Wisconsin eyes Luke Fickell: Badgers’ focus turns to Cincinnati coach instead of Jim Leonhard, per reports

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Wisconsin has targeted Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell to take over its football program, according to multiple reports. The stunning development comes after the Bearcats and Fickell finished the regular season with a loss to Tulane on Friday while the Badgers wrapped up a 6-6 season with a 23-16 home loss to Minnesota on Saturday. A Board of Regents meeting is scheduled at Wisconsin to discuss the salary of the future football coach at 5 p.m. ET, meaning an announcement could come as soon as Sunday. 

Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst in early October, ending a tenure that saw the former Badger player and assistant go 67-26 across eight seasons. Defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard, another former Badger player, was named the program’s interim coach and was considered a candidate to be elevated to full-time status at the end of the season. Under Leonhard’s leadership, the Badgers went 4-3 to finish the 2022 season. 

Fickell has deep Big Ten ties as a former Ohio State player and long-time Buckeyes assistant coach, even serving as the team’s interim coach in the wake of Jim Tressel’s dismissal in 2011. He continued as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator from 2012-16 until he was hired by Cincinnati, where he has elevated the Bearcats into one of the top program’s in the American Athletic Conference in advance of the school’s move to the Big 12 in 2023. 

After going 4-8 in his first season, Fickell led the team to only the program’s third 11-win season in history in 2018 and was named AAC Coach of the Year. He followed that with another 11-win season in 2019 and adding a division title before rolling off back-to-back AAC conference championships and top-10 finishes in 2020 and 2021. Upon the conclusion and success of the 2021 season, Cincinnati became the first-ever Group of Five school to make an appearance in the College Football Playoff. 

Long considered a potential candidate for other jobs, Fickell, who is 57-18 in his six seasons with the Bearcats, has remained in place instead of jumping at the first power conference opportunity. ESPN reported that no deal is signed but the Badgers are hoping to be that program to lure Fickell away from Cincinnati while hoping to get a deal done “in the next 48 hours.”  

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