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Report: Luke Fickell among top candidates for Southern Cal head coaching job

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell takes the field with his players before the first half of...
Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell takes the field with his players before the first half of an NCAA college football game against Connecticut, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo) (WILX)
Published: Sep. 13, 2021 at 8:31 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - University of Cincinnati Head Football Coach Luke Fickell is at the top of the list of candidates for the same position at Southern Cal, according to multiple reports.

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports says the job is Fickell’s to turn down. [Tweet]

The Southern Cal coaching job opened on Monday after Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Stanford. (Stanford, a four-win team according to oddsmakers, was itself coming off a loss to middling Kansas State the week before.)

Southern Cal Athletic Director Mike Bohn announced the firing of former Head Coach Clay Helton on Twitter.

Bohn is in his second year after serving as AD at UC from 2014-2019. It was Bohn who hired Fickell as the Bearcats’ head coach in 2017.

Fickell’s four-year tenure at UC has been successful, to put it mildly.

He turned the program around after five forgettable years under Tommy Tuberville, earning an AAC Championship Game appearance in 2019 and an AAC Conference Title in 2020.

The Bearcats acquitted themselves well in last year’s Peach Bowl loss against Georgia and came into 2021 with a top-10 AP ranking.

The team has since risen to no. 8, and its once-daunting mid-season games at Indiana and Notre Dame now appear more winnable after anemic early showings by both teams. A playoff appearance remains a long shot, but it’s not unthinkable.

Meanwhile, the tectonic reshuffling of college football conferences finally broke in UC’s favor. The Bearcats officially accepted an invitation to join the Big 12 last week.

Rarely has the future of UC football looked brighter.

If Fickell should leave for Southern Cal, he’d inherit an underachieving program with a fanbase that demands championships—and they won’t pack the Coliseum for less.

It’s been a rough go for the Trojans this last decade. After dominating college football with a glamorous, glitzy run of titles under current Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll, Southern Cal has turned into a punchline for pundits.

A one-time wunderkind was infamously fired on a tarmac. His successor was let go after allegations of drunkenness. The popular interim head coach passed over for Helton went on to win a national title at LSU.

Perhaps worst of all: The Trojans haven’t beaten arch-rival Notre Dame since 2016.

Keeping Helton despite unspectacular results on the field was seen in some circles as the result of tight pockets at the administrative level, owing to a sexual abuse lawsuit that resulted in an $852 settlement. (That’s not to mention the continued fallout of the college admissions scandal.)

The university also recently completed a $315 million renovation of the Coliseum.

But Southern Cal is a private school with one of the nation’s highest tuitions and a reported $5.7 billion endowment. Especially after Saturday’s loss, administrators could be more willing now to open up the purse strings for a head coach with a strong resume.

That would be welcome news to first-year Pac 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff, who must negotiate a new media rights deal amid the ongoing fiasco of the Pac 12 Network.

As goes USC, so goes the Pac 12—a fact unlikely to be lost on anyone involved in those negotiations.

Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports lists other potential candidates for the Southern Cal job:

  • Penn State Head Coach James Franklin;
  • Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell;
  • Alabama Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien;
  • Minnesota Head Coach P.J. Fleck;
  • Oregon Head Coach Mario Cristobal;
  • Rutgers Head Coach Greg Schiano; and
  • Clemson Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliot.

Thamel also lists Chris Petersen, former head coach of the University of Washington, and Bob Stoops, former head coach of Oklahoma University. Both are currently media commentators.

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