But 2001 Highlands graduate Gino Guidugli, 36, stands in the middle of the Bubble watching the Bearcats go over various plays preparing for the bowl game Thursday. Guidugli is in his third season as an assistant coach with the Bearcats. Guidugli came on staff in February of 2017 as a running backs coach and is now the quarterbacks coach.
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"It's been great. I thought when I got into coaching in 2013, my dream was always to try to get back here. The University of Cincinnati was great to me," Guidugli said. "To coach the position I played at the place I played it is special. I don't take it for granted one day I'm here."
Guidugli came back to his alma mater after spending six season as an assistant at Central Michigan University. The former Highlands and Cincinnati quarterback still holds career passing records for the Bearcats with 880 completions on 1,556 attempts to go with 11,453 yards and 78 touchdowns. Guidugli also holds UC single-season marks for passing yards with 3,543 with 258 completions on 472 attempts.
During his time as the UC starting quarterback between 2001 and 2004, Guidugli led the Bearcats to three bowl berths, one Conference-USA title and a Fort Worth Bowl win, 32-14 over Marshall his senior year. Guidugli is the lone signal-caller in school history to throw for 3,500 yards or more in a season and thew 14 career game of 300-plus passing yards.
UC Head Coach Luke Fickell noted the importance of having coaches like Guidugli on staff. Fickell took the job at UC in December of 2016.
"To have some guys, it means a little different. I don't mean it doesn't mean as much to be and it doesn't mean as much to (UC Defensive Coordinator and linebackers) Coach (Marcus) Freeman because it's not our alma mater," Fickell said. "But the whole history, longevity and even the story of where he's come from makes it that much different. That doesn't make you a great coach. It doesn't mean you're going to be great just right here, but there are some different things and I think it's unique the relationship and the ability to communicate and talk with a quarterback because it's a different position. Sometimes if you haven't played and been in those situations, I think it's a little bit difficult to get that true bond to be able to relate to them. I think he has a pretty unique history, but also a knack to playing the position and an understanding that everyone is a little bit different and can provide a different prospective for them."
In a 10-3 season that saw the Bearcats win the American Athletic Conference East Division championship, Guidugli helped guide an offense that averages 29 points and 385 yards per game including 187.4 passing. Sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder has completed 165-of-301 passes for 2,069 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
The quarterbacks have spread the ball out well for the Bearcats. Fifteen different players have receptions for UC.
"It's just about getting out here and executing on a daily basis with the alignments and the assignments making sure everybody is on the same page and everybody is seeing the coverage the same, getting the proper depths," Guidugli said. "Quarterbacks have to make the proper drop. All that plays into it."
Cincinnati lost two tight ones to the University of Memphis Tigers including a 29-24 defeat in the conference championship game. The Bearcats started their program in 1885 and this team is trying to become the second in school history to post consecutive 11 or more wins in consecutive seasons.
"Coach Fickell is moving it in the right direction for sure," Guidugli said. "We're getting the right kids in. We have a great group of kids who know how to work and then do everything necessary to win."
The Bearcats head to Birmingham (Alabama) Bowl on Thursday to face the Boston College Eagles (6-6) at 3 p.m. at Legion Field. The Eagles fired Head Coach Steve Addazio after the regular season concluded. Wide receivers coach Rich Gunnell is serving as the Interim Head Coach.
"We don't have any control over what they're doing or their situation. It's obviously not a good one. But those guys will hungry to go down there and get a win to finish the season the right way," Guidugli said. "We have to make sure we match their energy and their preparation to go down there and get our 11th win of the season."
Over the years, Guidugli has seen a number of improvements not only around the campus, but across the city. The population of the city has grown to more than 300,000 in recent years.
"I think our university and our program having the city of Cincinnati as a backdrop is definitely attractive to kids," Guidugli said. "The education you're going to receive here and all the avenues a city that size gives you once you earn your degree. Those are all things we sell in the recruiting process not to mention it's a great place to live, work and to go to school."
Guidugli has areas of the country he's the primary recruiting contact for. He recruits the Chicago area, the Commonwealth of Kentucky, south Georgia and Jacksonville.
Guidugli and his wife Michelle have two boys in Ryland and Ezra. He noted the importance of making time for the family.
"It's hard. I think anytime you're going to be successful whether it's something in business or coaching or in sports, I think it's more about the time that you do get with your family just making sure when you get home that you're locked in," Guidugli said. "You have energy for them just like you do here at practice. Coack Fickell does a nice job trying to keep practice open and keep us (coaches) close to our families, keep them involved."
Guidugli noted Mondays on game planning days can be hard for coaches and families. But the coaches take an hour or two away from coaching on Mondays to have dinner with the families. The kids end up playing with each other as well.