Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell informed his team on Sunday that he is leaving the school, paving the way for him to become the next head coach at Wisconsin.
A person with knowledge of Fickell’s decision told The Associated Press that Fickell was leaving and veteran assistant coach Kerry Coombs was being named interim coach of the Bearcats.
The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Wisconsin was still finalizing approval of Fickell’s contract.
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. Cincinnati announced that athletic director John Cunningham would hold a news conference Sunday evening.
Another person familiar with the situation told the AP earlier Sunday that Wisconsin and Fickell were progressing in negotiations toward a deal.
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 will take over for interim coach and former Badgers star player Jim Leonhard, who replaced Paul Chryst on Oct. 2.
Chryst went 67-26 in 7 1/2 seasons. He was fired one day after the Badgers lost 34-10 at home to an Illinois team led by former Badgers coach Bret Bielema.
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.
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.
“We were able to sit down earlier this week and had a great conversation,” Leonhard said. “I think that’s between us, what was said, but hopefully there’s decisions that are made soon in the best interests of this university.”
Many Wisconsin players publicly called for Leonhard to get the job.
“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.