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Will Luke Fickell leave UC?

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Posted at 12:00 PM, Nov 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-30 18:36:37-05

CINCINNATI — Six days ago, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports reported University of Cincinnati football head coach Luke Fickell wasn't going anywhere.

"Hearing that Luke Fickell is staying at Cincinnati," Dodd tweeted on Nov. 24. "Recruits being told as such."

Flash forward just a few days: Ed Orgeron was fired by LSU just two years after winning the Tigers a National Title. Oklahoma Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley jumped ship for USC.

By Tuesday morning, it was confirmed that Notre Dame head coach (and former UC head coach) Brian Kelly was leaving the Fightin' Irish for LSU, trading one high-profile vacancy for another.

That leaves two top jobs open at Notre Dame and Oklahoma, and with Fickell the hottest coach in the country, would he leave?

As far as the oddsmakers are concerned, Fickell is second to ND defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman in BetOnline's odds. He has the 8th highest odds for Oklahoma's job.

Fickell said during a press conference on Tuesday that nothing has changed, just the college football world around him. He said he's very proficient at ignoring things like speculation about the Notre Dame job.

"I don't know what there is to address," Fickell said. "For a guy who keeps his head down and very rarely answers his phone, I don't talk to a lot of people, so there is nothing. That's the crazy thing. There is no speculation.

"Is the job open? I guess it is, but I wouldn't know if someone didn't tell me. It's the same way I am with rankings - and unfortunately - a lot of other things with the exception of recruiting."

While we'd like to take Luke at his word, this is a movie Cincinnati has seen before.

In 2009, when the undefeated Bearcats were knocking on the national title door in the BCS, then-head coach Brian Kelly told players he wouldn't be leaving before the season, if at all, at a team dinner. The next day he took the open job at Notre Dame, missing UC's bowl game and enraging UC and its fans.

Tony Pike, who was UC's quarterback in 2009, doesn't see Fickell leaving, at least not yet. He told James Rapien of All Bearcats/Fan Nation there are several factors at play.

"One, I think, is the timing," Pike told Rapien. "As long as UC takes care of business on Saturday against Houston (in the American Athletic Conference Championship game), I just don't see Notre Dame waiting until January. With what Luke Fickell is building at the University of Cincinnati, the recruiting classes that are coming in, I don't think and feel like this is the right time for Luke Fickell to move on."

247sports has UC ranked 30th in the 2022 recruiting class, ahead of traditional powerhouses like Florida, West Virginia, UCLA, Wisconsin and Auburn.

USC was chasing Fickell hard earlier in the season. Enough so The Los Angeles Times sent sports feature writer J. Brady McCollough to profile Fickell and his wife, Amy, earlier in the season. Fickell denied interest in the job, and USC ultimately hired Oklahoma's Riley.

Notre Dame may already have a favorite in place. Marcus Freeman is named as the odds-on favorite to take over at Notre Dame (Freeman's odds were listed as even, while Fickell was +200, the second favorite). The former UC defensive coordinator has known Fickell for 15 years. Fickell coached Freeman at Ohio State, then made Freeman one of his first hires when he took the UC job. Freeman said 'no' to a slew of jobs before taking the defensive coordinator job with Notre Dame, where he is now considered one of college football's top coaching prospects.

Freeman lacks head coaching experience – something Fickell has a lot of going back to 2011 when he was the interim coach at Ohio State.

Fickell may not be the favorite at Oklahoma either. Former coach Barry Switzer is pushing for longtime head coach Mike Leach, who was offensive coordinator in 2000 for Oklahoma when it won the National Championship. He also turned around programs at Texas Tech and Washington State and is now at Mississippi State. Bob Stoops, who is returning to coach Oklahoma in its bowl game, brought Leach to Oklahoma. Oklahoma has been gutted by the departure of Riley to USC with recruits decommitting at a furious pace.

But it's college football. You either leave for another job, or you get fired. Even Woody Hayes got fired. So did Bob Huggins. A scant few retire from their jobs. Whether Fickell leaves now, in January 2022, or a few years from now, he left UC a better team than when he got there.