If there was any uncertainty about newly hired head coach Jedd Fisch’s commitment to embracing the tradition of Arizona football, it might be gone now — or at least somewhat put to rest.
“We will bring back the Desert Swarm and we will do it in our unique way,” Fisch said in a virtual webinar held by the school on Wednesday, Dec. 23. “We need to swarm the state of Arizona, we need to own the state of Arizona. We have a five game lead in the Territorial Cup and after 94 games, we need to extend that lead.”
Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke described his perfect head coaching candidate as someone who is “committed to the mission and the purpose of the University of Arizona,” and someone who “embodies the incredible ‘Bear Down’ spirit.”
The outside consensus seemed to be that the Wildcats’ next head coach should be a former player or alumni who has previous ties to the school. Fisch is not a former player nor is he an alumni. So what did Heeke and the rest of the hiring team see in Fisch that made them so confident in naming him the new man in charge?
“His experiences, his passion,” Heeke said. “I talked about, you know, energy, enthusiasm, all of those components, but also having a sincere understanding and appreciation for what that Bear Down spirit is in our history. Our tradition, the toughness. Those types of things are incredibly important as we build a program.”
Many skeptics have also pointed towards his track record, specifically his inability to hold a job for longer than a single season. Fisch has had eight different coaching jobs in the last 10 years which may sound concerning at first glance, until you hear his explanation as to why he has been bouncing around the coaching world for so long.
“The easy answer is none of those stops were to become a head coach,” Fisch said. “This is the stop to become a head coach, so there is nowhere else to go. This is where I want to be. That was the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream and the ultimate path to get there for me. A lot of people take a lot of different paths. Our profession, as you know, is extremely unique in that regard. A lot of times you wind up either leaving a job based on circumstances or opportunity, and I’ve had some incredible opportunities to learn. And I, at that point in time, didn’t want to pass up those opportunities so when this head coaching job was to arise, I was going to be ready and the most prepared I possibly could be.”
Fisch, 44, enters the job with over 20 years of coaching experience and is finishing up his first season with the New England Patriots as the quarterbacks coach after two years as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Rams. Fisch was also UCLA’s offensive coordinator in 2017 and served as the interim head coach for the final two games of the season following the dismissal of Bruins’ head coach Jim Mora.
Fisch has also made coaching stops at Minnesota, Miami and Michigan, where he has been praised by many as one of the biggest contributors to the success of the Wolverines’ passing game during his time in Michigan during the 2015-16 season.
“[Fisch] is not our new head coach simply because of his track record in the National Football League, or in college football,” Heeke said. “[Fisch] is also not the new head coach just because he interviewed for the job three years ago or just because he has a a pre existing relationship with us… Jedd Fisch is our new head football coach because he's the right man at the right time to rebuild and bring this program back to prominence.”
Having previous connections to the program seemed to be one of the biggest non-negotiables during this coaching search. Although the school opted to go in a different direction, Fisch is undoubtedly committed to bridging the gap between the football program and its alumni. Fisch said that he wants the team’s spring practices to be open to the media and fans, if the COVID-19 guidelines allow for it, to create a community-like environment surrounding the football team.
“We want people to watch us go, we want our alumni and we want our fans and we want people to see what we do,” Fisch said. “I want everyone to understand how hard we're going to work, how much we're going to try to get back to where it once was in 1998.”
Fisch is all about embracing the Arizona tradition and learning from the past. He is so committed to rebranding this program that he has already had meetings with the current team as well as conversations with former alumni such as Tedy Bruschi and Steve Kerr.
“It was really outstanding to be able to talk to both those groups prior to this,” Fisch said. “The biggest message that I wanted to give to the football alumni is that I understand the history and what has gone on here over the course of time, and I’ve really done my research on what it looked like when Larry Smith was the head coach. And then when Dick Tomey was the head coach. And then when John Mackovic was the head coach. And then when Mike Stoops was the head coach. And then when Rich Rodriguez was the head coach. And then when Kevin Sumlin was the head coach and I recognize and see what has gone on and what some of the positives and negatives were in each one of those years and tenures and times.”
Fisch is certainly going to have his work cut out for him in Tucson after the departures of several key players such as quarterback Grant Gunnell, wide receivers Jamarye Joiner, Boobie Curry, Stanley Berryhill III, Ma’jon Wright and several others.
This will not be an instant turnaround and Fisch is well aware of the challenges up ahead. So, for now, the only thing he can focus on is building a winning environment within the locker room.
“Our identity is gonna be toughness,” Fisch said. “Mental toughness and physical toughness. It’s gonna be about a team that will never, ever, ever stop competing… Offensively, I can tell you we’ll be a precision passing game. I’ve always been a guy that’s thrown the football, but I’ve also been on teams that have led the league in rushing. Including this year. I’ve been on teams, when we were with the Rams, that we ended up No. 2 in rushing and at the Super Bowl. We’re going to find a way to run the football. Really in order to know if your team is tough, you better know how to run the football, you better be able to stop the run, and you better be able to cover kicks. If you can do those three things we know we’re gonna have a tough football team.”
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