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.
Fickell confirmed to ESPN on Monday that he 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.
"I appreciate the efforts of [athletic director] John Cunningham and president [Neville G.] Pinto, who realize in order for us to take the next step to grow the program and go to the Big 12 that we have to invest in people, not just the head coach," Fickell told ESPN on Monday night.
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 5 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) among contracts that are publicly available.
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 for on- and off-field staff, which is still well behind the top schools in the Big 12, should help deter some of the staff defections 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 has 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.