Each December, college football becomes an ever-changing world. On the macro side, head coaches get hired, fired, retire, etc. Further down though, on the micro side, you’ve also got assistants and staffers who are either following their previous head coach or looking for a new position after a previous regime is let go.
Wisconsin and Luke Fickell are in a more complicated spot than most as the current staff are still in place, but many coaches from Fickell’s staff at Cincinnatti are also reported to be heading West to Madison. Thus far, reports have come out that at least five (possibly more) will be joining Fickell in Madison. Let’s dive into who those five are and what that means for Wisconsin’s currently got at that position.
Mike Tressel, defensive coordinator/linebackers title at Cincinnatti
This is the big one. It has already been reported that Tressel will be coming to Madison after previously holding the defensive coordinator spot at Cincy. That spot for Wisconsin is, of course, occupied by Jim Leonhard. Fickell stated that he has met with Leonhard once already and said he would chat with him again Wednesday.
To me, Tressel coming in already gives us the answer that Jim Leonhard is likely not coming back to Wisconsin. However, we’ve seen Leonhard come back before and at this point in the wild ride of Wisconsin’s 2022 season, you’d be crazy to assume that door is completely closed. That said, Fickell and Tressel have different defensive schemes than Leonhard. Wisconsin has run a 3-4 defense since 2013 while Fickell has run a 3-3-5 for much of his career. While not as big of a change as a 3-4 to a 4-3 is a different type of defense that each side would have to get used to if Leonard stayed on. I don’t see it happening, but we’ll have to wait and see.
Colin Hitschler, co-defensive coordinator/safeties title at Cincinnatti
Well, could Leonhard stay around as a co-DC and coach the safeties? Not looking like that is much of an option either if Colin Hitschler is coming to Madison, which reports say he is. Hirschler is a very highly touted assistant and has worked with Fickell for the past five seasons. On3.com named Hitschler one of the top “rising assistants you need to know” for 2022. He’s coached some damn good secondary players at Cincinnati and is more than qualified to be taking the same position title that he had at Cincy over to Wisconsin.
Mike Brown, wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator at Cincinnatti
Mike Brown has also been reported to be making the jump from Cincy to Wisconsin. Brown joined the Cincy staff in 2019 and was promoted to passing game coordinator this season. Previously, Brown was a two-time All-American at Liberty playing both wideout and quarterback. After a brief NFL stint, Brown returned to Liberty where he coached running backs before taking the job at Cincinnati.
Based on that, Brown has some flexibility in terms of the positions he can coach but it’s clear that Fickell likely thinks pretty highly of him if he received a promotion this past year. Currently, Wisconsin does not have anyone on staff with the title of passing game coordinator but much of that duty likely falls to Bobby Engram. Beyond that, Wisconsin does have a wideout coach currently in Alvis Whitted. Now, Brown could coach the running backs but I’d have to imagine Fickell wants a former All-American quarterback and wideout likely coaching to his strengths. Let’s call a spade a spade here, you can’t keep them all. There’s likely going to be an odd man out in this spot.
Brady Collins, Director of Football Sports Performance at Cincinnatti
Fancier title, but Collins will be coming to Wisconsin and will head Wisconsin’s strength and conditioning program under Fickell. By many accounts, this is a very big get for the Badgers as Collins was classified as Fickell’s number two guy.
Currently, the strength and conditioning title is held by Shaun Snee who has been with Wisconsin for 8 seasons. I am sure Collins has his way of doing things and will look to have a handful of assistants (had four at UC) but we’ll see if Snee could join that in some capacity. Overall, it’s way too early to know every single assistant that might be changing hands but certainly something to monitor.
Pat Lambert & Max Stienecker, Director of Recruiting & Director of Recruiting Strategy at Cincinnatti
Also joining Fickell is two of his key contributors when it comes to the recruiting side, which should be very exciting for Wisconsin fans. Recently, Wisconsin made changes to its recruiting department by moving former tight end coach Mickey Turner over to the Director of Recruiting position. Currently, Turner has five recruiting assistants under him.
Personally, I think Mickey Turner is a guy you want to keep on in some capacity. Wisconsin is seeming to go away from the “former player” route but Turner seemed a great fit for this role when he was moved there. The guy knows Wisconsin in and out and could really help this new recruiting staff get acclimated to the area while also learning from Lambert and Stienecker.
The names above are the reported names coming to Madison thus far, but there have been talks with others. One name to watch is Cincinnatti offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli. Guidugli is being considered as a possible replacement to for Fickell at Cincy but if he does not get the job he’s very likely to follow Fickell over to Madison which would likely mean Bobby Engram would not be retained, at least not in the same position.
Beyond Guidugli a name to watch is Kerry Coombs. Coombs was named the interim head coach at Cincinnati for the bowl season but has worked with Fickell on and off over the course of his career. Coombs was previously the special team's coordinator and cornerbacks coach at Cincy before being promoted. Coombs has coached some really good talent at the cornerback position and could be a nice get for Wisconsin. Coombs has spent most of his career in Ohio so he may not want to make the move to Wisconsin, but he could be a nice get for the Badgers as well.