Nobody in their right mind thought San Jose State coach Brent Brennan would be open to commenting about the Arizona coaching vacancy when his unbeaten Spartans are in the midst of preparing for their first bowl game in five years.
The question had to be asked, however.
KVOA’-TV’s David Kelly led off the Zoom press conference today with that question.
“There’s a big elephant in the room,” Kelly said. “I know last week you were asked about your name being bandied about for the Arizona job. What contact have you had with the Wildcats concerning their football position?”
When Kelly was asking the question, Brennan raised a stop sign that read, “Stop!!!!! I’m climbing the mountain!!!!!”
Brent Brennan’s response to a question on a Zoom press conference call if Arizona AD Dave Heeke has communicated to him about the coaching vacancy: pic.twitter.com/KiGR8yR2Bl
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) December 21, 2020
“I think anytime when there’s going to be those questions, those things are going to come up from people in the athletics world and in the media world who want to try and find something to talk about or fill in the void with it,” Brennan said.
“It’s really a reflection on what’s happening here at San Jose State. It’s a reflection of what’s happening with the players and what this team has accomplished, which has just been, in my opinion, nothing short of exceptional and so it’s pretty cool to be a part of that.”
The Spartans (7-0) are undergoing a remarkable resurgence under Brennan. They are headed to Tucson to play Mid-American Conference champion Ball State (6-1) in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve after winning their first Mountain West championship last week against Boise State in Las Vegas.
Brennan, 47, first coached at San Jose State from 2005 to 2009 under legendary Arizona coach Dick Tomey, whom Brennan calls his “football dad,” and then 2010 under Mike MacIntyre.
A graduate assistant under Tomey at Arizona during the tumultuous 2000 season, Tomey’s last as head coach with the Wildcats, Brennan coached at Oregon State from 2011 to 2016 before taking on his first head coaching job with San Jose State in 2017.
.@theARIZONABOWL participant @BallStateFB & coach @BSUCoachNeu don’t have history in Arizona or much at all in West Coast but Neu has a background with 2 people in Tucson — sports personality @MikeFeder & UA offensive line coach @CoachDeVan. The story: https://t.co/BEpXLnNnrf
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) December 21, 2020
The Spartans went 2-11 in his first season and 1-11 in his second season in 2018, but even through that stretch, he worked diligently with a lot of creativity to have his players believe in him and the program’s future.
“There were six games (in 2018) where we were tied, leading, or one possession down in the fourth quarter,” said Brennan, whose brother Brad was a receiver at Arizona from 1996 to 2000. “So trying to explain to the team how close we were going into 2019, I took screenshots of all those scoreboards and I kind of stacked them in blocks on top of each other, and I posted them in every locker.
“I was like, you know, now we need to learn how to finish. Now we need to learn how to make big plays in those moments late in the game, where someone has to step up, someone has to make a play to finish it for us. That kind of started to gain momentum.”
Climbing the mountain.
Also a protégé of Salpointe grad and Desert Swarm mastermind Rich Ellerson, Brennan’s program has gone 12-7 in the last two years.
The unbeaten regular season puts him in contention for national coach of the year honors. He is one of the finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award. Other finalists are Tom Allen of Indiana, Matt Campbell of Iowa State, Jamey Chadwell of Coastal Carolina, Karl Dorrell of Colorado, Luke Fickell of Cincinnati, Nick Saban of Alabama, Kalani Sitake of BYU, and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney.
Head Coach @CoachBrennan named finalist for the 2020 Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year Award 🏅
— San José State Football 🏆 (@SanJoseStateFB) December 21, 2020
A reporter asked Brennan if he thought at the beginning of the season he would be in the conversation with those names for coach of the year.
“I would say, no, I didn’t expect that,” Brennan said with a chuckle. “But I think anytime that stuff happens, you know, those being nominated for those things, or our players being all-conference, it just speaks to what the team has done.
“If we sucked, I’m not on that list, right?”
When Brennan said that, my mind went instantly to Adia Barnes and her candor as coach of Arizona’s sixth-ranked basketball team. Barnes speaks to the media as if the press conferences are being held with everybody sitting at a bar.
Some coaches have canned responses and overly-strict media policies. Barnes’ approach is a breath of fresh air. Brennan is of the same mold.
San Jose State’s players have bought into Brennan’s sayings, many learned from Tomey, and his forthright and congenial manner with them.
He said his two favorite Tomeyisms are “The harder it gets, the better we play” and “Football is not complicated, people are.”
“Coach Tomey is more than my football dad, he is a really important man to me,” Brennan said. “I think about Coach every day. I think he would have loved what this team has been through.
“He would love the part of the challenge that COVID-19 presented teams. He would have really ate that up and flourished in that space. I use a lot of his phrases. I talk about him all the time. He’s always been a real point of reference for me.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.