After a transformative year that saw Cincinnati smash the college football playoffs and earn a Big 12 invite, the school is increasing its investment in coach Luke Fickell and his football team.
Fickell confirmed to ESPN on Monday that he has agreed to a new contract through 2028 that will pay him $5 million a year, pending approval from the Cincinnati board of directors. The school is also expected to increase the staff salary pool to $5.2 million, an increase of more than $1.4 million.
“I appreciate the efforts of [athletic director] John Cunningham and President [Neville G.] Pinto, who realizes that for us to take the next step to grow the program and get to the Big 12, we have to invest in people, not just the head coach,” Fickell told ESPN on Monday night. .
Fickell led Cincinnati to consecutive undefeated regular seasons. The Bearcats’ only two losses in the past two years have come at Georgia in the Peach Bowl and at Alabama in the college football playoffs. In five seasons at Cincinnati, Fickell is 48-15, which includes the 22-2 record and two conference championships in the past two years.
The $5 million annual salary will put Fickell at the top of the group of 5 for reported coaching salaries.
Cincinnati became the first team from outside one of the five traditional power conferences to reach the college football playoffs in 2021, a historic season. The school also earned an invite to the Big 12 in September with UCF, BYU and Houston, which will perform no later than 2024.
Fickell’s impending extension will earn him nearly $1.6 million more per year than he earned under his previous contract. It will also put Cincinnati in a position to be financially competitive when the school makes it into the Big 12.
Of the schools expected to be in the Big 12 when Cincinnati arrives, Fickell ranks No. 1 in coaching salary. Among current Big 12 schools, it is behind only Oklahoma’s Brent Venables ($7 million) and Texas’ Steve Sarkisian ($5.4 million).
The increased staff payroll also marks an important milestone for Cincinnati as the school strives to become a competitive member of the Big 12.
The rise to $5.2 million for on- and off-court personnel, which is still far behind the top schools in the Big 12, should help deter some of the staff defections that have arisen with all of the Bearcats’ success. The school lost Marcus Freeman to become Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator after 2020, and after 2021 lost Brian Mason to become Notre Dame’s special teams coach, corners coach Perry Eliano to Ohio State, and Mike Denbrock to become LSU’s offensive coordinator.
Fickell is entering his sixth season at the school, as he has resisted a host of high-profile overtures to go elsewhere. Fickell, who has never lived outside of Ohio, spoke of the potential of the Cincinnati program.