Luke Fickell spends National Signing Day introducing additions to UC coaching staff

Keith Jenkins
Cincinnati Enquirer

Wednesday was National Signing Day, the start of the period where Class of 2022 high school football prospects can sign their National Letter of Intent and formally commit to the college and football program of their choice.

University of Cincinnati football coach Luke Fickell collected 20 signatures during December’s early signing period, stymieing most of the fun and suspense of the traditional February date.

National Signing Day: Cincinnati football announces Class of 2022 signees

But that didn't mean Fickell didn't have a busy signing day.

The 48-year-old coach, who has shifted his sights on the 2022 season, his sixth at the helm of the Bearcats program, spent much of the past month restructuring and reshaping his coaching staff after the departures of four of his assistants.

Fickell introduced his final product on Wednesday.

"It's been great for us and our program every year, being able to get some new perspective, some new energy, some new eyes on all that we're doing both offensively and defensively and as well as the program stuff," he said. "We've found a way each and every year – of losing some really, really good coaches and people – to find a way to get better. I feel like we've done that this year."

After having the same offensive coordinator – Mike Denbrock – during each of his first five seasons at Cincinnati, Fickell introduced Gino Guidugli as the team's new lead offensive orchestrator and play-caller. Guidugli replaces Denbrock, who took the same position at LSU.

More:Gino Guidugli, Bearcats' QBs coach, is UC's new offensive coordinator

Guidugli, a former standout quarterback for the Bearcats from 2001-04, joined Fickell's staff in February 2017 as the running backs coach. Guidugli moved over to coach the quarterbacks in 2018 and was named the passing game coordinator in March 2020.

When asked if being promoted to offensive coordinator at Cincinnati is a dream, Guidugli smiled.

Quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli instructs Desmond Ridder as the University of Cincinnati football team started 2020 training camp Wednesday, Aug. 5, at Higher Ground Conference and Retreat Center.

"This whole season and this whole run that we've been on has been unbelievable," said the 38-year-old. "To see our team kind of take it to the next level. There's been steps in this program since I made the decision to come here in 2001. It seems like with each coaching staff there's been progress and progress and progress. To see the group of guys that we had graduate last year kind of take us to the top of the mountain (College Football Playoff), the whole ride has been unbelievable.

"The opportunity to come back here and just be a position coach and to be able to coach the position I played, at the place I played it, has been an unbelievable experience. And now, to take the next step and be the guy calling the plays ... yeah, absolutely."

Quarterback Gino Guidugli looks for a pass during the University of Cincinnati' s game against the University of South Florida at Nippert Stadium, Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004.

Fickell formally welcomed Mike Cummings to Cincinnati as the Bearcats' new offensive line coach. Cummings, who replaces Ron Crook, brings 35 years of experience, including 16 seasons at Central Michigan where he coached with Guidugli on the Chippewas’ staff from 2010-13.

"It's really exciting to work with Gino, the way that he is right now," Cummings said. "He's not the same guy that I worked with before. He's really a great offensive mind. He's got a great feel for the game. That's pretty exciting. As I knew him as a younger coach, he really had a lot of insight into the game. I'm not surprised that he is where he is and doing what he's doing right now. It's really exciting to get back with him."

Fickell added former Bearcats defensive lineman and two-time team captain Walter Stewart to the defensive side of the ball as the team's new snipers coach, a position previously held by Brian Mason.

Mason, who also served as UC's special teams coordinator, left Cincinnati to take on the same role at Notre Dame.

Stewart said he's thrilled to be back at Cincinnati after coaching stops that included Eastern Kentucky and Temple.

UCFOOTBALLPITT05. SPORTS. NOVEMBER 5, 2011. The Bearcats defense celebrates after Walter Stewart recovers a Tino Sunseri fumble at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2011. (Sam Greene for The Enquirer)

"It's pretty impressive what coach (Fickell) has done here, especially with the culture, the development of the facilities and the pride that the guys have," said Stewart, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UC in 2012. "Playing here and graduating here, it's something that's really exciting being on the outside looking in and watching this thing grow. I'm just fired up to have the chance to add to it and bring whatever I can bring to help keep pushing this thing to the next level."

While Wednesday was Fickell's show, newly hired assistant Kerry Coombs stole it. Fickell introduced the former UC, Ohio State and Tennessee Titans assistant and former Colerain High School head football coach as Cincinnati's new cornerbacks coach and special teams coordinator.

Coombs, who replaces Perry Eliano, who left to coach the safeties at Ohio State, also brings an impressive recruiting pipeline back to the Bearcats.

More:It's official. Luke Fickell welcomes Kerry Coombs to Cincinnati Bearcats coaching staff

"We're going to recruit the best players in the country to play at the University of Cincinnati because we're one of the best programs in the country," said the 60-year-old Coombs. "We're not going to shy away or back away from recruiting anybody. Obviously, our emphasis is going to be local. It's going to be the 50-mile radius and then the 300-mile radius.

"But there are great players that have great interest in Cincinnati football. They saw an awful lot of good ball on national television played by the Bearcats this year. Kids want to be a part of that. And they should want to be a part of that. There are six kids at the Senior Bowl. There's going to be a lot of draft picks. It's an unbelievable university and a fantastic town. There's no reason why anybody should back away from being excited about playing at the University of Cincinnati."