Here's who could replace Luke Fickell as Cincinnati Bearcats head football coach
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Luke Fickell has won more games at the University of Cincinnati than any other head football coach in the program's 135-year history.
Now Cincinnati athletics director John Cunningham needs to find someone to replace him.
Fickell, who flirted with Michigan State in 2020 and whose name has been linked to job offers at USC, LSU, Notre Dame and even Oklahoma this past season, informed Cunningham Sunday morning and the Cincinnati players Sunday afternoon that he was leaving, to accept the position Wisconsin. The Badgers announced the hiring about 15 minutes ahead of Cunningham on the podium on Sunday night.
"I want to thank Coach Fickell," said Cunningham. "I want to thank Amy (Fickell's wife). I want to thank his whole family. I think I speak for all the Bearcats when I say we wish him nothing but the best. What he has done in his time here for this program has been remarkable. It has led us to be extremely forward going in all aspects of our program. And of course with the Big 12 just around the corner this is a very desirable job with a lot of things happening for us. A lot of that has to do with to do with his leadership and his leadership."
Luke Fickell introduced himself in Wisconsin: Luke Fickell introduced himself in Wisconsin, Cincinnati to conduct the national search for the next coach
With Cincinnati scheduled to leave the American Athletic Conference and join the Big 12 Conference on July 1, 2023, Cunningham knows he needs a home run associate who will help lead the Bearcats into a new era.
Cunningham said he and a search committee would "move swiftly" as they are conducting a "nationwide search" that will include both external and internal candidates.
"We're going to need someone who can recruit at a really high level," said Cunningham. “We're going to need someone who understands the NIL space (name, image and likeness) and fully understands that. That's going to be really, really important. We're going to need someone who can build a tremendous staff and someone who understands the level of play and dynamic attacking and defending that you're going to see in the Big 12."
Here's our list of the top candidates to replace Fickell, three-time UK Coach of the Year and Consensus National Coach of the Year in 2021:
Cincinnati cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs will serve as interim head coach until the Bearcats find a replacement for Luke Fickell.
Kerry Coombs, CIncinnati cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator
Coombs will carry the provisional label while Cunningham searches for Fickell's replacement. But 61-year-old Coombs could be the answer for the Bearcats. The former Ohio State defense coordinator and assistant for the Tennessee Titans is well acquainted with the Cincinnati program and has a firm grasp of the recruiting path in and around Cincinnati, having been a successful head coach at his alma mater, Colerain High School. If Cunningham wants to stay close to home, there's no one closer than Coombs.
Mike Tressel, Cincinnati defense coordinator
Mike Tressel is in his second season as defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Tressel would be another well-known option for Cunningham. Tressel, who Fickell of Michigan State selected to replace Marcus Freeman when Freeman joined Notre Dame after the 2020 season, knows Midwest recruiting paths well. He's also witnessed the transformation of the Cincinnati program firsthand, having been an assistant with the Bearcats from 2004-2006 under then-head coach Mark Dantonio.
Jesse Minter, Michigan defense coordinator
Michigan defensive coordinator Jesse Minter is the son of former Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter and could be a candidate to replace Luke Fickell at the helm of the Bearcats program.
Minter is one of the hottest names in college football. He was the architect of a Michigan defense that carried the Wolverines to the college football playoffs last season and likely to a second straight playoff spot this year. The 39-year-old also knows the area and the program well. He is the son of former Cincinnati head coach Rick Minter (1994-2003), who was the most successful coach in Bearcats program history before Fickell ousted him this season.
Deion Sanders, Jackson State head coach
Jackson State coach Deion Sanders would be a brilliant appointment for Cincinnati.
While the 55-year-old Sanders would be a far-from-home hire for Cunningham, it would be a home run shot for the program's recruiting efforts. Recent reports say the Pro Football Hall of Famer and current Jackson State head coach are being linked to the Colorado vacancy, but Cunningham may be trying to lure Sanders to Queen City, where he spent the 1990s and 2000s, with promises of an update Years playing for the Cincinnati Reds facilities and an influx of resources with the upcoming move of the Big 12.
Kevin Wilson, Ohio State offensive coordinator
Ohio State Buckeyes offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson has been the Buckeyes' offensive coordinator since 2017.
Former Cincinnati athletic director Mike Bohn, who is now at USC, brought Fickell in from Ohio State after the 2016 season. Cunningham could also delve into Columbus by bringing in Wilson. The 61-year-old coach spent several years as an assistant at Miami University before working his way up the corporate ladder.
Urban Meyer, former Ohio State and Jacksonville Jaguars head coach and Cincinnati alumnus
Luke Fickell (left) was Urban Meyer's (right) defense coordinator at Ohio State. Now Meyer could be a potential candidate to replace Fickell in Cincinnati.
This might be a stretch, but it might be worth it for Cunningham. Meyer's son Nate played for Fickell in Cincinnati while Meyer's sister is vice provost at the university. Meyer's on-field resume is as good as it gets, with three national championships in Ohio State and Florida. But the 58-year-old's off-the-field resume leaves a lot to be desired, to say the least. Meyer might be a non-starter to many university administrators, but if Cunningham and Cincinnati President Neville G. Pinto want a coach who wins and has ties to the Bearcats, Meyer is it.
"There is no better leader than John Cunningham to lead the search for our next head football coach," Pinto said. “I have every confidence that John will find the right person to continue our culture of success on and off the pitch and to capitalize on the prosperity of our institution. The University of Cincinnati and this community have all the ingredients needed for success, and I am confident we will find a candidate who can make Cincinnati proud."
This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Football: Candidates to Replace Luke Fickell as Head Coach
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