The search for a new head football coach following Tommy Tuberville’s resignation did not take very long for the Cincinnati Bearcats. Tuberville steppd down on a Sunday and the next Saturday Mike Bohn walked to a podium with a smile plastered on his face and a new head coach behind him. Well, to the side of him, but you get the point.
However, in those five or so days there was not one coach on the market that was not at least brought up by folks pontificating about who would take over the Bearcats football program. P.J. Fleck, Jeff Brohm, Neal Brown, Charlie Strong, even Les Miles, were thrown out there. (By us as well!)
Well, Brohm took the job at Purdue before UC really had a chance to get its wheels moving, then Fleck said he wouldn’t talk to a non power five school (UC included). Nothing ever happened with Brown, and Strong, although being a candidate according to some sources, never met with UC and took the job at South Florida.
Fickell very well may be a great hire and a year from now we could be celebrating the fact that UC didn’t get Strong or Brown, but before then we need to address an unfortunate truth. Its one that’s tough to admit, but not tough to see. This coaching search showed that UC is not the destination job it once was.
When I say destination job, I in no way mean destination in the same way Texas or Michigan is a destination job. That’s the type of gig where you sign up for as many years and dollars as possible and set up camp for the long haul. However, even if UC was never that, it was still seen as a program that could win conference championships, contend for major bowls and possibly lead to one of those upper tier gigs. Just ask Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones.
Dantonio never won more than seven games with the Bearcats and still found a way to turn that into the Michigan State job. The Spartans have been powerhouses since (excluding this past season) and UC fans can point to their success and say “Their coach got his start here.”
Kelly won nine games with Central Michigan in his third year as a head coach and was an attractive candidate in the 2006 free agent coaching market. He came in immediately and coached the Bearcats in their 27-24 win over Western Michigan in the International Bowl. Kelly won at least 10 games in each of his three seasons with the Bearcats and pushed them to a 12-0 regular season mark in 2009 after which they went to their second of two BCS bowl games. Kelly didn’t coach them in that second one because he went on to coach Notre Dame.
Then there’s Butch Jones, another attractive coaching candidate from Central Michigan. After going 11-2 and leading the Chippewas to a No. 23 ranking in the AP poll, Jones was a hot commodity. You could call him the Fleck of his day. Jones took the job at UC in 2009, and although he struggled his first season, he won 19 games over his final two and jetted off to coach Tennessee.
Tuberville didn’t follow the same route as his three predecessors, but UC had become enough of an attractive coaching spot for Tubs to leave Texas Tech of the Big 12 (i.e. the power five) for the Queen City. Things didn’t end as well for him as they did for Dantonio, Kelly and Jones but the fact remains, UC was a place coaches wanted to be whether to continue a long and storied career or to take the intermittent step between the lesser conferences to the power five.
Fleck, Strong, Brown, Brohm and any other coaching candidate you fancied did not see it in the same light. It doesn’t help that UC has been trending backward the last few seasons. After all, Kelly took over an eight-win team, Jones stepped in after the Bearcats pulled off a 12-0 regular season and Tuberville joined up after back-to-back 10-win campaigns. Asking a coach to rebuild a program after a 4-8 season is not as appealing as those other situations, but if UC’s reputation was still where it was, that might not have made a difference.
Fickell was a solid hire and Bohn has indicated that he was, if not the first choice, one of the first choices. With how quickly things came together, its possible that Fickell was always going to be the guy. However, the fact that UC didn’t even get in a room with some of the hottest candidates shows that the program isn’t where it once was.