EXTENDED VERSION: Luke Fickell reflects on first 100 days in Madison

Luke Fickell sits down one-on-one with Leah Doherty to discuss his first few months at Wisconsin.
Tuesday, March 7 marked 100 days since Wisconsin made national headlines with the hiring of Luke Fickell as the 31st head football coach in program history.
Published: Mar. 7, 2023 at 10:15 PM CST
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Tuesday, March 7 marked 100 days since Wisconsin made national headlines with the hiring of Luke Fickell as the 31st head football coach in program history.

Since Fickell’s arrival in Madison, he hit the ground running. From earning his first win at the Guaranteed Rate Bowl, assembling his staff and landing top-rated recruits, Fickell said these first couple months have been a whirlwind.

Tuesday, March 7 marked 100 days since Wisconsin made national headlines with the hiring of Luke Fickell as the 31st head football coach in program history.

Does it feel like it’s been 100 days?

Maybe 3, 300 I mean. I don’t know. They all kind of run together. There’s so many things, whether it is recruiting or preparing for the spring ball and things like that. I think you lose sight of it especially since when it’s so new.

When the news broke that Luke Fickell was coming to Wisconsin, what did your phone look like? What was that day like for you?

It’s such a whirlwind. Whether it’s the phone, whether it’s just people sending you messages, reaching out, different things, it’s kind of crazy. You don’t want to not respond, you don’t want to not say thank you and things like that, but the influx of all the different things, that’s not really what you’re thinking about. You’re walking into a place with 100 or so guys. That’s what’s all on your mind. Unfortunately, some of those things from the past and the people you owe so much to, it almost gets pushed into the background initially, hopefully not for the 100 days but for the first few weeks.

How quick was the timeline of sitting down with your family saying hey we’re doing this and then it becoming official and coming out publicly?

Pretty quick. The good fortune is that we had these conversations over the past few years, my wife and I. We got a few kids so we usually don’t get them involved until the end of some sorts. Over the past few years, we prepared in case the right thing came up for our family and so everything kind of happened fast.

Your oldest son still plays at Cincinnati, is that a difficult conversation to have of hey I think I’m going to move on and go somewhere else, what does that look like?

It is. Probably didn’t tell anything until four or five hours before it became a little more public. Still a difficult situation, but he has been mature about it, we’ve been mature about it. I am not saying we have had the greatest conversations, even 100 days out. I think that it is a part of growing up. That went into consideration there’s definitely all the kids in the family went into consideration, that was a big one.

And your family the younger ones they still haven’t all moved here right? So what’s the timeline in maybe the next 100 days for the whole family?

That’s the most difficult thing, there is a lot to do in whatever a hundred day or 18 months some say. It is a good thing that they are not here because you wouldn’t be able to spend as much time, but it is really nice when you can go home, get your mind off of things for a few minutes. I got twin eight-year-olds and my own wife to sit around and talk to . They plan on coming here in spring break, end of March, beginning of April. That will kind of get the family back together and hopefully create some semblancy of something normal outside of the office and everything that you do on a daily basis.

You’re living in an apartment right now, right?

Well it went from a fraternity house to living with the strength coaches to living in an apartment right now like I’m in college. But it’s all apart of the process. I’d say a little lonely at times but sometimes not bad as well. Hopefully here at the end of the month we’ll get into a real home.

A lot of players had been vocal about wanting Jim Leonhard to have this position. How have you won over the locker room? Is that still a process that’s ongoing?

That first three weeks was a big deal, meaning the bull prep and the bull game and that time spent with them. More than anything was the relationship with Jim and all of the coaches. I think they gave those guys gave us good insight on our situation and what was best. I don’t believe we would be in the situation we are right now, meaning the team, maintaining the nucleus and keeping as many guys as we did if it wasn’t for Jim.

Did you think you would ever be here, maybe not specifically at the University of Wisconsin, but did you think you would end up being a head football coach? Was that the plan?

No, it never was the plan. I had a vision of continuing to go onto school when football was all said and done. I had some other plans, and when football was taken away, all of a sudden you start to reflect on what sports and the game of football has meant to me in particular. That’s when I recognized, I said oh my goodness I have always wanted to play but the next best thing to playing is coaching.

Spring football is going to be here in just a few weeks. What expectations do you have for this group?

We don’t win championships in spring football, but you can lose championships in spring football. If you don’t have a system to what you’re doing and understand that it’s about a process. From day one when we start, it won’t be about ‘hey, let’s talk about our goals.’ No. It’s about the objectives of what spring football is all about. It is about the fundamentals, developing habits that lead you to successes in the long run. I think it’s really being smart to understanding when we start that first few days, first few practices, we’ve got to really structure ourselves around the things that are important so we can grow.

What are you grateful for to be in this position?

There’s too many things. I think the people that have given me this opportunity, and there’s so many that you can’t just pinpoint it. The coaches gave me the opportunity to start in this profession are big, big to me. Probably as much as anything I think it’s the players. You think you’re the greatest coach in the world, and the reality is I could name five or six guys that if they didn’t do what they did and make me look better than I am and have the successes they had that ultimately gave me opportunities, there’s no way I’d be here. Whether it was guys I coaches as a linebacker coach or defensive coordinator or in particular the guys at the University of Cincinnati that for sure gave us this opportunity. You hate to say names, but the Desmond Ridders, the Cobe Bryants, some of those guys in particular that I can never repay, not that they need me to repay them. They’ve got their own lives, but those are the people I am most grateful for.

I know you don’t have a ton of time to get out in Madison, but how has the reception been? I assume a lot of people when you’re out come up to you, want to say hi, want to meet you, what has that been like?

It’s awesome, it really is, I mean we want to create that buzz. It’s a lot better than the alternative. I’ve been at a place at a point in time where they were whispering about you and not talking to you, and not the route you want to go. But the only things I’ve done, I’ve gotten out to the high schools through recruiting and things like that. The welcome there, the acceptance, they realize, I think this community in general this state in particular, this program is much bigger than even the people. That’s what I’m impressed with as much as anything, I’m not from here I didn’t play here, and there’s a bit of a difference there but they’ve embraced me as a part of them in everything that I’ve done.

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