Why Luke Fickell Should Turn Down Michigan State

Bruce Hooley

There was a time when leaving Cincinnati for Michigan State made sense for Luke Fickell, but that time isn't right now and he should reject MSU's overtures to succeed Mark Dantonio.

Dantonio is Fickell's coaching mentor, having worked together for three seasons at Ohio State from 2001-03, when Dantonio was the defensive coordinator and Fickell coached linebackers.

They've stayed in touch ever since, to the point where Fickell admitted this week he still talks to Dantonio whenever he needs advice with a vexing issue in his program.

But friendship doesn't compel Fickell to make the riskiest move of his so-far-well-planned coaching career, and allowing his affection for Dantonio to follow him to East Lansing to save the Spartans and Dantonio's legacy would be an enormous mistake.

Had Dantonio retired in December, Fickell taking over at Michigan State would have made sense.

But the timing is all wrong now, because Fickell recruited the best class in the America Athletic Conference and would be walking out on them, and because there are too many unknowns with the eventual fallout of a lawsuit by a former coach that raises the chance NCAA violations occurred on Dantonio's watch.

He and the MSU president can say all they want about the allegations being unfounded, but the unknown on something that important is a wild card Fickell shouldn't risk.

He has it rolling at Cincinnati, with back-to-back 11-win seasons after a 4-8 debut season.

Fickell has a two-year starter at quarterback coming back for his junior year, and he has Ohio's Mr. Football -- Evan Prater of Cincinnati Wyoming, the highest-ranked four-star quarterback to sign with a non-Power 5 school -- coming in this fall.

Fickell has done his job so well with the Bearcats that the floor is nine wins each year.

That sounds a lot like the ceiling at Michigan State, and that's only if the ceiling doesn't fall in on him after he gets there with junk Dantonio left behind.

Over the last two seasons, the Spartans' offense has been as exciting as Dantonio is boring and crotchety. He hasn't recruited well, and his program has gone backward since gaining a College Football Playoff berth in 2015.

The need for Dantonio to step aside and celebrate his success as the winningest coach in MSU history was evident to all after this past season.

Instead, he announced that he would return in 2021, then stayed only a few weeks longer than it took him to claim a $4.3 million retention bonus in his contract once he remained on the job past Jan. 15.

That shows the inexperience and weakness of Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman, who had zero experience in big-time athletics when he was appointed as an interim following the Larry Nassar scandal.

Beekman now works for a different university president than the one who appointed him, which is another reason for Fickell to run from Michigan State's recruitment of him.

No coach, particularly one with Fickell's leverage, wants the unknown of taking a job and then having his boss become someone different than the AD who hired him.

One red flag would be enough for Fickell, who will remain a hot coach for any high-level opening, to turn down MSU.

But given the less-than-ideal timing, the unknown of possible NCAA violations and the uncertainty of the athletic director's future, there's a veritable flag corp waving warning signs in Fickell's direction and imploring him to stay with Cincinnati.

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Comments (1)

"and his program has gone backward since gaining a College Football Playoff berth in 2013". MSU made the CFP in the 15-16 season. In '13 MSU won the Rose Bowl, and '14 MSU won the Cotton Bowl. 2017 was 10 wins, including a bowl game. Two 7-6 seasons since. Agreed, it's a drop, no question. But there are positives. 1. A few coaches worth retaining if he can get them to agree to demote to positional jobs (Salem, Burton, Tressel, Samuel, Haynes). 2. Young talent to build around. 3. Sounds like more investments in facilities are coming. 4. Perfect job to carve out hopefully 5-10 years and maybe find a Tier 1 program like OSU, ND, Florida, etc. to go to after. Unless you think he can get there directly for UC, maybe he can.