Wisconsin is negotiating a deal with Cincinnati’s Luke Fickell to try to make him the Badgers' next head coach, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Sunday.
The deal was not done, but Fickell has emerged as the leading candidate and discussions between the school and Bearcats’ head coach were in progress, said the person, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the school was not making public details of its search.
ESPN first reported Wisconsin's negotiations with Fickell.
Fickell, 49, has posted a 57-18 record in six seasons at Cincinnati and helped the Bearcats earn a College Football Playoff berth last year. The former Ohio State linebacker went 6-7 as the Buckeyes’ interim head coach in 2011, after Jim Tressel’s resignation.
Fickell would take over for Paul Chryst, who went 67-26 in 7 1/2 seasons. Chryst was fired on Oct. 2, one day after the Badgers lost 34-10 at home to an Illinois team led by former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.
Wisconsin’s Board of Regents scheduled a special closed meeting for Sunday afternoon “to consider employment and additional compensation agreements for the UW-Madison head football coach,” according to a meeting notice posted online.
Wisconsin (6-6, 4-5 Big Ten) is awaiting its bowl assignment. A loss in their bowl game would cause the Badgers to finish below .500 for the first time since 2001.
Fickell could face an immediate test winning over a roster that has spent the last month or so openly calling for interim head coach Jim Leonhard to get the job permanently.
Leonhard was promoted from defensive coordinator after Chryst’s firing and led Wisconsin to a 4-3 record over the final seven games of the regular season. Leonhard said Saturday after the Badgers’ 23-16 home loss to Minnesota that he had interviewed with athletic director Chris McIntosh earlier in the week.
“I think whoever hires coaches is going to be an idiot if they don’t hire coach Leonhard,” safety John Torchio said after the Minnesota game. “I don’t know if I should say that, but I’ll say it.”
The Badgers instead are hiring the guy who led Cincinnati to the first CFP berth for any Group of Five school. Fickell won several national coach of the year awards last season for helping Cincinnati go 13-0 before losing to Alabama in a Cotton Bowl semifinal.
That 2021 Cincinnati team produced nine draft picks for the third-highest total of any school, behind only Georgia’s 15 and LSU’s 10. Five Cincinnati players were selected among the top 100 overall picks.
After replacing all that NFL talent, Cincinnati has gone 9-3 this season. The Bearcats didn’t qualify for the American Athletic Conference championship game that takes place Saturday.
Cincinnati went 4-8 in Fickell’s debut season of 2017 but has gone 53-10 since.
Fickell’s Cincinnati players also succeeded in the classroom. Heading into this season, Cincinnati had a 100% graduation rate among players who had stayed in the program for four years under Fickell.