On Monday, Luke Fickell announced he would no longer pursue the Michigan State head coaching job and planned to remain at Cincinnati as head coach of the Bearcats for year 4 in 2020.
Obviously, this news was met with great excitement by Bearcats nation. Cincy fans know too much about coaching searches, with guys like Mark Dantonio, Brian Kelly and Butch Jones all previously leaving UC after year 3 for “bigger and better”. So it wasn’t a huge surprise to see Fickell following the same path.
But not exactly the same path, it turns out as he proved to be a man of his word and his actions spoke louder than words could.
"I had to make a selfish decision, but this selfish decision was what was right for my family––and that is to be here, to be with you guys, and continue to do what it is we've done."— Cincinnati Bearcats (@GoBEARCATS) February 10, 2020
New deposit: https://t.co/UEdXQeUfsa pic.twitter.com/bgiiPh7vui
Why it never made sense
I truly believe the timing played a big role, but who knows. In my opinion, he would have taken this job last December or perhaps next December. I think the chance to recruit for a month or two, have time to assess the coaching pool to bring on assistants, and do a full assessment of the program in order to hit the ground running, would have made the job more attractive to him.
Instead, taking the job in February, meant most assistants were already settled in at their schools and he would have had a limited pool to choose from and recruiting is pretty much locked up, and the roster would be what it is - which quite frankly, is underwhelming for Michigan State.
When he spoke today, he had mentioned family as the #1 reason to say no. Of course, Fickell and his wife have 6 kids who have always lived in Ohio. Making the move at this stage would have been a huge task for the family.
On that last note, everyone is so quick to say “money is everything.” “Enough money will make you move your family, will make you happy”. Fickell is not a money guy. He turned down a slight raise after 2018, because he felt the money should be spread out to his assistants and to small upgrades around the program. Let me repeat - HE TURNED DOWN A RAISE. That’s an action that screams money isn’t everything.
Yet, folks just assumed, because Michigan State had P5 money, that they would double his UC salary and all would be well. Those folks were proven wrong.
Fickell said he wanted to build something at UC, and now he is proving that he truly wants to build something. He is simply, wired differently. He has reportedly turned down interest from Louisville, West Virginia, Maryland, Baylor, in addition to Michigan State
He is also providing, with his actions that a G5 job can be better than a P5 job. I’m not saying Cincinnati, overall, is a better football program than Michigan State. Maybe it is, maybe it is. But it’s certainly a growing program, with a huge recruiting base, in Fickell’s home state, that loves and supports him and his family, and compensates him well, and provides an opportunity to win and get to a NY6 bowl game.
Obstacles at Michigan State
At Cincinnati, Fickell leads one of the top programs in the AAC and the group of five as a whole. At Michigan State, Fickell would have led the 4th best program in the Big Ten East, and no better than 6-7th Big Ten program overall, behind Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and possibly Minnesota and Iowa.
Fickell expressed his discomfort with leading UC into Ohio State during the 2019 season. Was he really prepared to go to war with his alma mater every year? Whether it be in recruiting or on the field? Beating UCF is exciting, but can he beat Michigan and Penn State every year?
Yes, Fickell is competitive but this would have completely impacted his career advancement.
At the end of the day, every coach wants the same things - championships and money. And also, opportunities. Unfortunately, national championships just aren’t going to happen for Fickell at UC based on the current college football system. Money, he can have a lot of, but never as much as a top tier program. And opportunities? They’ll come.
Here’s the thing. If Fickell remains at Cincinnati for another year or two, and keeps winning 10-11 games, and conference titles, he will be in line for a bigger job than Michigan State.
He is an Ohio State alum and Ryan Day, despite the incredible success of 2019, may not be long for the job. He has no real ties to OSU or Ohio and could have NFL aspirations in the future. At Notre Dame, Brian Kelly had been there for over a decade. At some point, I can see him stepping him or perhaps them moving on.
Michigan, Penn State both have coaches with wandering eyes. USC hired the athletic director that hired Fickell at UC in the first place (Mike Bohn). There will be other openings and there will be better opportunities.
But if Fickell had gone to Michigan State and won 6-7 games for a year or two, he may have shut the door on those opportunities. It would have been pretty unlikely for Ohio State to hire a coach within it’s own division.
Michigan State would have been a step up and is a good job. But it would have likely closed the door for bigger and greater jobs in the future.
Michigan State will likely max out at 6-7 wins in 2020. At Cincinnati, he has a legitimate chance to contend for a 12-0 season, given a much easier OOC schedule and a loaded roster to go to work in conference play. At worst, 11-1 gets them a clear path to the group of five NY6 bowl game bid.
It’s tough to make a career decision based on one year, but Fickell is way too competitive to walk away from this roster.
It would be tough to walk away from this roster because the 2020 Bearcats comprise of Fickell’s first ever recruits, now as seniors. And the 2020 class is ranked #40 nationally, and is the best recruiting class in UC history. Cincy is ranked 26 spots higher than the next AAC team and 25 spots higher than the next group of five team.
Of the 22 players who signed with Cincinnati, 8 of them had offers from Michigan State and willingly chose Cincinnati.
This all proves that Fickell doesn’t need a P5 logo on his sweater to recruit.