Fickell thoughts: My reaction to his departure
Am I mad at Luke Fickell? Nope
Am I disappointed? Sure
I've learned over the years not to believe or buy into anything college coaches say. Ultimately, coaches say what is required to build their program. And then when something better comes along, they deny interest to protect the process until it’s time to sign the contract at their next school.
I get it. That’s why I don’t blame Luke. Hell, who wouldn’t look out for their family and themselves first?
Here is the singular ask I have of a coach: Leave the program in better shape than they found it. Luke sure as heck did.
He elevated UC football to a new level, a level that not many programs in the entire country have EVER reached. UC played in the freakin' CFB playoffs! He's the winningest coach in program history. Personally, I always appreciated the time and cooperation he offered to Sports Talk.
He spent six seasons in Clifton. How many years did you think he would stay, or should stay? The recruiting website On3.com says the average tenure of an FBS coach at his current school is 3.7 years.
Luke put ‘Team’ on the back of his pullover and talked passionately of family, a brotherhood, and of a commitment. He even did chin-ups from the ceiling of the locker room after wins. He did his thing for six years......2,179 days. He built a winner. He passed on several gigs, some much more prestigious than Wisconsin.
But after turning down Notre Dame and others, Luke’s team took a step back this season, and stay or go, his team was going to take a step back in their first Big 12 season. Luke’s mantra has been about playing for championships. His team didn’t do that this season. They didn’t even get to the championship of the AAC. Instead, Tulane and UCF did.
It’s bad business to let your coaching star dim when you’ve been the hot coaching name. Along came Wisconsin. This wasn’t ‘Dream Job’ stuff, but it was enough for Luke to bolt Clifton. Whether the deciding factors included conference, salary, facilities, budget, NIL, stadium, owning the state of Wisconsin vs sharing the state of Ohio, does it matter?
Wisconsin’s AD Chris McIntosh fired Badgers coach Paul Chryst on October 2. Do you think McIntosh sat around for almost two months before the light bulb went off to contact Fickell? Coaches think it’s cute to play the ‘oblivious’ card when it comes to their total lack of awareness of things going on outside their program. Think Fickell was unaware until this weekend? Reports indicate he interview after the ECU game two weeks ago.
Justin Williams of The Athletic, reports Luke’s wife visited/scouted Madison earlier this month. While she was doing that, Luke was preparing game plans for his UC players. He was also recruiting players and hosting them on campus, selling them, applying a full court press to convince them to commit to the UC family............Then, Fickell served divorce papers to his UC family.
Fickell professed his love for Ohio and called UC a special place at his introductory news conference Dec. 10, 2016:
"This is a true dream to me. As a man who grew up, born and raised, a family that is born and raised in the great state of Ohio. To have this opportunity is an honor and truly a blessing. This is not a job to me."
Now he's professing his love of Wisconsin and calling it a special place:
“My family and I are thrilled to join the Wisconsin family. This is a destination job at a program that I have admired from afar for years. There is a tremendous foundation here that I can’t wait to build upon. 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. I wouldn't have done this if it wasn't a great fit."
I get it. Loyalty is ultimately only surface deep when you’re a coach. Again, first priority: Take care of family, take care of yourself.
What has happened no longer matters. I only care about what is happening. The dominoes that are falling all around are debilitating to the program. Will the last UC player off the roster and into the transfer portal please turn out the lights? The mad scramble is on to keep at least a few commitments from what was shaping up as a star studded recruiting class. Don’t forget the assistants. Fickell has reportedly picked off strength coach Brady Collins, and a number of assistants will follow.
No harm, no foul. That's the game. Everywhere.
Now, it’s up to UC Director of Athletics John Cunningham to deliver a home run hire. UC has certainly been here and done this before. But now, the stakes are clearly higher than ever before.
A year ago at this time momentum for UC football was a tidal wave of power and energy….from a CFB Playoff appearance to an extension Luke signed through 2028 to the announcement of a move to the Big 12.
All of that has ground to a screeching halt. Now, UC football is about uncertainty and questions.
Luke left for a better opportunity. I thank him. I wish him the best. I'll root for him.
To borrow a quote from Tracy Jones: It is what it is.