Three weeks into his new job, Jedd Fisch is tired of talking about himself.
He hasn’t had much of a choice up to this point. The new coach of the Arizona Wildcats had to persuade coaches to come to Tucson. He had to persuade players to stick around. He had to sell himself and his vision for the program.
With those initial, critical tasks — staffing and player retention — nearing completion, Fisch can turn his attention elsewhere. Specifically, he can talk about the coaches he has brought aboard — how the group came together and how it will work together.
“The double whammy of staffing and retaining players has been quite the time commitment,” Fisch told the Star on Wednesday. “It’s been a lot of talking — a lot of selling and telling. It almost feels like you’re talking about yourself way too much, trying to get people to either want to come or stay. You want to get out of that mode a little bit and start being able to really get to know others.”
Arizona has announced nine of 10 on-field assistants. The 10th is expected to be Keith Dudzinski, a longtime confidante of new defensive coordinator Don Brown.
When he interviewed for the job in mid-December, Fisch came armed with names and concepts for his staff. Offensive aides such as Brennan Carroll and Jimmie Dougherty — who had worked with Fisch in the past — fell into the “name” category. Running backs coach Scottie Graham fell into the “concept” category. He hadn’t worked with Fisch but fit a specific profile, having played the position in the NFL and accumulated experience in leadership roles afterward.
Brown fell into a category of his own. Fisch didn’t expect him to be available. They had a prior relationship and Brown’s approach matched what Fisch wanted in a defensive coordinator. As Brown put it: “We have a good relationship, but we also share a very similar professional philosophy as it pertains to the game of football and recruiting.”
Some of the coaches have connections to one another. Some don’t. They all fit certain criteria Fisch outlined to UA President Robert C. Robbins and athletic director Dave Heeke.
Fisch discussed staffing at length with the Star. Here are three key takeaways from that conversation:
First and foremost, Fisch said, “I wanted to make sure that all of my weaknesses were covered.” Fisch has an offensive background. The youngest coaches on the staff are on that side of the ball. The defensive coaches who’ve been announced — Brown, Chuck Cecil, Ricky Hunley and DeWayne Walker — are all over 50 and have a wealth of experience in college and the NFL. The defense will be in good hands.
The second goal, Fisch said, was “to make sure that we had a broad-based vision of where Arizona football needs to go. And in order to do that, we needed to look in the past and see where Arizona was.”
Fisch said he planned to hire between two and four UA alumni in different capacities. Cecil and Hunley fit that description. Others could be added in operations or administrative roles. Fisch said he wants everyone, including himself, to have a better understanding of Arizona’s history.
The third aim was to ensure all bases were covered in recruiting. Fisch reiterated that the Wildcats’ four main recruiting areas will be Arizona, Southern California, Nevada and “a part of Texas.”
The addition of Brown opens possibilities in the Northeast. Fisch also has connections in that part of the country. Brown, Fisch and Carroll have ties in Florida.
But those East Coast regions will be reserved for “pinpoint shots,” Fisch said. “The rest of our group really needs to kind of swarm” the primary recruiting footprint, he said.
‘Consistency of culture’
Fisch broke into college coaching under Steve Spurrier at Florida. At a staff meeting Monday, Fisch posted a graphic showing Spurrier’s record with the Gators: 122-27-1 over 12 seasons. Also of note: UF had only 11 staff changes during that time, per Fisch.
“The stability that they showed,” Fisch said, “I call it the consistency of culture.”
Spurrier urged his assistants to embrace Gainesville. Fisch is urging his aides to do the same with Tucson.
If you want to go for a jog, he told them, jog on campus. Your kids, if available, will be ball boys and girls at practice.
“Are you good with that? If you’re good with that, then we want you on board,” Fisch said. “If you’re not good with that, then there’s probably other jobs for you.”
To say that Arizona has lacked stability would be an understatement. Fisch is the Wildcats’ second head coach in a three-year span. Assistants seldom have lasted more than two or three seasons. Graham will be Arizona’s fifth running backs coach in as many years.
“It’s super-hard to pull it off,” conceded Fisch, who hasn’t stayed in one place for more than two years since 2007.
That’s why Fisch is promoting the slogan, “It’s personal.”
“If we make it personal first and professional second, we have a much better chance of sustaining our culture and keeping people here,” Fisch said.
“What starts happening is, you say ‘No’ when someone reaches out rather than ‘How much?’ That’s really the key that we’re gonna try to build off of.”
Fisch will be the game-day play-caller on offense. He also has an offensive coordinator/offensive line coach in Carroll and a passing-game coordinator/quarterbacks coach in Dougherty. How will all of that work exactly?
Fisch cited the coaching structures of the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers. Both of their head coaches, Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan, call plays. They also have multiple coordinators who act as sounding boards and messengers. (Fisch worked under McVay and Shanahan’s father, Mike.)
As the head coach at Arizona, Fisch can’t sit in on every offensive meeting. At times, he won’t be available.
“That’s why those two positions had to be guys I worked with before,” Fisch said, referring to Carroll and Dougherty. “They had to be guys that know how I operate as a play-caller. They know exactly what I need and — I know this sounds selfish — what I require to be able to be as good as I can at my job.”
Fisch worked with Carroll at Miami and with Dougherty at Michigan and UCLA. It shouldn’t take them much time, if any, to get on the same page of the playbook.
“When we all sit down and talk together, we’ll have a good idea of where those ideas came from,” Fisch said. “It’s not just, pick something over here, pick something over here.”
- Eight assistant coaches are scheduled to meet with local media Thursday. Carroll will not participate. He was scheduled to arrive in Tucson on Wednesday. His season with the Seattle Seahawks ended Saturday.
- Asked if he was seeking to add more quarterbacks to the roster, Fisch said: “I’m seeking to add more of everything.” He did say that his ideal number of scholarship QBs is five. Arizona currently has two: Will Plummer and Kevin Doyle. High school prospect Clay Millen committed to the UA but didn’t sign in December after the coaching change. The Wildcats could add one more quarterback via the NCAA transfer portal.
- Fisch will hold his first team meeting Friday. It will take place in person, with social distancing, at the Cole and Jeannie Davis Sports Center.
- Senior offensive lineman Steven Bailey will not return to the team. “I have made the difficult decision that it is time to move on with my life and officially hang up the cleats,” Bailey posted on Twitter.