Thomas Jefferson once said, “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” University of Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh thoroughly understood this quote when choosing his next football coach.
The shock of McIntosh’s announcement naming Luke Fickell the 35th head football coach in program history has worn off by now. Therefore, those who feverishly follow University of Wisconsin football have now had a chance to let that news marinate Hopefully, those Jim Leonhard supporters who disapproved of the move, the ones who wear the Bucky-colored glasses a little too tightly, are seeing things a tad more clearly now. Hopefully, they realize that this hire is precisely what the program needs to compete with the big boys of college football.
Previous Hires Simply Did Not Bring Progress
The successes of previous coaches Paul Chryst and Bret Bielema, both “UW guys” by birthright or association, are undeniable. Chryst, a former UW player, took Wisconsin to seven bowl games. He lost only the 2020 Rose Bowl to the Justin Herbert-led Oregon Ducks by a single point. Bielema, who was hand-picked by his mentor Alvarez, accumulated 68 wins. This is the second-most in school history. However, both coaches failed to get the Badgers over the CFP hump. They never seriously contended for a national championship.
That’s where Luke Fickell comes in. If nothing else, Fickell, not a “UW guy,” can, in fact, boast that on his resume. He led Cincinnati to the playoffs in 2021. Additionally, he was on staff at Ohio State where he was part of two national championship runs.
The Offense Needs to Change
As widely popular and successful as the smash-mouth, four-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style of Wisconsin football has been since Barry Alvarez was hired over 30 years ago, the times they are a-changing; spread offenses are filling the air with footballs, and lining up country-strong linemen has proven unsustainable and a thing of the past. The Badgers have become typecasted, like that action-hero actor who cannot pull off that cutesy, comedic role (see: Dwayne Johnson in “The Tooth Fairy”).
Graham Mertz was supposed to be the guy to finally push Wisconsin offensively into the 21st century. Unfortunately, even that “5-star” recruit was unable to transform the offense from its run-first ideals and keep defenses guessing. Fickell rarely used a fullback at Cincinnati in creating multiple sets and RPO routes for his Bearcats. This was a Wisconsin staple. He produced NFL quarterback Desmond Ridder, a dual-threat operator of the offense who was effective with both his arm and legs. Wisconsin has not seen such a quarterback in quite some time.
Fickell Was Coveted by USC
That is not to say that Fickell and his squads are soft. Back in 2021 when USC was searching for a new head coach, Fickell was on the shortlist to succeed Clay Helton, and Trojan supporters loved Fickell’s thoughts on toughness, a trait USC had been lacking. In the USC blog called “Trojan Wire,” an article appeared on October 4, 2021, and Fickell said a mouthful regarding toughness:
“It’s (toughness) a skill … Obviously you’re born, and you walk in the door, and we say there’s a toughness meter, and you’re somewhere on it. But our job is to increase that by the things that we do, and it has 90% to do with mental. It’s not bench press, not squat, it’s about a mental challenge of how are you going to rise to the occasion…To me, the mental health stuff, we’ve been dealing with it for hundreds of thousands of years. Do you have the courage to overcome it?”
Not only that, but his high school coach, Bob Jacoby, paid him the ultimate compliment, saying, “I think he’s the toughest person I’ve ever met, mentally and physically.” If ardent Badger fans cannot get behind that, not much else will sway them.
Wisconsin AD Chris McIntosh was a standout player in Madison. He enjoyed much success during the Alvarez dynasty. Therefore, he knows the value of being a “Wisconsin guy.” However, the last three to stem from the Alvarez coaching tree did not advance the team into national championship contenders. To McIntosh’s credit, he decided to hire an outsider like Fickell with his head and not his heart, and this will prove to be the turning point Badger fans have craved for more than a decade.
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