Following Wisconsin Football’s season-finale loss to the Minnesota Gophers–a game that was a microcosm of their disappointing season–the athletic department moved quickly to hire their new coach Luke Fickell.
Fickell, a former Ohio State assistant and player, and current Cincinnati Bearcats head coach, seemingly came out of nowhere for the Badgers. Leonhard was a fan and player-favorite to get the job; his future with the team is unclear.
As we sort out all of the details, let’s look at the pros and cons of the Badgers hiring Fickell to be their next head coach.
Here are all the pros and cons of Wisconsin Football hiring Luke Fickell over Jim Leonhard as the Badgers’ next head coach.
Pro: “Home-run hire”
Former Athletic Director Barry Alvarez termed it a “home-run hire” in a conversation with Jim Polzin. Chris McIntosh, who took over for Alvarez, has shown some major cajones during his short tenure in the position. Not only did he fire Paul Chryst in the middle of this season, but he went with an outside person as the permanent hire (pending approval from the board of regents on Sunday afternoon).
Fickell has long been rumored to power up from Cincinnati following the Bearcats’ tremendous success over the last several seasons. They were 9-3 this season after going 13-1 in 2021 and 9-1 in 2020. They made the College Football Playoff in 2021 before losing to Alabama in the semi-final. Fickell will look to duplicate that success at Wisconsin.
Con: Lack of loyalty
Jim Leonhard has also passed up his fair share of promotions through the years, most notably, as the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers. The players loved playing for him and spoke about their unhappiness with how Leonhard had been treated by McIntosh after the loss to the Gophers. They’ll be even more upset now.
Leonhard played for Wisconsin and seemed to embody everything the Badgers were, are and want to be. Leonhard has to be sick to his stomach today after the loyalty wasn’t returned.
Pro: History of building a program
Cincinnati was a lowly program before Fickell arrived and he built them to the cusp of a National Championship. He’ll likely need to restart with Wisconsin as well. The Badgers have been trending in the wrong direction for a few years and will need Fickell to rebuild them moving forward. Fortunately, this won’t be his first rodeo.
Con: Immediate future unclear
A lot of the current Badgers supported Leonhard with their full heart. We’ll see if they stay at Wisconsin following this news. Star running back Braelon Allen will be the biggest name to watch. There were already rumors he was being recruited by other teams, but remained loyal to Leonhard at Wisconsin. That could change. The Badgers could also lose other prominent players as they transition to a new coach.
It appears McIntosh was most unhappy with Chryst’s recruiting approach. He wants Wisconsin to be more aggressive and prioritize this area. Fickell was able to elevate players with low recruiting rankings and attract NFL-caliber players to the Bearcats, something McIntosh likely appreciated.
Fickell also has a history in the midwest since he was an assistant coach at Ohio State and has been coaching at Cinci for the last six years. This means he’s already likely familiar with the players in this region and has relationships built in the appropriate places. It shouldn’t take him long to get going at Wisconsin.