Arizona Football

Jedd Fisch wants identity of “toughness” for Arizona in his first head coaching job

For about a half hour before Jedd Fisch was introduced as Arizona’s head football coach, he spent time on a Zoom call with Joe Tafoya, Brandon Sanders, Darrell Brooks, John Fina and Aaron Higginbotham and about 90 other former Arizona players

The discussion centered around Fisch wanting to incorporate all of the former Wildcats into his program, a message he said more than once in the media conference.

Fisch met with current players before facing the alumni, which all along has supported the idea of one of their own, such as Joe Salave’a or Antonio Pierce, to become the head coach.

(Arizona graphic)

“It was really outstanding to talk with both of those groups prior to this,” Fisch said during the media press conference. “The biggest message I wanted to give to the football alumni is that I understand the history and what has gone on here the course of time.

“What I’ve asked (the alumni) to do is open up this forum and open up this relationship and welcome our family to Tucson in the same way that we want to welcome them into our building. Our football facility and our practices are going to be open in the springtime. We want people to watch us go. We want our alumni, we want our fans and we want people to see what we do because I want everyone to understand how hard we’re going to work and how hard we’re going to work to get back to where it once was.”

Fisch is the first head coach at Arizona with no prior head coaching experience at the college level since Mike Stoops (2004-11) and the third in the last 50 years dating back to Jim Young’s hire in 1973 when Young was an assistant coach at Michigan.

Fisch, the quarterback coach for the New England Patriots, one of his 15 stops in 23 years as a coach, spoke from the Patriots’ practice facility. He was interrupted with a growl once by former Arizona placekicker Nick Folk, who is with the Patriots.

“Congrats coach,” Folk said.

Fisch also mentioned that he spoke twice with Arizona and Patriots legend Tedy Bruschi in the previous 24 hours about the task ahead with the Wildcats. He called it “an unbelievable conversation.”

“I understand where Arizona football was and I’m really looking forward to trying to get it back to that place that nobody wanted to play Arizona,” Fisch said. “We were a team that played angry. We were a team that played mad. We were a team that played tough and we were a team that held a team to rushing 30 yards a game, which is about the craziest statistic I think I might have heard in the game of football.”

Fisch is referring to the Desert Swarm era of the early 1990’s that included the likes of Sanders, Bruschi, Sean Harris, Rob Waldrop and Brant Boyer, which led into the time Salave’a was a defensive standout.

Salave’a, the co-defensive coordinator at Oregon, was clearly the fan favorite to replace Kevin Sumlin after Sumlin was fired following the 70-7 loss to ASU on Dec. 11.

Another candidate who drew the support of fans and former players was San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, a Dick Tomey disciple who has coached the Spartans to a 7-0 record, their first Mountain West Conference title and a spot in the Arizona Bowl on New Year’s Eve against Ball State.

Pierce, a former Arizona standout who is an assistant on Herm Edwards‘ staff at ASU, was also reportedly interviewed.

A week ago, Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke mentioned in a press conference that he wanted a coach who understood the university and the Tucson community. Fisch’s background with Arizona’s football program is coaching against the Wildcats as UCLA’s offensive coordinator in 2017.

“Certainly, Jedd and his (NFL assistant coaching) experiences, his passion … I talked about energy and enthusiasm, all of those components and the appreciation for what that Bear Down spirit is,” Heeke said. “Our history, our tradition, the toughness … those types of things are incredibly important as we build a program.

“What Jedd has done is weave that together with his outstanding experience at a multitude of levels in the NFL as well as college football. To bring those to the table and combine that with this great spirit that we have here and his understanding of that were the key pieces to him being here.”

Fisch’s oldest daughter Zaylee is a student at the university who has also attended Pima College.

In his attempt to reach out to the alumni, he texted Arizona basketball great Steve Kerr.

“I texted with Steve Kerr this morning and (we talked about) the idea to be at a place where I can pick his brain about all the successes Lute Olson had and why they had the success that they had,” Fisch said.

Arizona president Randy C. Robbins mentioned that his role in hiring Fisch was a prominent one. Speculation on social media, not confirmed, included the notion Robbins hired Fisch, not Heeke, who wanted more of an Arizona connection with the hire.

“I’m involved with everything at the university,” Robbins said. “I’m fond of saying there are 168 hours in every week (and) work every one of them like you mean it. I’m involved with all aspects of the university, people will tell you.

“Dave Heeke is Jedd Fisch’s boss. I worked in collaboration right by Dave in helping him get the support he needed to go out and look for the best fit and coach for this university and we found Jedd Fisch.”

Fisch, who has coached for seven different NFL teams, said among his hires for assistant coaching positions will include coaches and former players at that level. He also mentioned more than once that he wants to include Arizona alumni on his staff.

“Our identity is going to be toughness, mental toughness and physical toughness,” Fisch said. “It’s going to be about a team that will never, ever, ever stop competing. Now, if I was going to sit here and tell you we’re going to be a 4-3 or a 3-4 or we’re going to play a diamond front, I don’t know that.

“I don’t know that because I’ve never been a part of a gameplan meeting at the University of Arizona yet. I haven’t sat in and looked what spring ball looks like yet. I haven’t been able to sit there today and evaluate each one of our players and tell you what group our position players fit into.”

His background is on offense, learned from the days he was an understudy to Steve Spurrier when he was a student at Florida.

“I will tell you we will have a precision passing game,” Fisch said. “I’ve always been a guy who has thrown the football, but I’ve also been on teams that have led the league in rushing.

“In order to know your team is tough, you better know how to run the football and 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 going to have a tough football team and we’re going to be a hard out.”

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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