Fans of the University of Cincinnati football program are used to this by now. A Power Five conference school swooping in to try to steal its head coach.
Over the past two years, Luke Fickell’s name has swirled with openings at places such as Florida State, Baylor, West Virginia, Louisville, Mississippi State, Arkansas and Maryland.
When Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio stepped down last week, Fickell was immediately mentioned as a top candidate for the Spartans.
Dantonio and Fickell are familiar with one another, as both served as assistant coaches at Ohio State in 2002 and 2003.
A reoccurring theme with UC head coaches over the past two decades has been to use the job as a stepping stone, essentially building enough momentum to attract a job offer from a prominent Power Five school.
Dantonio, UC’s head coach from 2004-06, left for Michigan State, while Brian Kelly (2006-09) went to Notre Dame and Butch Jones (2010-12) fled for Tennessee.
It looked as if Fickell might be heading down the same path as his predecessors, as Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman was in Cincinnati Sunday to discuss the opening with Fickell.
Luckily for UC, Fickell feels he has unfinished business and announced Monday morning that he will remain head coach.
Enduring this process multiple times and staying consistently dedicated to UC only reaffirms what Fickell has preached over the past three years. When it comes to sticking to his word, Fickell has remained steady.
Longtime UC play-by-play announcer Dan Hoard sat down with Fickell shortly after his decision, and he listed family as a major factor for his return.
Fickell and his wife, Amy, have six children, including two sets of twin boys. Uprooting a household of that size to move states would take an undeniable toll.
“Obviously my family loves it here,” Fickell said. “I got a unique situation with the age of my kids, but also with the relationships we’ve built.”
As for his team, Fickell has built the program on strong relationships during the recruiting process, and UC’s 2020 signing class is 40th in the nation, according to 247Sports, which is the best in school history.
“To have this class coming in that is very, very, very special and to have that first class that we recruited kind of being those guys being at the very end of their college careers going into it, it was a unique time for me and the family,” Fickell said. “All in all, we have to step back and make a selfish decision. That’s what I’ll tell the guys. I apologize. I had to make a selfish decision, but this selfish decision was what was right for my family and that is to be here.”
One member of the incoming class that could play a vital role over the next few years is 2019 Ohio Mr. Football Evan Prater. The 6-foot-4 dual-threat quarterback grew up in Cincinnati and is rated as a four-star recruit by 247Sports, and is considered the highest rated signee in school history.
Evan’s older brother, Garyn, is a junior wide receiver for the Bearcats after transferring from Ohio State in the spring of 2019.
“Talking to [Fickell] outside of football and just meeting him as a man, knowing his true perspective on life and seeing that he’s a loyal guy and family man,” Prater told WLWT Monday. “He loves the city of Cincinnati, so I think that in the back of my mind and my whole family’s mind, we knew that he was going to stay.”
Michigan State Board of Trustee member Brian Mosallam used the term “waffling flake” when discussing the ongoing search with 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit Tuesday morning.
“By 9 p.m. last night, I personally had more information finally than the media did," Mosallam said. "And let me be as diplomatic as possible here for Spartans everywhere: At the end of the day, we can't force somebody to come here. ... You know, Spartan Nation should want somebody that wants to be here. We don't want a waffling flake who views this as a destination job."
Regardless of whether he was directly or indirectly referring to Fickell, that’s probably not the best choice of words considering his school is still actively searching for a coach.
So what are the next steps for UC?
Fickell’s contract runs through 2022, and he will earn a $2.4 million base salary in the next three years. So for now, an immediate contract extension doesn’t appear to be a necessity.
However, bigger schools will likely continue to pursue Fickell until UC is accepted into a Power Five conference.
"We've got a lot of unfinished business,” Fickell said. “...I'm motived by the ability to be very, very successful and to finish something I started."