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Luke Fickell contract: Cincinnati coach grabs Power Five-level extension at $5 million annually, per reports

Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell has agreed to a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid coaches in the Group of Five, according to multiple reports.  

The extension will reportedly pay Fickell $5 million per year through 2028, a massive raise from his previous contract that paid him $3.4 million through 2026. Pending approval from UC’s board of trustees on Feb. 22, the deal will also increase his assistant salary pool from $3.9 million to $5.2 million. 

Fickell’s deal gives him the highest reported base salary among all Group of Five coaches, passing the $4.2 million deal Dana Holgorsen signed with Houston. But Holgorsen recently agreed to a contract extension of his own, and while numbers have not been publicly reported, a new salary could also push $5 million. 

Cincinnati has reached new heights since Fickell took over the program in 2017 from Tommy Tuberville. Following a transitional 4-8 debut, Fickell has led the program to a 44-7 record over the past four seasons with back-to-back AAC Championships. The Bearcats became the first ever Group of Five squad to reach the College Football Playoff in 2021. 

The Bearcats are one of three AAC teams set to join the Big 12 Conference with a move expected by 2023. Houston and UCF join BYU as new additions to the power conference as well. 

Building long term

When Cincinnati hired Fickell, the program had not earned a national ranking since Butch Jones was head coach in 2012. The Bearcats had just one top-10 finish in program history — 2009 — and it was impressive enough to earn Brian Kelly the Notre Dame job. 

Fickell has brought unmatched consistency to the program, which has enjoyed four straight ranked finishes in the AP Top 25 and back-to-back AAC titles. Keeping Fickell happy is key. And in addition to increasing his profile, pushing Fickell’s assistant salary into the upper tier of Power Five programs gives him the pieces to be successful. 

Stepping up to the plate

It’s no coincidence that Cincinnati (and Houston) are reaching into their pockets and offering their well-regarded coaches Power Five-level deals. The Bearcats, after all, are set to join the power conferences when they jump to the Big 12. 

Fickell’s salary would have been fourth-highest in the Big 12 in 2021, narrowly behind Steve Sarkisian’s $5.4 million contract at Texas. Fickell would have trailed only Clemson’s Dabo Swinney in the ACC, tied with Scott Frost (Nebraska) and Kirk Ferentz (Iowa) for No. 5 in the Big Ten, and cleared Clay Helton (ex-USC) and Mario Cristobal (ex-Oregon) for No. 4 in the Pac-12. 

Following a chaotic coaching silly season, highlighted by Lincoln Riley’s move to USC and Brian Kelly’s switch to LSU, Cincinnati is breathing a sigh of relief that it managed to keep Fickell. But to do that, it needed to dig deep in its pockets to keep his salary competitive at the Power Five level. 

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