‘It starts with relationships’: Luke Fickell works to evaluate talent, recruit, build a staff and coach Wisconsin’s bowl game

Wisconsin’s new head football coach Luke Fickell, left, is shown with athletic director Chris McIntosh at a news conference Monday, November 28, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Fickell was previously head coach for six seasons at Cincinnati.
Wisconsin’s new head football coach Luke Fickell, left, is shown with athletic director Chris McIntosh at a news conference Monday, November 28, 2022 at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis. Fickell was previously head coach for six seasons at Cincinnati.

MADISON – Luke Fickell’s schedule is full.

Wisconsin’s new head football coach learned Sunday the Badgers are set to play Oklahoma State in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl on Dec. 27 in Phoenix.

Fickell is working on cobbling together a staff, preparing for the bowl game, evaluating the talent on the roster and trying to add players for the 2023 season, either high school prospects or college players entering the transfer portal, which opened Monday.

“It is a difficult time trying to piece all these things together,” he said.

Fickell spoke to reporters Sunday afternoon, while in a vehicle heading to Chicago on a recruiting trip. He acknowledged he plans to fill the role of head coach for the bowl game but details were sketchy.

“I envision myself being the head coach, but if that means I’m coaching the punters (or) coaching the kickers, I don’t know,” he said. “I just want to be around the guys. … I think it is really important for us to move forward and for me to be around these guys, with all the options these guys have nowadays and the chance to leave if they believe it is best.

“There is only one way to keep guys. There is only one way to build a program and it starts with relationships. The next three weeks are the best time for me to really starting building relationships with these guys.”

More:Graham Mertz announces he plans to transfer. Here is what we know about UW's quarterback situation.

More:A running list of Badgers football players and recruits departing during coaching changes

More:What is the 2022 college football bowl game schedule? The complete list of all 42 matchups

Fickell has two goals for bowl prep: Make sure the players who stay get the most out of the bowl experience and to evaluate the personnel to get an accurate reading on the team’s strengths and weaknesses heading into 2023.

“It is understanding and knowing what you’ve got in there and the areas you need to maybe load up,” Fickell said of filling holes on the roster. “It is easy to look at numbers and it is easy to look at positions.

“But maybe the next three weeks you get a better glimpse into where we are and what we need and what we’ve got.

“There are options for adding some of those pieces, whether from the portal or not, to fill in the gaps.”

UW's 2023 took another hit Monday when Ohio tailback Jaquez Keyes announced he has de-committed.

Fickell reiterated his stance that the portal will be used as a complementary tool to high-school recruiting.

“I think there is great culture here,” he said, “and I always worry if you add too many people that don’t have three, four or five years to build the relationships you could really mess up the culture that has been built. That is what I think they’ve done a really good job here.

“It will be an interesting three weeks for me to able to assess and figure out some of those things, along with the help of the guys around me.”

More:Wisconsin must close the gap on Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State in its quest to win Big Ten football titles

More:Wisconsin Badgers offensive line coach Bob Bostad, wide receivers coach Alvis Whitted not expected to return in 2023

Jim Leonhard, who was elevated from defensive coordinator to interim head coach in October, is expected to remain at Wisconsin on the staff of new head coach Luke Fickell.
Jim Leonhard, who was elevated from defensive coordinator to interim head coach in October, is expected to remain at Wisconsin on the staff of new head coach Luke Fickell.

Fickell has not announced any hirings, although former Cincinnati assistants Mike Tressel and Colin Hitschler have been recruiting for UW.

Tressel was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator/linebackers coach and Hitschler was the co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach. Both are listed as assistant coaches on UW’s online directory.

Fickell last week offered Jim Leonhard the job of defensive coordinator and said Sunday he is waiting to learn of Leonhard’s decision. Sources told the Journal Sentinel they expect Leonhard to be on the staff in 2023.

Mike Brown, Cincinnati’s passing-game coordinator/wide receivers coach, is expected to join the UW staff. Ditto for Gino Guidugli, Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

Guidugli was a candidate to replace Fickell but Cincinnati officials announced Monday they had hired Louisville’s Scott Satterfield.

Fickell noted that he expected the bulk of the current UW staff would coach the team through the bowl game.

“I want this to be a great experience for the players,” he said, “and to have a bunch of different people around and not knowing what their roles are and other guys watching you, I don’t think it is the best thing for everybody involved.

“We’re going to do this thing with this staff and make it the best for everybody in the program.”

Our subscribers make this reporting possible. Please consider supporting local journalism by subscribing to the Journal Sentinel at jsonline.com/deal.

DOWNLOAD THE APP: Get the latest news, sports and more

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: New Wisconsin football coach Luke Fickell busy ahead of bowl game