Taking over a Louisville program in 2019 that had tumbled to 2-10 the previous season under Bobby Petrino, Satterfield went 25-24 over four years. Before that, he spent six years at Appalachian State, posting a record of 51-24 with three bowl wins.

In his second season at Appalachian State — where Satterfield had played quarterback — the Mountaineers moved up a level to the top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision. That gave him a taste of what to expect when the Bearcats move from a Group of Five conference (in this case, the American Athletic) to the Power Five.

Satterfield said Monday that to “give yourself a chance” to get off to a good start in the Big 12, his new program needed to be “tremendous in the offseason.”

“You have to get great players,” he told reporters. “We have to have a great winter program. We have to be awesome in spring practice and [have] a great summer in order for us to be able to compete in the Big 12 when we start next season. So, it starts now.”

For the 49-year-old coach, one potential silver lining to the move is that the dramatic change in competition could mitigate inevitable comparisons to Fickell, as well as to the latter’s predecessors in Tommy Tuberville, Butch Jones and Brian Kelly.

“Everybody expects you to come in and kind of pick up where they left off, but I am not Luke Fickell. I am going to be Scott Satterfield,” he said. “I am going to do the things that I think we need to do to be successful. … I have a ton of respect for Luke — what he did here was a tremendous, unbelievable job, so it is difficult. We are not playing in the same conference, right? It’s going to be a different conference. The competition is going up, and so that presents new challenges as well.”

“Twelve bowls in 16 years,” Satterfield added, referring to the Bearcats’ recent postseason track record. “That’s tremendous. We want to continue that. We understand we’re going into a new era, new conference.”

Louisville made its own transition from the American Athletic to a Power Five conference in 2014, when it joined the ACC. The Cardinals are now in the market for their third coach since then, with Athletic Director Josh Heird saying Monday (via the Associated Press): “We will be looking for a tremendous leader who recognizes both the history and potential of Louisville Football and is committed long term to helping the program reach new heights.”

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The Cardinals will be led in the upcoming bowl game by Deion Branch, a former Louisville and NFL receiver who is the program’s director of player development.

“For me, it was, ‘Who could be dedicated to the guys in the locker room, unequivocally for the next two weeks?’” Heird said. “While there is a very good staff and we have some very good assistant coaches, I think the one guy that could without a doubt give every minute over the next two weeks to the guys in the locker room, that was Deion.”

“I think this is one of the better jobs in the country,” Branch said, “and we are going to do everything we can to find the best leader for this football program that will work well with the department, the university, the community.”

Cincinnati will be coached in the Fenway Bowl by cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs, who has served as interim coach since Fickell’s departure.

Satterfield’s defection adds a major layer to what was already an intriguing matchup of schools located approximately 100 miles apart. The bowl game pairing revives the “Keg of Nails” rivalry that began between the Bearcats and Cardinals in 1929 and saw them square off every year from 1966 to 1992. They also contested for the trophy every year from 1996 to 2013, when Louisville left the AAC. Per Cincinnati, it leads the series 30-22-1.

“It’s been too long,” Bearcats Athletic Director John Cunningham said Sunday, “since the University of Cincinnati and Louisville battled for the ‘Keg of Nails.’ We are looking forward to renewing this historic rivalry that will give this game extra significance.”

“It’s kind of a weird situation, right?” Satterfield said Monday. “I mean, Louisville’s playing Cincinnati in a bowl game. I told both teams that I am removing myself from the bowl game. I won’t be there — not going to be in that situation.

“My whole focus right now is putting together a staff and recruiting,” he continued. “I have already started recruiting, and we are going to recruit this afternoon. That’s what we’re going to do for the time until we can sign players and get them here. We have to. You are only going to be as good as the student-athletes that you bring in. That’s what we’ve got to do. We’re going to hit the ground running — already have.”