Sports & Recreation

The Future of Wisconsin Football

New head coach Luke Fickell vows to hold the Badgers to championship standards.

Director of UW Athletics Chris Macintosh shakes hands with head football coach Luke Fickell amidst crowd of smiling people

Fickell (standing) was one of the splashiest head coaching hires of the past year. Bryce Richter

One word came up more than any other in Luke Fickell’s introductory press conference: championship.

“I’ll tell you this at the beginning of every year — we have one objective and one goal. It’s to play for a championship,” said Fickell, who was hired in November as the 31st head coach in Wisconsin football history.

His track record proves it’s not just talk.

Fickell’s hiring was announced after a disappointing 6–6 regular season for the Badgers — their worst finish since 2001. The 49-year-old coach is no stranger to turning around a college program. Cincinnati hired the longtime Ohio State assistant in 2016 after a 4–8 season. In his second year, Fickell led the Bearcats to an 11–2 record. In 2021, Cincinnati went undefeated in the regular season and earned a spot in the College Football Playoff, becoming the first team outside of the five major conferences to ever qualify.

Transforming Cincinnati into an unlikely college football powerhouse earned Fickell the consensus National Coach of the Year award two years ago. And that reputation made him one of the splashiest head coaching hires of the past year.

Fickell said he will build on the existing foundation that has made Wisconsin a consistent winner while also adapting to new circumstances. Reforming a stagnated recruiting operation and bolstering the strength-training program will be two of his biggest priorities.

Badger fans can expect a much more dynamic-looking offense. Fickell has brought on Phil Longo, an offensive coordinator whose philosophy is rooted in the fast-paced “air raid” system — a dramatic departure from Wisconsin’s traditional ground-and-pound style.

Fickell succeeds Paul Chryst ’88 and Jim Leonhard ’06. Chryst compiled a 67–26 record over eight years as head coach but was fired in October during a three-season slip from Rose Bowl contenders to mediocrity. Leonhard went 4–3 as interim coach and was a finalist for the permanent position.

During the introductory press conference, Athletic Director Chris McIntosh ’04, MS’19 said that he and Fickell share a vision for the program. “We have the same championship-level expectations.”

Published in the Spring 2023 issue


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