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Luke Fickell leaving Cincinnati for Wisconsin, Kerry Coombs to be Bearcats’ interim coach

Cincinnati will enter its first year as a Big 12 member under new head coaching leadership.

Cincinnati v UCF Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bearcats transition to Big 12 membership on July 1, 2023. But when the program moves to a new conference, they’ll be under new head coaching leadership.

According to multiple reports, including Pat Forde of Sports Illustrated, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell informed the team he is leaving for the Wisconsin opening after six years with the Bearcats. For Cincinnati’s upcoming bowl game, cornerbacks/special teams coach Kerry Coombs will serve as the interim head coach.

The announcement was made official by both programs Sunday night.

Fickell compiled a 57-18 record in six years as the head coach of Cincinnati. After defeating SMU in October, he passed Rick Minter (1994-03) to become the winningest coach in program history. Fickell won AAC championships in 2020 and 2021 and qualified for consecutive New Year’s Six bowl appearances in both of those seasons. In 2021, his Bearcats carried a 13-0 record into the postseason and became the first-ever AAC team selected for the College Football Playoff. They lost 27-6 to Alabama in the Cotton Bowl semifinal and finished with a final AP Poll ranking of No. 4 — the highest in program history.

The Bearcats finished ranked in four consecutive seasons from 2018 through 2021 under Fickell. They were ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 24 in the College Football Playoff rankings headed into his final game as head coach of the program Friday. Operating without starting quarterback Ben Bryant, Cincinnati lost 27-24 to Tulane at Nippert Stadium. The defeat prevented the Bearcats from reaching their fourth consecutive AAC title game while also snapping the program’s 32-game home win streak. Prior to Friday, Cincinnati’s most recent home loss was Nov. 10, 2017 which occurred in Fickell’s first season as head coach.

Fickell takes over a Wisconsin head coaching job which was occupied by Paul Chryst from 2015 until his firing on Oct. 2 after a 2-3 start. Chryst qualified for three Big Ten Championship Game appearances and three New Year’s Six bowls — with Cotton and Orange Bowl wins — in his time in Madison. Following his midseason firing, defensive coordinator Jim Leonhard took over interim head coaching duties and reached bowl eligibility by winning four of his seven games. At the moment, Leonhard retains the Badgers’ interim position heading into bowl season.

Meanwhile, Coombs and Cincinnati will find out their bowl destination next Sunday, which will mark the program’s final game as a member of the AAC.