Badgers flip the script, hire Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell to be new head coach

MADISON, Wis. — In a season full of surprises, the Badgers gave fans another one Sunday.

Luke Fickell, who guided Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff last season, was hired as Wisconsin’s new head coach, UW Athletic Director Chris McIntosh confirmed.

“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. Equally as important, he shares our values.”

Multiple media outlets including ESPN and the Wisconsin State Journal reported Fickell’s hiring earlier in the day, surprising many fans who expected interim head coach Jim Leonhard to receive the position.

“My family and I are thrilled to join the Wisconsin family,” Fickell said. “There is a tremendous foundation here that I can’t wait to build upon.”

An Ohio State Buckeye during his playing days, Fickell’s coaching career began in earnest when he was hired as the Buckeyes’ special teams coordinator in 2002. He spent over a decade in Columbus and was co-defensive coordinator under Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, winning a National Championship with both coaches.

Fickell took over at Cincinnati in December 2016, following the resignation of Tommy Tuberville. After finishing 4-8 in his first year, he led the Bearcats to 11 wins in back-to-back seasons, earning American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2018.

Prior to Fickell’s tenure, the Bearcats had only posted two 11-win seasons in team history.

During the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, the Bearcats finished 9-1, won the AAC Championship, and narrowly lost the Peach Bowl to No. 9 Georgia. Cincinnati followed up that successful season by going 13-0 in 2021, winning the AAC again, and being selected for the College Football Playoff. Fickell was named AAC Coach of the Year at the end of the season.

The Bearcats became the first “Group of Five” school in history to make it to the CFP. Cincinnati would ultimately lose in the Cotton Bowl to No. 1 Alabama, but Fickell picked up a plethora of honors including the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award.

The 2022 season was not as good for Cincinnati as the year before but the Bearcats still posted 9 wins, including a 45-24 victory over Indiana.

Fickell won 57 games over his six years at Cincinnati. He becomes the 31st head coach in Wisconsin football history.

The Badgers opted for Fickell over interim head coach Jim Leonhard, who had been the Badgers’ defensive coordinator since 2017 and took over head coaching duties after Paul Chryst was fired.

Leonhard coached Wisconsin to wins in four of the last seven games, extending Wisconsin’s streak of bowl game appearances to 21 seasons.