After a transformative year that saw Cincinnati crash the College Football Playoff and earn an invitation to the Big 12, the school is ramping up investment in coach Luke Fickell and his football staff.
A source confirmed to ESPN on Monday that Fickell has agreed to a new contract through 2028 that will pay him $5 million per year, pending approval from Cincinnati’s Board of Trustees. The school is also expected to up the staff salary pool to $5.2 million, a bump of more than $1.4 million.
Fickell has led Cincinnati to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. The Bearcats’ only two losses in the past two years came to Georgia in the Peach Bowl and Alabama in the College Football Playoff. In five seasons at Cincinnati, Fickell is 48-15, which includes the 22-2 record and two conference championships the past two years.
The $5 million yearly salary will put Fickell at the top of the Group of Five for reported coach salaries.
Cincinnati became the first team from outside one of the five traditional power conferences to reach the College Football Playoff in 2021, a historic season. The school also earned an invite to the Big 12 in September along with UCF, BYU and Houston, which will happen no later than 2024.
The impending extension for Fickell will pay him nearly $1.6 million more per year than he was making under his previous deal. It will also put Cincinnati in position to be competitive financially when the school arrives in the Big 12.
Among the schools expected to be in the Big 12 upon Cincinnati’s arrival, Fickell ranks No. 1 in coach salary. Among current Big 12 schools, he is behind only Oklahoma’s Brent Venables ($7 million) and Texas’ Steve Sarkisian ($5.4 million).
The staff salary pool jump also marks an important step for Cincinnati as the school works toward becoming a competitive Big 12 member.
The bump to $5.2 million, which is still well behind the top schools in the Big 12, should help deter some of the staff defects that have popped up with all of the Bearcats’ success. The school lost Marcus Freeman to become Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator after 2020, and following 2021 lost Brian Mason to become Notre Dame’s special teams coach, corners coach Perry Eliano to Ohio State and Mike Denbrock to become LSU’s offensive coordinator.
Fickell is entering his sixth season at the school, as he’s resisted a bevy of high-profile overtures to go elsewhere. Fickell, who has never lived outside of Ohio, has been vocal about the potential of the Cincinnati program.
The prospective new deal was first reported by The Athletic.