New Wisconsin Badger head football coach Luke Fickell
With news that former Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell has been hired as the next head football coach at the University of Wisconsin, we checked in with high school coaches around the state for their reaction.
Fickell is no stranger to Wisconsin and the Big Ten, playing at Ohio State as an All-Conference defensive lineman. Later he returned to coach at Ohio State, eventually rising to co-defensive coordinator from 2005 to 2016. In 2011 he served as the Buckeyes' interim head coach. Fickell went 57-18 at Cincinnati, including guiding the Bearcats the College Football Playoff in 2021.
In the introductory press release, Fickell stated: "This is a destination job at a program that I have admired from afar for years. I am in total alignment with Chris McIntosh's vision for this program. 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."
Following are comments from state high school coaches on reports of Fickell's hire.
"I am very surprised at the sudden shift away from Leonhard. I, like most everyone, thought it was a done deal. As for the impact of going out of house for the new head coach on the relationship between the WFCA and UW, I am optimistic that things will proceed as normal. The high school coaches have been very loyal to the Badgers, ever since Coach Alvarez built a wall around the state to keep the top talent at home. On a side note, with the transfer portal in place, the college recruiting landscape has changed dramatically. Coaches need to do a deeper dive into players to get a feel as to whether they will remain loyal or jump ship if they aren't playing as soon as they think they should be. Chris McIntosh is a Badger, through and through. He would not want to deviate from that plan. I look at that as meaning the new coach would certainly want to establish a positive relationship with the WFCA."
"The hiring of Luke Fickell is a surprising turn of events. Given the cultural disconnect that was apparent during Gary Andersen's tenure, I'm sure many of us are cautiously optimistic that this will be different, but as coaches WE KNOW that Jim Leonhard would have given the state leadership from a very familiar perspective, and one that we could immediately gravitate toward. The transition to the Luke Fickell era will be critical, and those who are invested in his hiring have a huge job in front of them as it relates to his education around what makes a successful head coach at UW. My hope is that Coach Fickell will be extremely pro-active in reaching out to the state coaches to reassure the importance of recruiting in-state will not be diminished. The backbone of the UW program has always been and will continue to be Wisconsin kids. Clearly we need a national recruiting footprint, and have to attract high-level players from across the country, but given an apples to apples comparison between recruits, the Wisconsin kids should be prioritized. Keeping our best players in-state should be the goal of any coach at the flagship program, and until we as coaches are shown that will be a priority, I'm certain skepticism will exist. With the change in leadership, obviously the goal of those in the hiring process is to chart a different course for UW football. However, I'm not convinced everything should be completely disbanded and reconstructed. There are pillars of the UW program that are still critical foundational pieces and need to be maintained to ensure long-term success and growth. Continuing to maintain great relationships with the high school coaches and players in Wisconsin is one of them. t's exciting to see what new changes are in-store, but a complete reshaping of the program and its priorities is not a change that excites me. Ultimately, the UW program is about CULTURE as much as it is about PERFORMANCE. It's my hope that UW's on-field / off-season / recruiting performance improves, the culture is enhanced, and the relationship between UW football, high school coaches and HS athletes is maintained and strengthened."
"Congratulations to Coach Fickell being named the new head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers. Being that Coach Fickell has spent a number of years in the Big 10, I'm sure he realizes that a major part of Wisconsin's success in the past has been because of the relationship with the in-state high school football coaches and being able to keep Wisconsin's top football players right here in state. I wish the best of luck to Coach Fickell and his entire staff and look forward to meeting them in the future."
"First what a crazy day for Wisconsin football. I was shocked to hear of the coaching hire this morning. I feel for Coach Leonhard and have nothing but great respect for him and what he has done for Wisconsin. I was extremely excited to see how he could bring back Wisconsin football to the high standard that we know. I know he had a great vision for the program. I do think they got a great coach who has proven he can take a program and build it from the ground up. He has taken Cincinnati to the college football playoffs and I know he feels he can do the same at Wisconsin. He comes with great experience and has been very successful at taking recruits and getting the most out of them. He develops his student athletes on and off the field."
"Change is always complicated and I certainly have grown to respect Coach Leonhard. His defensive success and leadership speaks for itself. The love his players show him is second to none. But I think we have to trust that administration is doing what is best for the University of Wisconsin and the program. Coach Fickell is an extremely attractive coach and certainly worthy of this opportunity. Moving forward, my hope is that we would have more of a presence in our schools from UW coaches every year, no matter if we have a player committing to the program or not. I struggle when coaches from Wyoming, North Dakota State, and Northern Illinois make it into our schools every year but not our own one and only Division 1 school in Wisconsin."
"To be honest, did not see this coming as reports were Coach Leonhard was taking over earlier this week. I hope Coach Fickell makes sure the top Wisconsin players stay in the state. We have had a strong preferred walk-on tradition from in-state players, so hopefully, that will continue. We have always had a strong presence at the WFCA clinic from the Badger staff, and again hoping that continues. Very curious if he will keep anyone from the previous staff or if it will be a whole new group of coaches, strength coaches, etc. What the offense scheme will he run will be interesting as well."
"It’s hard to comment on this without knowing everything that has happened behind the scenes at Wisconsin. I was definitely surprised to hear the hiring of Coach Fickell today. Coach Leonhard is a class act and poured his heart and soul into the program. He has turned down NFL opportunities the past few years which shows his dedication and loyalty to the program. It will be interesting to see what the new staff looks likes and how many commits leave, and how many Cincinnati commits and transfers follow Coach Fickell. I wish Coach Leonhard nothing but the best and look forward to watching him succeed wherever he lands."
"I was surprised like many Wisconsin people with the hiring. I love Coach Leonhard so it's tough to not see him but hiring a guy with such a proven track record is difficult not to like or understand. He also understands the Big 10 and its ever changing landscape. So to compete the Badgers will need to be more of a national brand. I will be interested to see what Coach Fickell does around the state, it feels like it's been a bit of a mess lately and I was confident Leonhard will fix that. I'm sure Coach Fickell will get up to speed quickly. He has won wherever he has been and you never wish poorly on another coach. It will be interesting to see him take the Badgers to new heights and how he will respond to the state of Wisconsin."
"Clearly there are mixed feelings running through the program with the announcement of Coach Fickell as head coach of the Badgers. From watching his career from afar, it appears that the program is getting a genuine, blue collar coach. Him staying on at Ohio State as defensive coordinator after serving as interim head coach demonstrated a great deal of commitment to that locker room and program. His recruiting roots in Ohio should cultivate some new pipelines to the program, and I am sure keeping the in-state kids and walk-on tradition will be a top priority for him. When the dust settles, I am sure the Badger faithful will rally around Coach Fickell and his staff."
"I truly believe this is good for Wisconsin high school football. It's important for the state of Wisconsin and the young men who play here to understand we can compete at the highest level and we must never settle. Coach Fickell has proven he can build a program to compete at the highest level. Many of his teams were made up of players recruited in the midwest and they have developed into players who compete with any program in the country. I believe Wisconsin has players and programs in place that can develop to compete with anyone in the country. I'm excited to see the impact Coach Fickell can make and I know the coaches and players of this great state are ready to support him in this opportunity of moving UW football forward."
"My initial reaction is shock. I truly thought that Coach Leonhard would get the job. Players love him, he’s a native of Wisconsin, knows our players here, and would most likely have stayed long term. I’m concerned that this may end up being another Gary Andersen situation where our high school players aren’t as actively recruited, the relationship between the Badgers and high school coaches isn’t as good, and that as soon as another more high profile job becomes available, that Coach Fickell leaves. Admittedly I don’t know a lot about Coach Fickell…I just hope he does right by our state and our high schools here."
"I view the hiring with mixed emotions. I respected Coach Chryst and Coach Leonhard and felt they were doing a very good job. Obviously some of the UW players did not meet expectations on a consistent basis and this is what led to the changes. Coach Fickell has done an outstanding job at Cincinnati and at Ohio State so certainly he is a good hire. UW will likely lose some players due to the change, but hopefully we can gain more than we lose. College and Pro Coaching is a rewarding, but tough business, with the key word being Business!"
"I try to not overreact or be too much of a fan in situations like this. I think Luke Fickell is a great hire for the Badgers. Coach Fickell is an amazing football coach, a great recruiter and has the chance to take this program to new heights. I’m also sad that Jim Leonhard isn’t getting the chance to do the same. As Wisconsin fans I think we have to understand that we can both be excited about a new direction for the program while still feeling sad that Coach Leonhard isn’t the one doing it. Coach Leonhard is a Wisconsin guy and it’s hard to see an outsider take over. But Chris McIntosh is Wisconsin guy also, and realizes that it is a business. I hope that Coach Fickell continues to build the relationship that we have as a state of coaches and that he sees the value that the relationship with the WFCA has had for everyone else who has been in his position. I hope he prioritizes the in-state recruiting that has made us as successful as we have been while finding key out of state talent as well. In the moment a lot of Wisconsin fans feel hurt, and thats ok, we all loved Coach Leonhard and always will. Hopefully though the future is as bright as it has ever been for Wisconsin Football."
Travis Wilson serves as the WisSports.net General Manager, Football Editor, and contributing writer for other parts of the site. Wilson was selected as part of the Sports 40 Under 40 list by Coach & AD Magazine and the National High School Athletic Coaches Association for 2019. The Wisconsin Football Coaches Association (WFCA) named Travis the 2015 recipient of the Dave McClain Distinguished Service Award. He currently serves on the WFCA Executive Board as the Website and Communications Director and is a member of the Executive Board of the Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association. A graduate of Richland Center High School and Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Travis was a three-sport athlete in high school (football, baseball, basketball) and currently resides in Reedsburg. You can follow him on Twitter at @travisWSN.
For the latest and most up to date football news and recruiting information, follow Travis on Twitter @travisWSN. Email story ideas, recruiting info, etc. to Travis at travis(at)wissports.net.