The guy who is obviously still bothered by losses to Michigan as an Ohio State player 20-plus years ago probably isn’t into moral victories now.
Even a bottom-line coach like Luke Fickell has to admit things appear to be going well so far in his first year as the football coach at the University of Cincinnati, though, right?
“We’ve had six months now, and there are a lot of things that have come together, but we haven’t had a true test just yet,” Fickell said Monday night during a visit to the Miami Valley to speak at the Agonis Club awards banquet in Kettering. “That’s what the season kind of brings for us. We’ve got a base here, we’re into summer and then fall camp, but our whole objective is to build a team.”
For that, he has a plan that sounds like it could have come straight from his last boss, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer.
“We know we’ve got players,” Fickell said. “We can win games with players, but it takes a team to win a championship and that’s what our objective is going to be.”
Meyer became a big proponent of the importance of culture after Ohio State’s 2013 season came to a disappointing end, and Fickell often sounded like the most devout of his disciples.
As defensive coordinator, Fickell consistently drove home many of the same points while overseeing a defensive renaissance in Columbus, so it comes as no surprise he’s got the big picture in mind now.
On the day he was hired by UC, Fickell looked like a home run for the Bearcats, who provide a coach his age with his experience a fascinating combination of resources, tradition and upward mobility.
While little about UC football has ever been elite, it looks eminently upgradeable without necessarily doing anything Herculean. And while Fickell is a Columbus native who has spent most of his life living in Central Ohio, the Queen City presents a new zip code without forcing him to get very far out of his comfort zone.
During his recent trip to the Gem City, Fickell looked every bit the young coach on the rise. He was calm, cool and confident, delivering the talking points about recruiting and coaching one would expect.
No longer second in command, he looked completely in charge – and he has good reason to feel good about what he’s done so far.
His 2018 recruiting class ranks 37th in the 247sports composite, and two of his six verbal commits are four-star prospects from within the 50-mile radius he considers his home territory.
That includes Fairfield defensive end Malik Vann, whose final top six also consisted of Michigan State, Wisconsin, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
READ MORE: Vann commits to UC
There’s a long way to go until signing day, but none of the last five UC recruiting classes ranked in the nation’s top 50.
Given how many of the large crop of highly regarded local prospects consistently include UC among schools they are considering along with Power 5 programs, there’s good reason to think he will break that string.
Fickell has also found a potential quarterback of the future in Ohio State transfer Torrance Gibson, but for UC to get back to the top of the AAC and remain there, the coach knows a strong foundation will be necessary.
If he builds it, they will come, so to speak.
The Bearcats have won in the past without exactly being an NFL talent factory, but they have been a factor on draft day more often than not.
There are a lot of great players on a lot of tradition-rich programs in the immediate vicinity, and Fickell has a reputation for finding and developing under-the-radar prospects, too.
What will the combination of those things yield?
Only time will tell, but Fickell by all appearances is moving in the right direction.
“Our whole focus will be that 50-mile radius that we consider Cincinnati and Dayton and then the state of Ohio, which is huge, huge for us,” Fickell said, adding there is also a 300-mile radius he is committed to hitting hard. “We know what kind of kids are in that area, what kind of clubs come from that area, what kind of cultures come from that kind of area, so that’s where we really want to focus our efforts in creating the atmosphere and the culture that we want.”
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