MADISON – The similarities between the new coach and his new boss are almost eerie.
Luke Fickell starred at his alma mater in the 1990s before a short NFL playing career. So did Chris McIntosh. Both men won Rose Bowls as players. Both were lineman. Both are in their forties. Both were Academic All-Americans. And both were high school champion wrestlers.
So, while those similarities do not spell the entirety of why Fickell was McIntosh’s choice to lead the Wisconsin football program, the thought that they could collectively form a powerful and long-lasting duo is intriguing.
The statistics will say that Fickell’s record (63-25) is impressive, as will his less-than-one-year-old National College Coach of the Year trophy.
"I’ll tell you this and you’ll probably hear it every year at the beginning of the year,” Fickell said at his introductory news conference at Camp Randall Stadium on Monday. “We’ve got one objective, one goal to play for a championship...This league, you're playing for a championship, amazing things can happen."
Last season, Fickell guided his Cincinnati Bearcats to a 13-0 regular season and into the College Football Playoff, thus becoming the only non-Power 5 school to advance that far.
As for what happens to now-former Interim coach Jim Leonhard, that ball appears to be in his court.
McIntosh confirmed the Badgers will play in the bowl game they have qualified for; exactly what the coaching staff will look like for that game’s preparation is unknown as of Monday.
Fickell expressed interest in retaining Leonhard, noting that he was in an identical position in between Jim Tressel’s dismissal and Urban Meyer’s hiring at Ohio State. Fickell, as Buckeyes interim coach in 2011 went 6-6 before returning to his role as defensive coordinator for five years before being hired as Cincinnati’s head coach in 2017.
McIntosh said Leonhard "over delivered" for the program this year, adding that the entire university owes him a debt of gratitude. "Just because of the process and the timing, I watched Jimmy on a day-to-day basis, McIntosh said, while answering how much he was in the running to be the permanent head coach.
“He's part of the DNA of the program. I gave him very strong consideration."