A score that will never escape the minds and hearts of the Arizona faithful. Yes, 70-7, a painful memory that will even make 1920s University of Arizona football legend John “Button” Salmon roll over in his grave.
Dec. 11, 2020, will forever live in infamy as the worst and most embarrassing day in the history of the University of Arizona’s football program. I remember catching a glimpse of the final score of that game for the first time. I was completely shell-shocked and thought for a second that I had lost my sanity. I rubbed my eyes several times to make sure that I wasn’t seeing ghosts. I looked at the score again and it still read Arizona State 70 – Arizona 7.
Usually, my eyes deceive me, but not this day.
I recall feeling very embarrassed after reading the score. To make matters worse, the Arizona football team became the butt of jokes on Twitter. After reading some of the memes and mean tweets that Arizona State students had directed toward the team, I would have thought that roast master, Jeff Ross, was leading the trolling brigade.
That is how lethal those tweets were.
The worst part of all this was seeing a billboard on Interstate 10 that read, “NO PITTY FOR THE KITTY,” in all caps, along with two shields on both sides of the billboard reading “70-7.” A brutal reminder for Arizona football fans that have to make the work commute from Tucson to Phoenix every day. A clever troll that still leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
That final game of the season against ASU would go on to be the final game of the former Arizona football head coach Kevin Sumlin’s tenure as the man in charge. Leading up to that game, Sumlin had led the team to an abysmal 11-game losing streak that began back in the 2019-20 campaign. If that wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, that atrocious loss to the Sun Devils certainly was. Sumlin would be removed from his duties the very next day.
Immediately, the sweepstakes for finding a brand-new head coach to lead Tucson’s main football attraction began.
To many people’s surprise, the search for a new football coach concluded quickly. On Dec. 23, the University of Arizona decided to hire a coach from the New England Patriots. Don’t get too excited Arizona fans, it’s not the guy who you’re thinking.
It’s New England’s former quarterback’s coach, Jedd Fisch.
Fisch's coaching history
According to the American Football Database, the University of Florida alumnus officially began his coaching career when he worked under the capacity of defensive coordinator for PK Yonge Developmental Research School in the town of Gainesville, Florida, from 1997-98. He would then follow his first coaching gig with a short stint in the Arena Football League as quality control/wide receivers coach for the New Jersey Red Dogs in 1998.
In 1999, Fisch became a graduate assistant coach for the University of Florida football squad that was led by college football legend Steve Spurrier at the time, the same man that led the Gators to their first national title in the 1996-97 season. Not a bad mentor to learn from as much as possible if you ask me.
After his short stint with the Florida Gators, he would move up to the NFL and serve under the tutelage of head coach Dom Capers as an assistant to the head coach for the Houston Texans in 2001. In 2004, he would move back east and take on an offensive assistant role for the Baltimore Ravens. In the following season, he would then be promoted to two roles as assistant wide receivers and quarterbacks coach. Two roles he would continue to serve until the conclusion of the 2007 season. It was then off to the Mile High City as Fisch would serve as wide receivers coach for his lone season with the Denver Broncos in 2008.
In 2009, Fisch found himself back in the NCAA, joining forces with head coach Tim Brewster and the University of Minnesota football squad for a lone campaign as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator. The following year, he would join Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks as a quarterbacks coach for one season as well. In a blink of an eye, the NCAA came calling again as he landed a gig as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for the University of Miami football squad in 2011.
As someone from the Miami area, it's not a bad place to call home for a year or two.
Fisch sure loves to go from the NCAA to the NFL and vice versa every other year. After a stop in Miami, to no one’s surprise at this point, Fisch made his NFL return with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Serving as their offensive coordinator from 2013-14. After the 2014 season, he would be let go by the team after the offense finished at the bottom of almost every offensive category that season. Most notably, they finished dead last in total points per game with a mark of 15.6.
To be fair, to some extent, he was handcuffed by one of the worst quarterbacks in the league at the time in Blake Bortles. A season that saw Bortles throw a little under 3,000 yards passing, 11 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a poor quarterback rating of 69.5 to show for it. To put it in perspective, he’s former Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s body double. That is how bad he was at the quarterback position in 2014.
After Fisch departed from the Jaguars, hey, what do you know, another college team came calling. That team was the University of Michigan, who made Fisch their passing game coordinator and quarterbacks and wide receivers coach under the guidance of Jim Harbaugh in 2015. After his time with the Wolverines ended in 2016, he would go on to accept a position as offensive coordinator with UCLA in early 2017. In November of that same year, he was given his first taste at being the man in charge as he was named interim head coach after Jim Mora’s firing. He would help lead the Bruins to a Cactus Bowl appearance which they would lose 35-17 to Kansas State in late December of 2017.
About a month later, another Southern California team would inquire about Fisch’s services. No, it wasn’t USC, this time it was a team from the NFL, the Los Angeles Rams. He would serve as their senior offensive assistant from 2018-20. In his first year with the Rams, he would have the opportunity to go to his first Super Bowl. Los Angeles would lose in that game to the team that would eventually scoop him up in 2020. He served as the New England Patriots quarterbacks coach under head coach Bill Belichick for only one season last year.
Fisch as Arizona's head football coach
I understand why Fisch was a popular hire. He has worked under the tutelage of numerous impressive coaches in the collegiate and professional ranks such as Belichick, Harbaugh, Capers, Carroll and Spurrier, to name a few. All five of these coaches have won at least one national championship or one Super Bowl. He has spent the past three decades learning from some of the brightest minds in all of football and guys that have a niche for winning. Not to mention, due to his extensive experience as a quarterbacks coach, he could be a quarterback whisperer to a potential four-star or five-star quarterback recruit and be able to unlock his full potential.
However, being a head coach is much tougher than just serving as a team’s offensive assistant or coordinator. You must be able to have your players and coaching staff buy into your system and culture. It must be demonstrated that you will not tolerate any nonsense and always hold yourself accountable for your team’s performances. In college football especially, with the margin of error being so small, you must prove that you can win in bunches and not just win periodically. As of now, he has not checked any of these boxes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I wish Fisch all the best of luck during his tenure here at Arizona and want him to succeed as much as the next person. I hope that he can put a respectable product on the field again and bring the football team back to relevance. However, since the coaching search only took two weeks, it seems to me that the hire was a bit rushed and felt desperate, considering that there were other hot commodities for the job as well.
Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs comes to mind. Bieniemy played an integral role as coordinator and helped orchestrate an offensive juggernaut to two straight Super Bowl appearances. One of the most underrated coaches in his position, at any level, would have immediately won over the Arizona faithful simply due to his successful track record in the NFL.
Brian Daboll, offensive coordinator of the Buffalo Bills is another name that Arizona should have given a hard look. He was instrumental in quarterback Josh Allen’s development since his rookie year and was vastly responsible for his breakout season this past season. Helping lead a franchise to their first conference championship game appearance since 1993 is no small feat. He is a hire that would have made a lot of sense here and who I think could have brought Arizona back to the national spotlight.
I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Arizona was so quick to pull the trigger on Fisch. Obviously, everyone has an opinion of him right now, especially due to the current state of the football program. I’m not going to jump to any conclusions now, but his record of 1-7 as a head coach doesn’t help. We all gave him a fair shake, so he’s making it difficult not to rush to a critical assessment of his coaching performance thus far.
I will say this, though, hiring someone from arguably the most prestigious and successful franchise in the NFL doesn’t necessarily translate into immediate success. Look no further than former and current pupils of New England Patriots head coach, Belichick. Quite a few names come to mind such as Matt Patricia and Josh McDaniels to name a few.
Patricia was hired as the Detroit Lions head coach back in February of 2018. He was brought in to be the savior that could help right the ship of an abysmal franchise that always seemed to be stuck in reverse and rebuild mode. Unfortunately, the vision that Detroit had for Patricia never materialized, as he would go on to post an undesirable record of 13-29-1 overall. Most importantly, he could never win critical games against divisional opponents. He went only 2-13 combined vs. the NFC North with both of his wins coming against the Green Bay Packers strangely enough.
McDaniels is another coach from the Belichick coaching tree that could never pan out as a head coach. There’s no questioning his play-calling abilities as an offensive coordinator, however, calling plays and leading a team at the same time is a tall task for any coach. This was the case for his uninspiring and short-lived tenure with the Denver Broncos from 2009-10.
Denver fans quickly called for McDaniels’ job in his first season as head coach as he led the team to a mediocre 8-8 record after starting the year 6-0. This was the same guy responsible for trading away the Broncos’ franchise quarterback in Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears back in April 2009. He followed that move by running one of the most promising talents at the receiver position at the time, Brandon Marshall, out of town after the conclusion of the 2009 campaign. After posting an 11-17 record in two seasons, McDaniels was fired in January 2010.
A season filled with optimism has quickly become lost. The only games that Arizona has shown any promise were the opener against BYU, the road game at Oregon and the homecoming game vs. UCLA. The BYU game gave us a glimpse of what this team could become. The Oregon game showed us that they weren’t going to throw in the towel just because they suffered arguably the worst upset loss in school history to NAU. It’s inexcusable to lose to an inferior NAU team, especially at home, who hasn’t beaten you since 1932. Let alone a team that isn’t even part of any of the Power Five conferences. The Wildcats showed fight and were able to stay competitive at home with a good UCLA team until the fourth quarter happened.
This season hasn’t offered much to hang your hat on.
In their other games, the Wildcats were bulldozed by San Diego State at Arizona, 38-14. The Aztecs scored three touchdowns in the first seven minutes of that game. Racing off to a commanding 35-7 lead at the half. They could have run up the scoreboard but elected to take their foot off the gas pedal entirely, only scoring three points for the rest of the game.
Then there was last week’s game at Colorado.
In fairness, the defense played well in the first half, however, their performance was overshadowed by the offense’s ineptitude to score points. As cliché as this sounds, if you’re going to win games, you need to play complementary football. In the second half, the Wildcats never got the memo as they went on to get outscored 28-0 in the second half and suffered their first shutout loss of the season.
Right, when it looked like the Wildcats were going to vanquish their 18-game losing streak, Washington scores 14 unanswered in the fourth quarter as Arizona went on to lose a heartbreaker at home this past Friday.
To all the people that keep saying, “just wait till Fisch gets his recruits.”
Yeah, just stop.
I understand that it’s good to have hope, especially after a winless season and after the way this current season has been unfolding, but the team is stuck in a never-ending spiral since the early goings of the 2019 season. Fisch could still be the man that offsets all the deficiencies that were spawned by Sumlin and bring Arizona back to respectability.
However, he very well may not be the guy either, due to his lack of experience at a head coaching capacity and the track record of assistant coaches that can’t muster success anywhere not named New England.
Arizona football fans, I understand the optimism with the hire of Fisch. Nevertheless, don’t be surprised if he doesn’t turn the program around right away and never becomes the savior that many expect him to be.
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