Luke Fickell gets huge pay bump moving to Wisconsin from UC

The former Bearcats head coach talked his decision to leave Cincinnati during his introductory presser Monday evening.
Fickell signed a seven-year-contract that would pay him an average of $7.8 million annually.
Fickell signed a seven-year-contract that would pay him an average of $7.8 million annually.
Published: Nov. 28, 2022 at 7:20 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Luke Fickell’s average yearly salary as head football coach at the University of Wisconsin will be $7.9 million, according to UW Athletics Director Chris McIntosh.

That reflects nearly a 60 percent pay bump from what Fickell earned in the same role at the University of Cincinnati, where his salary started at $1.9 million in 2017 and grew to $5 million annually on a contract extended through 2028.

Cincinnati will receive $3.5 million for the contract buyout.

UC Special Teams Coordinator Kerry Coombs will serve as interim head coach as the nationwide search for Fickell’s replacement begins. Some internal and external candidates have already been considered, according to UC Athletic Director John Cunningham.

“We’re going to find the best coach in the country,” Cunningham said Sunday evening. “I’m ready, we’re ready to find a coach who can help us win championships.”

Money Talks

Cunningham hinted on Sunday that UC had offered to match Fickell’s new salary.

“I felt strongly about what it was going to take to get to the Big12 and be at that level, and I still do,” he said. “And so, we were willing to get there with him.”

But in modern college football, the head coach’s salary is just one part of a larger puzzle that includes athletics infrastructure, name-image-and-likeness (NIL) money for athletes, assistant coaching salary pools and impending media rights deals.

The Big Ten, where Wisconsin competes, recently negotiated a seven-year media rights agreement with Fox, CBS and NBS expected to bring in more than $7 billion. Individual schools (16 teams including USC and UCLA) will receive around $80 million in annual rights fees.

By contrast, the American Athletic Conference, where UC competes pending its move to the Big12 in 2023, dispersed just $8.52 million to its member schools in the 2020-21 school year.

Cincinnati is primed for a cash infusion, but not to the level of what Big Ten schools will soon make.

The Big12′s recent media rights agreement with ESPN and Fox will bring in $2.3 billion over six years. Individual schools (12 teams including UC, BYU, Houston and UCF) are expected to make around $32 million annually.

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UC isn’t sitting on its hands, though. The school is in the midst of the $100 million Day One Ready fundraising campaign anticipating next year’s conference swap.

The campaign targets facility improvements including an indoor practice facility that is currently in the design phase. The facility will feature a 120-yard field, nutrition station, weight room and sports medicine rooms, among other amenities, per the university. It will be the permanent, all-weather home for the football team and all outdoor sports.

Nippert Stadium will also receive some upgrades as part of the campaign, including additional ribbon boards, a new sound system and an improved wireless network.

Fickell’s ‘Last Straw’

Fickell, 49, announced his departure from UC Sunday night, a day after the Bearcats’ regular season ended with a loss against Tulane.

He arrived in Madison, Wisconsin early Monday ahead of his introductory press conference.

Fickell said UW was on an extremely short list of schools previously assembled with his wife, Amy, where they might relocate the family if he were offered the head coaching job.

“It was really hard for me,” Fickell explained of his decision-making timeline. “I knew there was interest. I’m not a great guy to build relationships with when you’re in the midst of battle, so I tried to stay really focused and tried not to think about it. My wife and I would take those opportunities, maybe an hour here or there. But I couldn’t tell you I truly knew exactly what I wanted to do until I could almost finish up what I was doing.”

He continued: “Everyone wants to know, ‘What was the last straw?’ But it’s just a process, and as I started to think about it in little snippets, I started to feel better and better and better about what this place is and what it can be. But I don’t know if I could tell you I woke up after the last game and said, ‘This is what we are going to do.’ It was that process. It was all those little moments. It probably wasn’t truly until the very end that I could look at my wife and was like, ‘We gotta do this.’”

McIntosh said he fully evaluated several candidates for the open position last week, including interim Head Coach Jim Leonard, who was widely considered the leading candidate after the firing of former Head Coach Paul Cryst. McIntosh declined to give a timeline for his decision to select Fickell but described it as a “really tough” decision.

Fickell had been linked to other high-profile jobs in the Midwest including Notre Dame after the Bearcats’ playoff run last year. He chose instead to stay at UC, possibly due to the timing of the Bearcats’ College Football Playoff berth. He signed a six-year extension in February.

He leaves as the winningest coach in UC history, going 57-18 in six seasons. Under his tenure, Cincinnati finished in the Top 25 for four straight years with final rankings of No. 8 in 2020 and No. 4 in 2021.

Fickell’s Bearcats have excelled in the classroom as well. As of last year, every player who played four years for him subsequently graduated. UC also led the nation with six Academic All-District picks and a school-record four Academic All-Americans in 2021, including first-team selections Desmond Ridder and Alec Pierce.

Members of Fickell’s family will remain in Cincinnati through the end of the school year, he said Monday. His son, Landon, is a freshman on the UC football team.

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