After a few days of soul-searching, Luke Fickell came to the conclusion that he had to act with his and his family’s best interests in mind.
"All in all, (I had) to step back and make a selfish decision," Fickell said Monday of his choosing to remain as football coach at the University of Cincinnati rather than pursue the open position at Michigan State.
"That’s what I’ll end up telling the guys. I’ll apologize (and say) this selfish decision is what was right for my family, and that’s to be here, to be with you guys and to continue to do what we’ve done."
It’s hard to imagine he’ll get any complaints from his Bearcats players or the UC fan base.
Fickell, who played and coached at Ohio State, had been considered the front-runner to take the Michigan State job since the surprise announcement last week that coach Mark Dantonio was retiring after 13 seasons.
A 46-year-old Columbus native, Fickell has compiled a 26-13 record in three seasons with Cincinnati, including back-to-back 11-win campaigns and an appearance in the American Athletic Conference championship game in December.
Michigan State zeroed in on Fickell as the top target from the start of a search process. Fickell and Dantonio were on Jim Tressel’s staff together at Ohio State, and Dantonio, who served as UC’s coach for three seasons from 2004-06, has been a frequent source for guidance during Fickell’s career.
But the Spartans also inquired about other candidates, including San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and University of Colorado coach Mel Tucker. In recent days, both said they had no intentions of leaving their current positions.
Michigan State athletic director Bill Beekman was among of group of MSU administrators who arrived in Cincinnati late Saturday to interview Fickell at his home but returned to East Lansing on Sunday without an agreement.
The Detroit Free Press on Monday reported that Fickell turned down the job in part because of concerns he and his wife, Amy, had expressed about campus culture at Michigan State, including lawsuits roiling the football department.
MSU has faced several controversies in recent years, including the coverup of Larry Nassar’s sexual assaults of gymnasts and an ESPN report of sexual assaults by athletes. More recently, former football staffer Curtis Blackwell alleged in a lawsuit that Dantonio violated NCAA rules in arranging jobs for recruits’ families.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Fickell ever received an offer from MSU. But on Monday morning, Fickell tweeted a video of a Bearcats locker room celebration and wrote: "Looking forward to more of this in 2020!"
According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Fickell decided to stay after having conversations with new UC athletic director John Cunningham on Monday.
Sources told The Enquirer that Cunningham and Fickell discussed a contract extension last month, but the two sides did not come to an agreement, in part, because of the terms of the buyout. Fickell and previous AD Mike Bohn had similar issues while discussing an extension in July, according to sources.
But when Cunningham was hired in December, he already had given thought to Fickell’s importance to the university.
"You’re always thinking about that because when you find a great coach you want him to be a part of your program forever," Cunningham said.