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Why Arizona should, and shouldn’t, hire SJSU Brent Brennan

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San Jose Sate head coach Brent Brennan stands on the sideline and signals to one of his players. (Courtesy of San Jose State University Athletics.)

It has been a week since Kevin Sumlin was relieved of his head coaching duties with Arizona football which prompted the university's official search for his replacement. The football program is in a rough state right about now, near rock bottom, and the correct hire could be the much-needed culture reset needed to turn things around. 

Let’s take a look at one of the top candidates, and maybe even the most likely, in San Jose State University head coach Brent Brennan.

Profile

Brennan, 47 years old, has been a long time West Coast football guy. He was a wide receiver for UCLA in 1993 and 1994 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors in 1998. His connection with Arizona started in 2000 when he served as an assistant under legendary Wildcats’ coach Dick Tomey. 

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Only filling that position for a season, Brennan then moved to Cal Poly as a wide receivers coach from 2001-2004. The Tomey/Brennan reunion started in 2005 when Brennan joined the staff primarily as a recruiting coordinator but was also a rangy assistant coach throughout the whole offense. 

Coach Brennan was on staff throughout the whole Tomey era at SJSU — which was a successful one — winning the school's first bowl game since 1990 in the 2006 New Mexico Bowl. Brennan was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in 2008 and special teams coordinator and served that position till 2010 when Mike MacIntyre was hired as SJSU head coach. 

When coach MacIntyre began his tenure, Brennan stayed on for one season as a wide receivers coach again before moving on to coach wide receivers at Oregon State. Brennan stayed put at Oregon State as a receivers coach from 2011-2016 until he was hired as the head coach at San Jose State, almost hand-picked by Dick Tomey himself. 

Brennan’s time as the program leader for the Spartans started out slow but is currently at the height of a really impressive turnaround. The Spartans are 6-0, ranked #24 in the playoff rankings and are set to play Boise State in the Mountain West title game on Dec. 19. This will be the first-ever Mountain West Championship game SJSU has participated in and 6-0 is the best start ever for the Spartans. 

Reasons To hire Brent Brennan

For West Coast schools, it is important to hire someone who understands the culture and different nature of college football on this side of the country. Brennan is the epitome of a West Coast coach and has figured out how to navigate boosters, recruiting and overall development of a struggling program like San Jose State and now Arizona. 

Brennan is a true Dick Tomey disciple and the connection to the Arizona football program is already there. He will be able to get connected with the Tucson community, football, university alumni and boosters very well and preach excitement about this program — which is something Sumlin frankly never did. It would be quite a refreshing change of football leadership to see the man at the top genuinely love the program he is leading and is a welcoming figure to all university legends. 

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San Jose State, like Arizona, is a hard place to win football games but, with the right staff, it is possible as past coaches like Tomey have proven. Brennan took over a really beat up football program in 2016, which struggled to get back on their feet when MacIntyre left. He basically rebuilt the whole department from the ground up and took the punches along the way. The Spartans only had three wins in Brennan’s first two seasons but took a giant step in his third year by posting a 5-7 record and winning games at Arkansas and Army, and winning the rivalry game over Fresno State to finish the season. 

In terms of moral victories, SJSU took the top dog of the Mountain West to the wire last season as well. During that 5-7 season in 2019, Brennan turned quarterback Josh Love into the Mountain West Player of the Year. All of the pieces were put into place this season as the Spartans have locked in a bowl game and potentially the first Mountain West Title in school history. During this successful season, Brennan was awarded as the Mountain West Coach of the Year and his defense fielded the conference Defensive Player of the Year in Cade Hall. 

One final perk of bringing Brennan on is the rumor that he brings in highly sought after Oregon defensive line coach Joe Salave’a. Salave’a was a defensive lineman for the University of Arizona from 1994-97 and went on to play in the NFL. Salave’a was also an assistant defensive line coach at SJSU in 2008-2009 when Tomey was the head coach and Brennan was on the offensive side of coaching. 

Risks of hiring Brent Brennan

Patience will be needed if Brennan takes charge with Arizona. His career coaching record is still only 14-29 in his  four seasons with the Spartans.

Could this very successful season be setting unrealistic expectations for Brennan? The community and boosters will need to give Brennan time to build his staff, recruit a couple of classes and, most importantly, implement the culture he built at SJSU. 

Will he receive this time from a university that is dying for any resemblance of football success? That will be the ultimate question. He is stepping into a very dire situation and it will not be an overnight light switch kind of change. 

My Analysis

This hire should be an easy one for Arizona athletic director David Heeke. The easy choice is Brennan. He already knows how to recruit on the West Coast and at a low tier program within their own conference. The Tomey connection will go such a long way with the fan base and the alumni and with the genuine excitement he provides, there is a good possibility he makes Tucson his coaching home for multiple decades given the success that might follow.  


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Updated December 7, 2021