Luke Fickell strives to build on Wisconsin’s culture of success

Fickell strives to build on Wisconsin’s culture of success originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

New trainers often spend their first few months considering the need to bring a different culture into their programs.

Consider Luke Fickell of Wisconsin an exception.

Fickell says the Badgers already have what he calls a “really good footprint,” bolstered by Wisconsin’s 21 consecutive bowl appearances. He just wants to find ways to increase it as the former Cincinnati coach prepares to start his first spring training session in Wisconsin on March 25.

“Sometimes the biggest mistake you can make is to go into a place and think you’re going to completely change the culture,” Fickell said in an interview with The Associated Press. “You can improve and do things the way you want, but I think a lot of places have inherently unique cultures, especially here, that have been bred for a long time.”

Fickell believes the lack of rampant rostering after a tumultuous managerial change is a testament to that culture.

Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst on October 2, the day after a 34-10 home loss to Illinois. Athletic director Chris McIntosh hired Fickell after many players called out popular defensive coordinator and interim head coach Jim Leonhard to get the job.

Still, the Badgers haven’t lost many key contributors to the transfer portal, aside from three-year starting quarterback Graham Mertz, who is now in Florida. Offensive lineman Michael Furtney and wide receiver Markus Allen entered the transfer portal, but then decided to stay.

Most notably, Wisconsin managed to hold two-time 1,200-yard rusher Braelon Allen. Fickell said he reached out to Wisconsin’s current players by reminding them why they signed there in the first place.

“I sold it like that just because I’m new, just because you don’t know me, trust me and believe that the things that got you here and the things that have kept you here are the same things that going to be what you love when you’re done here,” Fickell said.

But there will be notable differences among Fickell, who went 57-18 in Cincinnati and led the Bearcats to a college football playoff appearance in 2021.

These changes should be most obvious on offense.

New offensive coordinator Phil Longo ran a variant airstrike during his four seasons in the same position in North Carolina and intends to bring some of it to Wisconsin. Although Longo has said running the ball will remain a priority, his arrival represents a dramatic change for a program known for its ball control offenses.

“It’s going to be a different pace and pace than what they may have seen here offensively for a while,” Fickell said. “But if you really learn it, it’s still going to be about being physical. It will still be about running the game and controlling the line of scrimmage.”

There are also many new faces.

Since Fickell’s arrival, Wisconsin has added 15 transfers, including two walk-ons. Tanner Mordecai, who threw a school-record 72 career touchdown passes at SMU, is one of three quarterback trades on Wisconsin’s roster.

Fickell says he would rather not accept more than three or four transfers a year going forward. He noted that most of his incoming transfers are eligible for at least three more years, giving new hires a greater chance to grow.

“I don’t want to be in the transfer quarterback world,” Fickell said. “I just don’t think that’s the way to maintain and build a program. Apparently we picked up three of them this year. We had low numbers in that room so we had to do it.”

Wisconsin only reached the Rose Bowl in the 2019 season but didn’t win one big ten Title since 2012 and has won 20-13 in the last three seasons, including a 7-6 mark last year. That’s a step backwards for a program that has played in six of the first nine Big Ten championship games and won the first two.

Perhaps a new approach can prove beneficial.

“The footprint is there, but sometimes it just fades a little,” Fickell said. “Sometimes that’s when change isn’t bad. I said that to my own son (Cincinnati offensive lineman Landon Fickell) when I left Cincinnati. I said, “The culture is embedded here. Someone will come in and tweak and tweak things a bit. In a way, that can give you a chance to grow.”

“It’s the same for me here. Recognize the things that are really, really good, and then make sure you can improve on the things that you know are important to what you want to do and how you want to do it.

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