Most Badger fans thought Jim Leonhard had the job; Wisconsin pulls a surprise last minute hire in UC’s Luke Fickell

Luke Fickell at introductory press conference (courtesy Wisconsin Athletic Communications)

Luke Fickell named 31st head coach in Wisconsin football history

MADISON, Wis. – Wisconsin Director of Athletics Chris McIntosh announced the hiring of Luke Fickell as UW’s head football coach on Sunday. The consensus 2021 National Coach of the Year becomes the 31st head coach in program history.

“I am incredibly excited to announce Luke Fickell as our new head football coach and to welcome his entire family to Madison,” McIntosh said. “Luke is one of the top football coaches in the country. He is a proven winner, recruiter and developer of players. Equally as important, he shares our values. Coach Fickell is focused on giving our student-athletes the best opportunities possible and is attuned to the changing landscape of college athletics. 

“I have every confidence that he will respect and honor the foundation that has been set for our football program over the years, while embracing the opportunities ahead as we work to help Wisconsin football reach even greater heights.”

Fickell ushers in a new era of Badger football after elevating the University of Cincinnati football program to unprecedented success during his six seasons as head coach. Hired by the Bearcats on Dec. 10, 2016, he led Cincinnati to back-to-back 11-win campaigns in 2018 and 2019 and an undefeated regular season that culminated with a Peach Bowl berth in 2020. Then in 2021, Fickell guided the Bearcats to the greatest season in school history, leading them to an appearance in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Cotton Bowl and the first-ever 13-0 regular-season record in Bearcat history.

“I am thrilled with our hire of Luke Fickell as the head football coach of the Badgers,” UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer L. Mnookin said. “He is a transformative hire for our program.

“In addition to the success he has already experienced as National Coach of the Year in 2021 and steering a team into the College Football Playoff, he shares our values and appreciates the importance of the college experience for our student-athletes. 

“I am excited to see him help us build from our already solid foundation to reach even greater heights.”

In just six years, Fickell has emerged as one of the nation’s top coaches and positioned Cincinnati football as an elite program capable of consistently contending for championships. Fickell compiled a 57-18 (.760) record in his six seasons with UC. Prior to the Bearcats’ three 11-win campaigns under Fickell, the program had only accomplished the feat twice (2008 and 2009). Fickell earned his 54th win in 2022, cementing himself as the winningest coach in Cincinnati history. After going 4-8 in year one at Cincinnati, Fickell led the program to a 53-10 mark over the last five years. Over the last three seasons, only Alabama (36) and Georgia (34) have more wins than Cincinnati (31).