There will be a lot of noise around Cincinnati football the next two days ahead of its American Athletic Conference championship game against Houston. One thing that won’t be heard is gossip about whether the head coach is heading off to South Bend. But other chatter will replace it, and soon.
Notre Dame appeared to silence the talk about its program Wednesday by reportedly promoting defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to replace Brian Kelly. Fickell was seen as a favorite to take over for his former boss at UC after Kelly bolted for LSU.
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The news will keep from Fickell from having to parry additional questions about the Fighting Irish. When he got one Tuesday in the wake of the Kelly news, he tried to project a laser focus on beating Houston. The 12-0 Bearcats are fourth in the latest College Football Playoff rankings but need to defeat the Cougars to make the field.
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“Yeah, I don’t know what there is to address,” Fickell said (in video posted by Joe Danneman of Cincinnati TV station WXIX). “For a guy that keeps his head down and very rarely ever answers his phone or does anything like that, I don’t talk to a lot of people, so there is nothing. That’s the crazy thing. It’s all whatever is being said out there in different things.
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“There is no speculation. Is the job open? I guess it is. But I wouldn’t know if somebody didn’t tell me. It’s the same way I am with rankings. It’s the same way I am with, unfortunately, a lot of other things with the exception to recruiting, that I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to.
“I understand it. Most importantly, all I care about are the guys that sit in these seats, to be honest with you, to make sure that they know what’s most important to all of us and to make sure we’ve all got to find ways to keep our minds focused on the things that we’ve got to be able to do. Because I’m not the only guy that’s got things rolling around in their head.”
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But Cincinnati fans and administrators (and, of course, Fickell) know that there will be questions about other programs, starting with Oklahoma. There’s chatter, idle for now, about Ohio State, in the event Ryan Day leaves. Fickell was the Buckeyes’ interim coach for the 2011 season after Jim Tressel resigned.
He has a Group of 5 program on the cusp of crashing the CFP. He’s 43-6 from the start of the 2018 season. The program is primed to be competitive immediately after Cincinnati leaves the American for the Big 12. All of that qualifies Fickell as a hot coaching commodity.
All is quiet on the Notre Dame front, but Fickell is still in demand.