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Why Wisconsin Football Hiring Luke Fickell Was a No-Brainer



Wisconsin Football Head Coach Luke Fickell
Wisconsin football coach Luke Fickell speaks to the Ohio High School Football Coaches Association Clinic at the Easton Hilton on Feb. 3, 2023. Dsc05130

Why Wisconsin Football Hiring Luke Fickell Was a No-Brainer

Madison, Wis. – The existential question for the Wisconsin football program has seemingly been, “how do we take the next step?”

Since 2014, UW has accumulated the most wins of any program that hasn’t made the College Football Playoffs, although former head coach Paul Chryst seemingly had the Badgers on the cusp at its peak.

Since then, Wisconsin’s offense became stale, unimaginative, and in many ways, broken. Whatever you want to call it, UW took steps backward.

After accumulating four 10+ win seasons in five years, the Badgers haven’t won the Big Ten West in three consecutive years – a sentence I never thought I would utter given the trajectory UW was on a few seasons ago.

The answer to Wisconsin’s problems, at least in the mind of Athletic Director Chris McIntosh, was hiring Cincinnati HC Luke Fickell.

Today, Badger Notes lists three reasons hiring coach Fickell was a no-brainer for the Wisconsin football program.

Wisconsin Football Landed a Proven Commodity

The heart wanted Jim Leonhard as the Wisconsin football program’s next head coach for obvious reasons, but the head understands that hiring Luke Fickell was the right choice.

Fickell, the reigning National Coach of the Year, who is only 49 years old, has as good of a resume as you’ll find in college football.

In six seasons with the Bearcats, he compiled a 57-18 overall record, winning two AAC Championships (2020, 2021) with Cincinnati. He also became the first Group of Five football coach to lead his program to the College Football Playoffs in 2021.

And if you want to take it a step further, he took a team comprised of two and three-star recruits that he developed — to college football’s final four and didn’t look outclassed against Nick Saban and Alabama.

Let’s call a spade a spade; this man was on the short-list for just about every Power 5 job that would come open – the fact that Wisconsin football landed him is both a surprise and a blessing.

Nobody knows if it will work out, but this is a grand-slam hire for UW on paper — and the early returns are VERY promising.

His Core Principles Align With Wisconsin Football

Albeit slightly different from an aesthetic, Luke Fickell’s core principles mirror the University of Wisconsin’s – a sentiment echoed by AD Chris McIntosh.

“My objective is not to change that [Wisconsin’s identity],” Fickell told UW reporters. “My objective is to try and find ways to grow it and enhance it … I wouldn’t expect it to be much of any different or change in those ways of it being the tough, hard-nosed kind of guys that have made this place special.”

Luke Fickell understands games are won and lost in the trenches, values offensive line play is a defensive-minded coach and has Midwest roots. He already sounds like a “Wisconsin guy” to me.

He’s a program builder who wants the foundation of his team built on recruiting hard-nosed local players and utilizing his strong track record of player development to field a winner. He acknowledged he’s willing to use the transfer portal to fill gaps on the roster, but it’s not a preferred method of roster construction.

So, it’s not like he’s going to reinvent the wheel here, and quite frankly, I’m not sure Wisconsin football needs that. He can, however, bring an outside voice with a different perspective to a program that needs fresh ideas.

He’s cut from the same cloth as many of his predecessors, and I mean that as a compliment.

Luke Fickell Is Known for Player Development

Wisconsin football has been a recruit-and-develop program for as long as I can remember. And anyone who follows this program closely knows that’s an area they’ve faltered in recently – Jim Leonhard acknowledged as much this past season.

Enter coach Fickell, who is known for his track record of player development.

At Cincinnati, a school I’d argue has less talent at its disposal than Wisconsin; Fickell had a player selected in the NFL draft every season since taking over the program in 2017. Last April, the Bearcats had nine players selected in the 2022 NFL draft, trailing only LSU and Georgia.

Since 2020, Fickell had players like Josiah Deguara, Sauce Gardner, Alec Pierce, Bryan Cook, Desmond Riddler, and Myjai Sanders all selected in the first three rounds. For reference, Wisconsin football produced four NFL players taken in the top three rounds during that time frame.

He recruits local talent and gets the most out of them. Wisconsin football will always be a developmental program at its core, and the Badgers picked up one of America’s most recognizable player development coaches. It’s hard not to be excited about that.

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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His writing has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, and Fansided.