It’s hard to imagine that Cincinnati expected they would be in this situation.
On Sunday, Wisconsin announced the hiring of Cincinnati’s head coach Luke Fickell as their next head coach.
While it’s a “destination job” for Fickell, the move comes with its fair share of shock value. Fickell spent six seasons in charge of Cincinnati, leading them to the College Football Playoff last season. The Bearcats were 57-18 under Fickell, including 31-5 since 2020. By all accounts, other programs flirted with Fickell but weren’t able to convince him to leave Cincinnati.
Fickell’s hard work has turned Cincinnati into one of the best jobs open and one with its fair share of suitors. Here are some potential fits for Cincinnati as they move to the Big 12.
Cincinnati special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs
Kerry Coombs is as Ohio as they come.
Coombs was born in Ohio, graduated from the University of Dayton, coached high school football in Ohio, and is currently the interim head coach of an Ohio-based college football program. Following Fickell’s departure, Cincinnati named Coombs as their interim head coach for their upcoming bowl game.
Before joining Cincinnati’s staff, Coombs spent two seasons as Ohio State’s defensive coordinator, and four seasons as their special teams coordinator. Coombs started his college coaching career at Cincinnati in 2007 as their defensive backs coach.
Removing the interim tag from Coombs would give Cincinnati a sense of stability and familiarity as they become a Power 5 program. However, making in-house hires doesn’t always work in college football, and Cincinnati may be able to pull a bigger name.
Cincinnati offensive coordinator Gino Guidugli
Gino Guidugli may follow Fickell to Wisconsin but that hasn’t happened yet. As a result, Guidugli may get consideration for the head coaching job at his alma mater, Cincinnati.
As a player, Guidugli is a Cincinnati legend. In four seasons, he threw for 11,453 yards and 78 touchdowns. In 2019, Guidugli was named to the Cincinnati Ring of Honor and is one of the all-time passing leaders in program history.
Guidugli joined Cincinnati’s coaching staff in 2017 and has been a part of the coaching staff ever since. He began coaching quarterbacks in 2018, playing a role in the development of Desmond Ridder.
Guidugli has only been a coordinator for two seasons but there seems to be support among the players for him to become the head coach. Quarterback Brady Lichtenberg took to Twitter to say that Guidugli “is Cincinnati football.”
Coach Gino is Cincinnati football. I’ve loved every second of my time here, and the main reason is because of what he has taught me on and off the field. I believe he is the right man to lead this program to success in the Big 12! #Hire8 pic.twitter.com/YDcL2DlxLt— Brady Lichtenberg (@bradylichty) November 30, 2022
Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell
There isn’t a job in college football or the NFL that Matt Campbell hasn’t flirted with. At this point, Campbell is reaching teenage girl levels of flirting.
There are conflicting reports on if Campbell would be interested in the Cincinnati job, but this is a Power 5 opening in the midwest. It wouldn’t be a candidates list if Campbell’s name wasn’t involved.
Campbell is 46-42 as Iowa State’s head coach since taking over in 2016. In 2020, Campbell went 9-3 and made the Big 12 Conference Championship. The Cyclones finished the season ranked No. 9 in the AP Poll and won the Fiesta Bowl.
Before that, Campbell was the head coach of Toledo, where he went 35-15. In his final two seasons, Campbell went 18-6 and made the MAC Championship Game twice.
While Campbell might have to find a new softball team to coach in Cincinnati, the Bearcats job likely has a higher ceiling than the Iowa State job. That alone might interest the 43-year-old head coach.
Toledo head coach Jason Candle
Jason Candle began coaching at Toledo in 2009 and has climbed from tight ends coach to head coach, a spot he took over in 2016.
Since then, Candle has become one of the premier head coaches in the MAC. He’s 51-32 in charge and won the MAC Championship in 2017, where the Rockets went 11-3. This season, Candle went 7-5 and will be playing in the MAC Championship later this week.
By all accounts, Candle has flirted with other jobs in the past. He was a candidate for Miami (FL)’s offensive coordinator position and was viewed as a potential fit at USF this season. Still, Candle chose to return to Toledo.
Cincinnati might be too much to pass up for Candle. He was born in Ohio, played at Mount Union in Ohio, and began his coaching career there. While he doesn’t have ties to Cincinnati, he does have deep ties to the area.
Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens
Mike Mickens is an alumnus of Cincinnati, where he played immediately as a cornerback. After four seasons with the Bearcats, Mickens had a cup of coffee in the NFL and CFL.
Mickens started his coaching career as a defensive assistant at Cincinnati before having stints at Indiana State, Idaho, and Bowling Green. In 2018, Mickens returned to Cincinnati as their cornerbacks coach before moving to Notre Dame with former Cincinnati defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman.
To be blunt, Mickens might be too young for the Cincinnati job. At 35, Mickens’ coaching career is just getting started and it might be too early for him to be the head coach of a Power 5 program.
Tennessee offensive coordinator Alex Golesh
Alex Golesh has spent a significant amount of his coaching career in the midwest. He started his career at Ohio State as a student assistant, and his first on-field assistant job was at Toledo. After three seasons with Toledo, Golesh moved to Illinois, where he spent multiple seasons in a variety of roles.
More recently, Golesh has become a familiar face with Tennesse head coach Josh Heupel. He joined Heupel at UCF in 2020 before following him to Tennessee as offensive coordinator a season later.
Golesh is an offensive mastermind when it comes to scheme and execution. He’s a critical part of Tennessee’s offensive revitalization and could bring that same success to Cincinnati, provided he’s able to get the pieces to make it work.