CINCINNATI, OHIO — Another weekend of success in the Queen City was capped off by Cincinnati’s first major individual award of 2021. Luke Fickell — the brains behind the Bearcats’ four straight 9+ win seasons — garnered the Home Depot National Coach of the year award, an honor designated by college football analysts at ESPN and ABC.
Fickell, who transformed UC from a bottom of the barrel 4-8 squad to an annual AAC Championship contender, has received a reputation as one of the premier up-and-coming coaches in the sport. Among the 48-year old’s notable accomplishments at UC include three-time AAC Coach of the Year, a 77.4%-win percentage and the first ever group of five appearance in the College Football Playoff.
“When you talk about blind faith, as we grew the program, they started to see it, as opposed to being blind,” Fickell said. A lot of these things that we do, we just have to believe in the things that we do. We got the trust, respect and love in that locker room. For us and our program, we’re now able to see it right there in front of you. Regardless of where you come from, it’s just about what you do together. We say we want to play for championships, well, we have another opportunity to play for a championship.”
Despite Cincinnati’s group of five status, Fickell earned widespread amounts of headline time due to several notable job openings around the country. The options (in which he was often the top contender for) included LSU, USC and perhaps most deja vu-like for Cincinnati fans, Notre Dame. But things, unlike they did in 2009, decided to take a turn for the better.
“I think ultimately he could have had his choices of USC, of LSU, of Notre Dame, potentially Oklahoma,” ESPN CFB analyst Kirk Herbstreit said when weighing in on Fickell’s situation. “And he was so focused on what his team was doing, he was letting Jimmy Sexton (his agent) know, ‘Listen, man, I don’t want to go there.’ Well, you’re gonna miss out on this job. OK.”
From day 1, Fickell’s goal has been simple: focus on the next objective at hand.
No more looking back on the past. No more anticipating the future. No more listening to outside distractions. The task at hand just a week ago centered around nothing more than protecting the quaint streets of Clifton housing the UC campus to the locally famous Graeter’s from impending AAC contender and future Big 12 power Houston.
Now, it’s down south in the College Football Playoff, situated in a stupendously large stadium that can hold over double the number of spectators compared to the Nip’.
“All the hard work and the things that they’ve done… A lot of people doubted us,” Fickell said in regard to the AAC Championship Game. I think that’s where the gratification comes. We don’t worry about what the outside says, don’t worry about style, we’ve just got to find a way to play our best ball at the end of the year. I told them that if we take care of business, things will take care of themselves.”
Fickell is only the second Cincinnati Bearcats head coach to win the Home Depot Award (Brian Kelly 2009). He’ll be slated to receive the honor in tonight’s Home Depot College Football Awards show at 7 p.m. on ESPN.