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December 10, 2012

Tuberville’s challenge: Attract Cincinnati fans

CINCINNATI — Tommy Tuberville’s next challenge is to turn Cincinnati’s already successful football program into something interesting enough to bring out the crowds and get other conferences interested, too.

It would help if he stuck around for a while.

The 58-year-old coach from Texas Tech brought a high-profile name to the football program when he was hired as head coach on Saturday. His predecessors were up-and-comers — an assistant at Ohio State, two Mid-American Conference coaches — who used the job as a career launch point.

The Bearcats hope Tuberville helps them become more than just a stepping stone.

“His resume, his experience speak for themselves,” senior quarterback Brendon Kay said. “I think it’s going to allow us to buy into what he’s selling right away.”

Mainly, he has to sell the program.

The Bearcats (9-3) have won or shared the Big East title in four of the last five seasons under Brian Kelly, who left for Notre Dame after three years, and Butch Jones, who left for Tennessee on Friday after his third season.

Even though they’ve been a success on the field, they’ve struggled to fill 35,000-seat Nippert Stadium. They’ve had to settle being a low-profile championship team stuck in a conference that’s coming apart because of defections.

The Bearcats even tried to leave a few weeks ago, lobbying the Atlantic Coast Conference. It chose rival Louisville instead.

Cincinnati still could jump to a bigger conference as realignment continues in the coming years. Tuberville’s hiring gives it a recognizable face for the football program that could make it more attractive to outsiders.

“It certainly was not done with that intent,” athletic director Whit Babcock said. “And I want our friends in the Big East to know we’re happy to compete in the league and we want to win it. So no, it was not done with that angle in mind.

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