Arizona took an unusual step by hiring Jedd Fisch as its football coach.
The 44-year-old has a long resume, mostly in the NFL, but did not play football and has limited experience as a head coach, serving as UCLA’s interim coach for two games in 2017.
If spring football is any indication, Fisch may be just the right man for the job.
“I think he’s done a great job of realizing the kids he has to reach are 16, 17, 18 years old,” said former player Tedy Bruschi, who was hired in February as a senior advisor to Fisch. “A good coach recognizes the sign of the times and how a program has to change. That’s one of Jedd’s great qualities. I hope a lot of players and potential Wildcats, future Wildcats, can see what’s going on here.”
Fisch was hired in December to replace Kevin Sumlin, who was fired after a program-record 12-game losing streak.
He has plenty of experience, with stints at seven NFL teams and five college programs, yet his hiring was met with a few raised eyebrows in the desert and beyond.
He’s been turning heads ever since, embracing the program’s former players while creating a buzz through social media.
Fisch brought Bruschi back into the fold and dozens of former players attended practices and the spring game. He made a splash by hiring Don “Dr. Blitz” Brown as defensive coordinator.
Fisch even had former Arizona tight end Rob Gronkowski set a Guinness World Record by catching a football dropped from a helicopter 620 feet above Arizona Stadium at the Wildcats’ spring game.
The excitement is building and Wildcats fans are hoping it will translate onto the field, where Arizona has struggled since Rich Rodriguez won 10 games in 2014.
“I’m hopeful that every high school player in America wants to come here,” Fisch said. “If we get every good high school football player in America that wants to be an Arizona Wildcat, it’ll benefit our program and we’ll start winning a lot of games. We have everything here.”
Chip Kelly was supposed to lead a UCLA resurgence when he arrived in 2017, but the Bruins have gone 10-21 in three seasons.
Year 4 could be the start of the turnaround.
UCLA has nearly all its starters back, including four-year quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and picked up some key players from the transfer portal.
Oregon has won the past two Pac-12 championships and is poised to be in contention to win another.
Coach Mario Cristobal has pulled in the conference’s top recruiting class the past two seasons and the 2021 class was sixth nationally, including pro-style quarterback Ty Thompson, who will likely battle Anthony Brown for the starting spot.
Top recruits blended with a load of returning talented will likely have the Ducks fighting for another Pac-12 title with eyes on winning a national championship.
HELTON’S HOT SEAT
Another season, another round of USC coach Clay Helton being on lists of coaches on the hot seat.
The Trojans won 10 games in Helton’s second full season and 11 the next in 2017, but they won five games in 2018. USC finished second in the Pac-12 in 2019 and was 5-0 last season before losing to Oregon in the Pac-12 championship game.
The Trojans have been solid, but this is a program that expects to be in the national championship conversation, something that hasn’t happened in a recent years.
There’s plenty of talent at USC — there always is — so this could be the season Helton gets himself off the hot seat.
DORRELL’S SECOND SEASON
Karl Dorrell got his Colorado tenure off to a strong start last season, leading the Buffaloes to four straight wins. The run ended with a loss to Utah in the final regular-season game, knocking Colorado out of a potential New Year’s Six bowl, followed by a lopsided loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl.
The Buffaloes did it without going through spring practices due to the coronavirus pandemic. They have the benefit of going through an entire spring under Dorrell this year.
The questions about whether Herm Edwards could handle coaching at the college level seem to have been answered.
The former NFL coach and analyst has turned Arizona State into a conference contender while proving to be an adept recruiter.
The Sun Devils struggled through COVID-19 issues and had two close losses last season to finish 2-2. Edwards has a veteran group returning, including quarterback Jayden Daniels, and should have Arizona State in contention to win its first Pac-12 title since sharing with USC in 2007.