Soooo how was everyone’s Sunday?
Tyler: Not bad, made the 9.5-hour trek from Wisconsin to Nashville. Why, did something happen?
Rohan: Little boring, to be honest. Not much happened. Took a nice nap.
(BY GOD, THAT’S DREW HAMM’S MUSIC)
Drew: Hey everybody! Happy to be back shouting at you on the pages of Bucky’s 5th Quarter! I had a great Sunday. I was still on vacation in Arizona, I went swimming and definitely didn’t spend most of the day inside arguing with people online about a football coach.
Ok, but really, how do you feel about Wisconsin’s hiring of Luke Fickell?
Tyler: Originally, I thought it was a bit of a head-scratcher but after sleeping on it a night I am excited about this new era of Wisconsin football under Luke Fickell. I understand there are other emotions that are felt for certain other individuals, but in terms of coaches available in the coaching carousel, Luke Fickell has been the biggest name out there for years. The guy had interest from USC, Notre Dame, Nebraska, and LSU in previous seasons and ended up in Wisconsin. That’s a win for UW! All in all, I think Fickell is a huge get for the Badgers and I am excited to see what he can do. What’s done is done, so its time to go all in on this new era.
Rohan: Luke Fickell is a big-time hire if you’re looking outside the program. He’s done wonders at Cincinnati and has a good pedigree when it comes to recruiting and player development. Obviously, this is a bold move by Athletic Director Chris McIntosh, who bypasses interim head coach Jim Leonhard for an outside option, but Fickell has significant experience, which was lacking following the firing of Paul Chryst. I appreciate what Jim Leonhard brought to the program in his short tenure and am shocked by the move, but I believe this hiring has high potential for Wisconsin, which is what McIntosh appears to be aiming for.
Drew: Because I contain multitudes, I am feeling a number of things. As a football fan of the Wisconsin Badgers, I am downright ecstatic that UW was able to hire Fickell. He is one of the 10 or 15 best coaches in the country and the Badgers just sneaked him out from under the nose of everybody! As a person with feelings, I am sad for Jim Leonhard who is the personification of Wisconsin Football. He is a native of Wisconsin, he played at Wisconsin, and then he returned to Wisconsin to coach. By all accounts, he’s a great guy, but you don’t pass on the opportunity to hire a coach like Fickell because the current guy you have is a “great guy.”
What do you think Fickell brings to Wisconsin to help enhance this program?
Tyler: There are a couple of things that Luke Fickell brings to Wisconsin. One, the guy has no previous ties to Wisconsin in any way, shape, or form. In the past, that has never really been the case but hey maybe it’s needed! Maybe an entire tear down and build back up with outside ideas is something Wisconsin has been lacking the last couple of years. Two, he brings a ton of experience and a winning record within that. I think people overlook what he’s done at Cincinnati. The guy took a G5 team to the playoff! That is something we never thought we’d see done in this new era of college football and he did it. Three, he brings a really good recruiting base to work off of which was Wisconsin’s biggest problem recently. If Fickell can get the recruiting going I think you can really see him have success here.
Rohan: The biggest thing is his experience. Fickell enters Wisconsin with a 57-18 record, including a College Football Playoff appearance. But, Fickell has recently produced NFL talent at a high level, as Cincinnati had the third-highest amount of draftees last season with nine. Player development had been lacking for Wisconsin and is an area where Fickell has showcased results in. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Fickell provides a significant advantage in the recruiting realm. Wisconsin’s recruiting efforts had slipped over the past few years, whereas Fickell compiled a strong 27th-ranked class for the upcoming year at Cincinnati. To bolster its program, Wisconsin will need to be able to recruit at a much higher level, which Fickell can help with.
Drew: As Rohan mentioned, Fickell brings real-world head coaching experience that someone like Leonhard didn’t have. He’ll bring new ideas (better…well, we’ll see) on offense and defense, he’ll bring a renewed vigor for recruiting, he’ll bring a proven track record of player development that is key for a school that recruits like Wisconsin, and, hopefully, he’ll bring a breath of fresh air that this staid program desperately needs.
What would you like to see Fickell accomplish to get things started in Wisconsin?
Tyler: I would like to see Fickell get the recruiting game rolling. Look, you are going to have a handful of players transfer out after what has happened this season but you’ll also have a ton of players looking to transfer in or flip their commitment. If Fickell can flip some plays from Cincy to Wisconsin I think you all of a sudden have a really good situation on your hands. Again, what’s done is done so if you don't want to be here there’s the door. That’s the attitude he and his staff will have to have in this new regime.
Rohan: Fickell is entering an extremely tough situation. First, Wisconsin still has a bowl game left, although their locker room is currently divided as many players publicly advocated for Jim Leonhard as their next head coach. Fickell will need to tread the waters and convince key players to remain with the program, especially after the response from the locker room on social media. In addition, Fickell will need to establish a coaching staff that has his vision, especially on offense where the Badgers have struggled. Lastly, Fickell should look to sway recruits and players to Wisconsin that originally committed to or were with Cincinnati to bolster the roster, while looking to the transfer portal, as it’s likely that some current Badgers will hit the portal themselves.
Drew: Flip a couple of recruits from Cincinnati, bring a well-thought-out plan to present to the current players to try and convince some of them to stay, and then hit the transfer portal hard and get started on your 2024 recruiting class. He also needs to make a good first impression with the WFCA in order to keep some of the under-recruited in-state kids as PWOs for UW instead of taking scholarships at FCS schools.
Elephant in the room is, obviously, Jim Leonhard. What do you think is next for Jim Leonhard? How do you feel his situation was handled?
Tyler: I think my original opposition to this Fickell hire was because I felt really bad for Jim Leonhard. Nobody has represented the University of Wisconsin better than Jim Leonhard has as a player, assistant, and Interim Head Coach. Personally, I thought he was the guy and I thought he would do a really good job at Wisconsin so that side of things really sucks. Now, we dont know what happened behind closed doors but to me, it feels like Mcintosh did Leonhard dirty. He’s been incredibly loyal to Wisconsin for the chance at this gig and Wisconsin moved to someone else. That will never sit right with me. For weeks it seemed like his gig and by most accounts, this was a shock at the end. I don't love that, but again, what’s done is done.
However, I want Wisconsin football to win Big Ten Championships and one day National Championships. That is thee goal. If Luke Fickell can do it we’ll quickly forget about this whole season. If he can’t do it, I think we’ll all look back in years and question how this all went down but hey that’s college football. It’s cutthroat. At the end of the day, I want Wisconsin to win games and they havent been doing it enough lately. I don’t care who coaches this team if they win games (well, ok maybe that’s a stretch but ya know what I mean). Hopefully the Packers fire Joe Barry into the sun and can get Leonhard back and both Wisconsin teams I root for can get rolling.
Rohan: Jim Leonhard is the most unfortunate person in this situation. He remained at Wisconsin as their defensive coordinator over the past five seasons, bypassing several college and NFL opportunities, in hopes of potentially earning the head coaching gig at his alma mater when the time was right. When Paul Chryst was fired, Leonhard was thrown into an untenable situation midseason, where he had to not only right the ship with the locker room, but deal with a coaching staff he didn’t assemble and manage recruiting with a depleted staff. The Leonhard era began strong, as the players responded to his message, starting with a 3-1 record, placing the Badgers in a favorable position to win the West. But, a late collapse with poor offensive play likely prompted the coaching change. Is it fair? Not necessarily, but Wisconsin upgraded with experience and a known quantity as head coach. He’ll likely have several suitors and perhaps ends as Green Bay’s next defensive coordinator after all should Joe Barry be fired, but it appears unlikely that he remains at Wisconsin, given Luke Fickell’s defensive background.
Drew: I feel bad for Leonhard. He is clearly well-liked in the locker room and many of the players were openly campaigning for him to get the job. I hope this was handled as delicately as possible and Leonhard was told he wasn’t getting the job as soon as McIntosh was able to…but this is also big-time college football and feelings can’t really be spared while also trying to win a Big Ten title.
I hope Leonhard is able to find a head coaching job (or DC job in the NFL) quickly and I wish him nothing but success. Don’t go to Green Bay though, Jim, that team stinks and will not set you up for success.
To finish, what are reasonable expectations for Luke Fickell at Wisconsin?
Tyler: It’s hard to say for certain in the transfer portal era, but I think next year could be a little rough for Wisconsin. You’ve got to rebuild a roster and a coaching staff and a recruiting base from the ground up. Now, Fickell could hammer the portal and get players to build it quicker but that is no guarantee. I think expectations for next year should be simply better, cleaner play. If it results in more wins great! If not, I think we have to hope its better than some debacles last year. For me, I will always expect a bowl appearance. There are 800 bowls Wisconsin should be good enough to get to one if freakin’ William Dafoe was head coach. After year one, I hope to see some progression in the recruiting side that can bring Wisconsin to that next level and start winning games over its rivals. In year four I expect Wisconsin to be competing for Big Ten titles. I hope it’s sooner, but I do think this will take a little time and I want Wisconsin to do it right.
Rohan: I would temper expectations in 2023, given the current turmoil with the roster and the uncertainties that it provides in the short term. But, moving forward, I would expect more sustainability and growth from the program with Fickell as the head coach. I’d expect an improvement in recruiting and player development over the next few years that would provide a better base, as well as stronger offensive play, even though it’s not his forte.
Drew: This is important for everyone to remember: things will not be good next year. The team may miss a bowl game. That does NOT mean this move is a failure, however. Fickell needs an absolute minimum of three years, and really it should be four before he is judged in Madison. Patience is needed from fans, boosters, and the administration. Fickell has the potential to make this team into a perennial playoff contender (once the playoff is expanded) but it won’t happen overnight. Hell, it might not even happen at all! That’s the thing about coaching hires…nobody knows if they’re good or not at the time and anyone who says they do is a liar.
Reasonable expectations for next year: rebuild the foundation of the Wisconsin program using things that have made Wisconsin football great in the recent past as well as adding Fickell touches; have a top-40 2024 recruiting class; bring in a transfer QB (or two)
Reasonable expectations for years two through four: make a bowl all three years; win 10 games at least once; recruit at a top-30 level all three years with at least one top-25 class; produce at least one first-round draft pick
Reasonable expectations beyond that: be a regular Big Ten top-four team; make a conference title game within seven years of being hired; make the CFP within 10 years of being hired
Will Fickell be around for 10 years? Well, if he isn’t, something either went horribly wrong or incredibly right. Want more of these incredible insights? You should subscribe to my newsletter, Badgers Ball Knower, and follow me on Twitter until Elon forgets to plug in the servers one day and the whole site disappears. Love and miss you all!