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What will it cost to keep Luke Fickell at UC?

Agent says coach could double pay by leaving
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Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-31 19:23:26-05

CINCINNATI — The joy ride that was the University of Cincinnati football season made Luke Fickell one of the most popular coaches in the school’s history.

And arguably its most valuable.

That’s because the Bearcats finished the season at No. 4 in the nation, while its head coach ranked 45th with an annual salary of $3.4 million, according to USA Today.

UC boosted Fickell’s annual pay by $1 million when it extended his contract in 2020, but the Bearcats’ on-the-field success and UC’s pending admission to the Big 12 conference means Fickell could easily double his pay by leaving next year.

“He’s worth probably $7 to $8 million,” said Richard Katz, a Cincinnati-based sports agent. “I mean, he can make this program into one of the top football programs in the country.”

Katz is the founder of KMG Sports Management, whose client roster includes former UC basketball coaches Bob Huggins and Andy Kennedy. While he doesn’t represent Fickell, he has a pretty good idea of what he would seek if he were negotiating on Fickell’s behalf. The short answer is: More.

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Richard Katz, CEO of Katz Sports Management, has represented hundreds of athletes and coaches since 1985.

“The head coaches in the Big 12 are making anywhere from $3 or $4 million to $8 or $9 million,” Katz said. “I’d argue Luke’s going to be the best coach in that league. So, I’m looking at $7 or $8 million a year maybe with some good bonus money.”

Katz doesn’t think UC could afford an immediate increase to Fickell's current market value. But he thinks it would be possible to do a long-term deal that defers some of his compensation until UC joins the Big 12. At that point, UC’s annual media revenue will increase by more than $20 million.

“They could offer $7-$8 million a year, and say, ‘Luke, we’re going to defer a couple million dollars a year until we get enough cash to pay you,’” Katz said.

UC wouldn’t comment on Fickell’s contract status. But it did make it more difficult for Fickell to leave Cincinnati with a 2020 contract amendment that requires him to pay UC $3.5 million if he leaves before December 31, 2022.

On the other hand, eight colleges spent more than $7 million apiece in 2021 to buy out the contracts of college coaches they wanted to fire or hire. And this year’s crop of new college coaching contracts includes eight deals in which the coach’s annual pay is reported to be $7 million or more. The list includes Brian Kelly’s new 10-year contract with Louisiana State University (LSU), reportedly worth $95 million.

“Does Luke deserve to be in that range? Absolutely,” Katz said. “Number one because he’s got integrity. I think what Luke says, he means. Shaking hands with Luke means, ‘I’m gonna be here and we’re going to make this program into something it’s never been.’”

In the end, that might make all the difference for UC’s attempt to retain Fickell, who interviewed at Michigan State two years ago and barely acknowledged a coaching opportunity at Notre Dame this year. That could change if a job opened at Ohio State University, where Fickell played in the 1990s and served as interim head coach in 2011. But that doesn’t seem likely anytime soon. Buckeyes Coach Ryan Day recently denied rumors that he was interested in an NFL job with the Chicago Bears. And Fickell recently told reporters he’s happy to compete against Ohio State.

“The more success we have, the better opportunities we have to compete and not just on the football field but in the recruiting battles, because I think that’s where some of the rivalries occur,” Fickell said. “When I came here, a great mindset of mine was I hope someday we can become a rival to my alma mater. All of the sudden, maybe they look at you and recognize that, ‘We have to battle against these guys.’”