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Wisconsin Badgers HC Luke Fickell Is a Helluva Salesman

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Wisconsin football head coach Luke Fickell

Madison, Wis. UW athletic director Chris McIntosh made a statement when he hired Luke Fickell as the 31st head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers football program. 

That statement was clear and concise; the expectation is for UW to win the Big Ten West, compete for B1G titles and push for an appearance in the college football playoffs. 

However, there was a checklist of things that needed addressing and in short order to put the best possible product on the field in 2023. 

Luke Fickell inherited a 2023 recruiting class holding only eight commits for next season, lost starting quarterback Graham Mertz to the transfer portal, and UW legend Jim Leonhard decided to part ways with the program after the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. There were also no guarantees the current players on the roster would stay amid the coaching turnover.

That said, during this period of complete and utter chaos surrounding the program, I’ve learned one thing: Luke Fickell is one helluva salesman.

Luke Fickell Retained In-House Talent 

Step one for Luke Fickell was retaining the players already in-house. Besides Graham Mertz, Isaac Guerendo, and Semar Melvin, UW didn’t lose any irreplaceable contributors to the transfer portal. He even kept star running back Braelon Allen on board despite rumors during the season he was considering a change.

Coach Fickell also convinced players like Michael Furtney, who started eight games at right guard – and Markus Allen, who entered the portal in October, to withdraw their names and rejoin the program.

He acknowledged that there was no desire to build a football team through the transfer portal – so sharing his vision for the program and selling the current Badgers players was critical to the team’s short/long-term success.

I was very impressed at Wisconsin football’s lack of turnover because there is plenty of talent returning next season – now he can add to it.

Revamped the Coaching Staff 

When a new head coach gets hired, it’s common for them to clean house and bring in their own guys – usually ones they’ve worked with at previous stops. For Wisconsin, a clean slate, particularly on offense, was non-negotiable.

On offense, coach Fickell replaced Bobby Engram, a first-year OC with no previous play-calling experience, and made a splash hire – getting Phil Longo, one of the best in the country, to leave UNC and help rebuild/run his offense in Madison. Talk about an upgrade.

The Badgers offense is getting a complete and utter facelift – and I, for one, couldn’t be more excited.

Although coach Fickell couldn’t convince Jim Leonhard to stay – he brought Mike Tressel, the 2022 AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year, over from Cincinnati to run his defense. He also convinced his co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Colin Hitschler to join him at UW to help implement their 3-3-5 defensive scheme.

While I can acknowledge these people aren’t Jim Leonhard – it’s hard not to be optimistic about his replacements.

Salvaged the Wisconsin Badgers 2023 Recruiting Class

It wasn’t long ago that the sky was falling on the recruiting front. Several 2023 commits backed off their respective pledges, and numerous others were reportedly on the fence. With national signing day only weeks away – Luke Fickell had his work cut out for him.

He and his staff hit the road and prioritized keeping everyone the school already had committed for next season. Then, he quickly got several talented players on campus for official visits and closed the deal on SIX prospects: Braedyn Moore, Amare Snowden, Jonas Duclona, Trech Kekahuna, Christian Alliegro, and Tucker Ashcraft.

He quickly came in and salvaged UW’s recruiting class which now sits at 14 commits and counting.

Rebuilt the Wisconsin QB Room

Two days after Oklahoma QB Nick Evers entered the transfer portal, coach Fickell locked down the former four-star signal caller for an official visit. Before we knew it, Wisconsin landed a commitment from a blue-chip mobile quarterback capable of running Phil Longo’s air-raid offense – with four years of eligibility remaining, to boot.

But Luke Fickell didn’t stop there.

He and Phil Longo wasted no time pursuing a cornerstone piece for their 2024 recruiting class, gaining a verbal commitment from four-star QB Mabrey Mettauer out of The Woodlands, Texas.

Per the 247sports Composite, Mettauer is the No. 285 overall prospect in the 2024 recruiting class, the No. 21 QB in the country, and the No. 41 player in Texas.

I was in complete and utter disbelief at how quickly Luke Fickell was to come in and turn the University of Wisconsin into a legitimate destination for QBs.

Then, when Badger fans thought it couldn’t get any better, UW pulled one last rabbit out of their hat, landing SMU star QB Tanner Mordecai in the transfer portal.

In two seasons at SMU, Mordecai threw for 7,152 yards, 72 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, and had a 66.4% completion percentage. He also chipped in 302 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, giving UW a proven dual-threat option at QB with speed the Badgers haven’t seen at the position in a long time.

What Luke Fickell has accomplished in such a short time is remarkable, he’s one helluva salesman.


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Dillon Graff is a Substack Newsletter Best Selling Author and the Owner of BadgerNotes.com, your go-to source for in-depth coverage of the Wisconsin Badgers. His work has been featured in top media publications like USA Today, Bleacher Report, Verbal Commits, B5Q, Saturday Blitz, and Fansided.

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