New Bearcats Defensive Coordinator Marcus Freeman (GoldandBlack.com on Twitter)
Update: Added new hire Al Washington.
In his introductory press conference, Luke Fickell said something that every new hire at Cincinnati has said, yet remains music to my ears: “We know we must do our best job right here in our city, in our state, and truly within the 300-mile radius of our campus.” It’s become a platitude at UC. Coaches know it’s important and always talk the talk, but we have yet to see anybody truly succeed.
When Fickell said that, we all assumed he was talking about recruiting. Cincinnati has arguably the best high school football in the country, along with places like Texas and Florida. Coaches obviously want to target local recruits. However, Fickell’s philosophy goes beyond that. “We’ve gotta endear ourselves to the entire city. We’ve gotta recruit the city. Not just the high school football players, but we’ve gotta recruit the city.”
So, logically, if you’re trying to get local fans and local players engaged with the program, what is your first move? Hire local coaches. It sounds like a no-brainer, but we haven’t seen it yet. For reference, here is the 2016 staff:
- Tommy Tuberville — Head coach: From Arkansas, coached in the SEC, previously at Texas Tech
- Zac Taylor — Offensive coordinator: From Nebraska, coached at Texas A&M, previously with the Miami Dolphins
- Robert Prunty — Co-defensive coordinator: From Virginia, previously at Texas Tech
- Steve Clinkscale — Co-defensive coordinator: From Youngstown, coached at Toledo, previously at Illinois
- J.B. Grimes — Offensive line: From Arkansas, coached in the south, previously at Auburn
- Blake Rolan — Wide receivers: From Georgia, previously at Tennessee
- Ty Linder — Special teams: From Texas, coached in Texas, previously at TCU
- Jeff Koonz — Linebackers: From New York, coached in the Big 12 and SEC, previously at Louisiana Tech
As you can see, there aren’t a lot of local connections. Am I saying only local coaches can be successful? Of course not. But when you’re serious about changing UC’s relationship with the city of Cincinnati, it makes sense to dig in deep, and that’s what Luke Fickell has done with his staff so far. Here’s a look at his first group of hires:
- Luke Fickell — Head coach: From Columbus, coached at Ohio State and Akron, previously at Ohio State
- Marcus Freeman — Defensive coordinator: From Huber Heights, coached at Ohio State and Kent State, previously at Purdue
- Mike Denbrock — Offensive coordinator: From Michigan, coached in Michigan and in the Pac 12, previously at Notre Dame
- Doug Phillips — Special teams: From Youngstown, coached high school near Toledo, at Bowling Green and Ohio State, previously at Iowa State
- Joker Phillips — Offense (we don’t know yet): From Kentucky, coached at Cincinnati, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Florida, and with the Cleveland Browns, previously at Ohio State
- Al Washington — Defense (we don’t know yet): From Columbus, previously coached at Boston College
- Brady Collins — Strength and conditioning: From Columbus, coached at Kentucky and Mississippi State, previously at Ohio State
- Mike Stacchiotti — Assistant strength and conditioning: From Youngstown, played at Baldwin-Wallace, previously at Colorado State
You couldn’t get much more local if you tried. Even the guys who come directly from a program outside of the Cincinnati region have ties back to Ohio or Indiana. The only member currently on the staff who hasn’t spent time in the state is Mike Denbrock, but he’s spent six years at Notre Dame and ten years around Michigan, both areas that dip heavily into the Cincinnati recruiting pool.
Luke Fickell seems serious about lasering in on the Queen City, and the staff he’s putting together proves it. Time will tell how successful he is with changing the program’s relationship with the city, but he’s hiring a group of guys who bring the right mentality and likely can’t imagine playing football with anything other than kids from Cincinnati, the state of Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.
The Bearcats may be (finally) going local, and I love where they’re headed.