The story starts with the Rich Rodriguez era. The year is 2012 and the Arizona Wildcats hire former Michigan Wolverines coach to turn their program around. The first season went well finishing fourth in the Pac-12 and defeating the Nevada Wolfpack in an exciting 49-48 win in the New Mexico bowl.
In Rodriguez’s second season as head coach, the team had a similar year to its previous, where they also were 8-5 with a victory in their end-of-the-season bowl game. After getting his feet wet in the desert, fans were hoping he could take that next step and put this Wildcat program on a national level spotlight. They went 10-4 in the regular season and won the Pac-12 South but ended up losing in the conference championship game to Oregon.
While still earning a berth to the Fiesta Bowl left everyone surrounding the team hopeful as it is one of the most meaningful postseason bowls in college football. The Wildcats fell behind early in the game but stormed all the way back with a touchdown to tie the game against Boise State.
Freshman quarterback, Anu Solomon, completed a 43-yard pass moving the chains to put them at Boise State’s eight-yard line with only 23 seconds to play. Solomon looked scared in the moment as it was the biggest of his career and ended up getting sacked while time expired for the game.
Rodriguez and the Wildcats took a step back in the following season, winning only seven games. This continued to be the trend with his tenure in Tucson, ever since that magical 2014 season he could never get back to that level. He finished his coaching career at Arizona with 3-9 and 7-6 seasons and at that point, the end was clearly in sight. There was one thing that was clear, a change needed to be made.
The Wildcats would then hire former Texas A&M coach, Kevin Sumlin, a very highly sought-after coach following a ton of success in the SEC. There was one clear leader on the team when Sumlin arrived, and his name was: Khalil Tate. After coming off a monster 2017 season of over 3,000 total yards and 26 touchdowns, major sports outlets viewed Tate as a real contender for the 2018 Heisman trophy. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and was the talk of the town. But he struggled all season to find the same stride for a season ago that led people hyping him up.
The team finished with a poor 5-7 record, but Tate still improved his throwing ability as he had 2,500 yards and 26 touchdowns to wrap up his junior season. The Wildcats took another step back, winning only four games while looking unprepared and disinterested at points during the year. Tate shared reps at the quarterback spot throughout the season with talented young prospect Grant Gunnell, and the two-QB system didn’t seem to work for anyone involved in the situation.
Sumlin ended his reign as the Arizona head football coach with an embarrassing 0-5 season, where he seemed to lose the locker room at a point in the season. This season was highlighted by a 70-7 loss at home in the territorial cup against in-state rival Arizona State and after that game the chance of Sumlin returning looked very slim.
On the bright side, it is impossible to take another step back this upcoming season, right?
In December of 2020, The Arizona Wildcats hired former New England Patriots quarterbacks coach, Jedd Fisch.
Fisch has been all over the place in his coaching career from interim head coach to offensive coordinator to an offensive assistant. The Wildcats will not be lacking experience from their new coaching staff, to say the least. Fisch then hired Don Brown, veteran defensive coordinator, Brennan Carroll to run his offense and Chuck Cecil to be his defensive backs coach. Fisch said he wants to build a family that will stick together for years to come, and this seems like a good start.
One of Fisch’s sayings since he arrived on campus has been, “It's Personal.” The saying has a ton of different meanings, but the theme stays the same: everything this team does means something while taking on the underdog mentality.
Fisch has already done a very good job at recruiting, as they have the fourth-ranked class in the Pac-12 and No. 36 overall in 2022 according to 247sports. He also picked up the school’s first four-star prospect in three years.
In the end, we will have to judge Fisch and company by their actions over the next few years but the program looks to be on the rise for the first time in a few years.
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