The University of Cincinnati just announced the hiring of their next football coach, Luke Fickell, former defensive coordinator of Ohio State University. Fickell will replace Tommy Tuberville who stepped down after a disappointing 4-8 season that left the Bearcats not headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2010. This is Fickell’s first true head coaching role after serving a brief term as Ohio State’s interim head coach between Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. This pick is also a new direction for the University of Cincinnati in regards to their solution to the ever spinning coaching carousel.
In 2007 Cincinnati hired up and coming Coach Brian Kelly fresh off his three year stint at Central Michigan. Kelly had tremendous success with the Bearcats before departing for Notre Dame in 2010. Cincinnati rebounded by hiring Butch Jones, also from Central Michigan, who also coached for three years before leaving to become the head coach of the Tennessee Volunteers. After their program was treated as a stepping stool to a power five conference twice in a row the Bearcats took a new direction with their Tommy Tuberville hire. Tuberville came from a power five conference, The Big 12, to Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference. At the time pundits considered this a step down, or at best a lateral career move for Tuberville, and a win for UC in getting a coach with a loaded resume of big time programs. However hindsight is always 20/20, Tuberville quietly steps down, and Cincinnati announces their fourth coach in 10 seasons with Fickell.
In Cincinnati Fickell will get his chance to build his own program as he becomes a head coach for essentially the first time and in their new coach Cincinnati will get an extremely talented recruiter which hopefully will translate to getting the Bearcats back on track. The problem is Cincinnati has been down this road before.
Back in 2004 the University of Cincinnati gave Mark Dantonio his first head coaching stint after being the defensive coordinator of – wait for it – The Ohio State University. Dantonio coached Cincinnati for three seasons before becoming head coach of Michigan State where he still is today. Starting to see a pattern yet?
This coaching carousel is unfortunately all too familiar for all non-power five football conferences. And what are they supposed to do? No matter the success these programs have achieved many continually find themselves left high and dry when a coach leaves for greener pastures. Programs are tasked with the impossible of choice of being a stepping stone for bright young coaching talent, giving upcoming talents their first gig, or getting a coach at the end of their rope. But you can’t blame the coaches either. Better facilities, better talent pools, better salary, and better chances to win championships? How can you ask these coaches to turn down those opportunities to stay in a mid-tier conference?
Unfortunately there is no easy solution to this problem. As TV contracts continue to grow and the money keeps pouring in the gap between the power five and the rest of the field will continue to grow. And every few years teams will come running when rumors of conference expansion return. The lucky few will get pummeled in a conference they don’t belong in while the majority of teams will keep their hopes up for the next expansion.
Welcome to the coaching carousel Luke Fickell, best of luck with the Bearcats for the next three years.