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Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell has cemented himself as one of the best coaches in the country. Don’t believe me? Just look at Fickell’s resume.
Fickell arrived in Cincinnati in 2017 and took over a program that had declined under Tommy Tuberville. The team went just 4-8 in 2016. Though Fickell went 4-8 himself in his first season, the Bearcats became an 11-win program in 2018 and 2019. Last season was the crown jewel for Fickell. The Bearcats went 9-1, beat conference foe UCF and then competed well against Georgia in the Peach Bowl.
Under his tutelage, quarterback Desmond Ridder has ascended from unknown to potential first rounder in the span of his college career. All that as the 45th highest paid coach in the FBS. Not too shabby for the 48-year-old former Ohio State coordinator.
Cincinnati has unquestionably been one of the best programs in the FBS since Fickell’s arrival, which contributed to the news that became official last Friday. Cincinnati, along with UCF, Houston and BYU were announced as the newest members of the Big 12 conference. A huge accomplishment for a team that plays second fiddle to the Buckeyes in the state of Ohio. All under Fickell’s watch.
So much so, that the fanbase now expects success. We saw this during Cincinnati’s 42-7 rout of Murray State two weeks ago. Tied 7-7 at the half, the crowd began to boo loudly as the Bearcats went back into the locker room. It was the first bit of “adversity” they had to face this season, as Fickell said after the game.
“We walked off [at halftime], and the adversity was in the 7-7 at the half, and for the first time we heard a little bit of boos,” Fickell said. “And some people would say, ‘That’s awful.’ I would say, ‘That’s good,’ because they have an expectation.”
Expectations, they certainly have, which is why they were the heavy favorite against Indiana on Saturday. And when things weren’t going well in the first half, nobody was surprised when Fickell’s team turned the switch on and throttled the Hoosiers in the second half en route to a 38-24 victory. Because that’s what the Bearcats have done under Fickell.
USC fired head coach Clay Helton last week, and many replacement names have since floated about social media and sports networks. CBS Sports CFB reporter Dennis Dodd even went as far to say that the USC job was “Fickell’s to turn down.”
Fickell has denied having any contact with the Trojans, but it will be interesting to see how the rumors heat up when the season winds down. Fickell’s team will certainly be in the AAC Championship running, and perhaps this is the year an undefeated Group of Five team gets into the CFB Playoff. If Cincinnati does, expect USC to come calling and for Fickell to consider bolting and receiving a hefty pay raise.
Fickell could also choose to stay, however. The Big 12 promotion means that Cincinnati will be a Power Five team by at least 2023. How much stock does that hold with Oklahoma and Texas set to leave for the SEC? That remains to be seen, but Fickell has put himself in a position to take any job that becomes available.