Understandable, but those reactions were based mostly on knee-jerk emotions and a quick scan Fisch’s lengthy coaching resume, that and him getting the job over other more-desired candidates.
No one had been able to hear what Fisch himself had to say about getting the job, or what he planned to do at Arizona. That came Wednesday afternoon during an hour-long Zoom press conference to introduce the new coach.
“I can’t wait to be a part of Arizona football and do everything I possibly can to win a bunch of games here,” Fisch said. “I cannot tell you how much I appreciate you for trusting me, and I will not let you down.”
Fisch, who most recently was the quarterbacks coach for the New England Patriots, interviewed for the Arizona opening in 2017 prior to Kevin Sumlin getting the job. He had just finished up a season as the offensive coordinator at UCLA, serving as interim head coach for the final two games after Jim Mora was fired.
“I first met Jedd Fisch more than three years ago, and I was immediately struck by his desire and his drive his story of rising in the football coaching world without ever having played a down of football was certainly unique, but also told me something about his determination and drive,” UA president Dr. Robert Robbins said.
Robbins said the “it became clear Jedd Fisch was our guy” during this second go-around, while athletic director Dave Heeke said “Jedd Fisch is our new head football coach because he’s the right man at the right time to rebuild and bring this program back to prominence.”
Below are some of the things Fisch said during opening statements and in response to questions from reporters. You can watch the full interview at the bottom of this story.
On why it took 20 years to become a head coach: “I don’t know if it took so long. I’m 44 and I feel that as you go through the experiences in football...there’s going to be different winding roads, have different opportunities and different experiences. And to be a head coach at the University of Arizona, at this time, happens to be the perfect opportunity for me. I’m extremely grateful. I feel awfully young. So at 44, I feel like this is a great time to become a head coach.”
On changing jobs almost every year: “The easy answer is none of those stops were to become a head coach. And this is the stop to become a head coach, so there is nowhere else to go. This is where I want to be. That was the ultimate goal, the ultimate dream and the ultimate path to get there for me. A lot of people take a lot of different paths. Our profession as you know is extremely unique in that regard. A lot of times you wind up either leaving a job based on circumstances or opportunity, and I’ve had some incredible opportunities to learn. And I, at that point in time, didn’t want to pass up those opportunities. So when this head coaching job was to arise, I was going to be ready and the most prepared I possibly could be.”
On assembling a good staff: “All good coaches and all good CEOs and all good presidents have to have great staff, and I know that Dave feels that way about his athletic department, I know Dr. Robbins feels that way about to university and that’s certainly how I feel about our coaching staff. We’re gonna have a broad range of coaches. We’re going to get to that as soon as this (press) conference is over. It’s going to be a coaching staff that has all sorts of diversity to it. We’re going to be able to find some coaches that have coached or coach in the NFL. We’re going to have some coaches that currently coach, or have coached in the Pac-12, or down here, or in the Big 12 in the surrounding areas. We’re going to find some coaches that have played in the National Football League. We’re going to find some coaches that have played at the University of Arizona or at other places across the country. We’re going to build a tremendous staff. I feel very confident in that. I feel very confident that one of the greatest assets of moving and being on the different teams that I’ve been on, and being in both college and pro football, are the amount of coaches that I’ve come in contact with and the amount of coaches that I believe we’ll be able to bring down to Tucson. I mean, who wouldn’t want to be down in Arizona right now? We are as excited as it comes to be a part of something special. And I believe wholeheartedly we will have an outstanding coaching staff sooner rather than later.”
On what he knows about the current UA team: “Obviously I was a lot more in tune to Arizona football when I was coaching the Pac-12, three years ago, when I was at UCLA and be able to really be very clear on what was going on there. I’ve obviously seen the team play this year. Really what I’m most excited about right now is to go get to Tucson, load up my laptop and start watching tape and really get to understand the players that we have in this program, see what the talent looks like, see what the size, the speed of the players look like, and then see what we can do with that group, and then go recruit and go see what that’s gonna look like and really try to build this football team, and really not so much worry about what has been done in the past, the last few years. But really go moving forward and see how we can build this team the way we want it.”
On meeting with former UA players via Zoom: “It was a great meeting that we were able to have, and I was actually able to have two meetings. One to the team and one to the football alumni, and it was really outstanding to be able to talk to both those groups prior to this. The biggest message that I wanted to give to the football alumni, is that I understand the history and what has gone on here over the course of time, and I’ve really done my research on what it looked like when Larry Smith was the head coach. And then when Dick Tomey me was the head coach. And then when John Mackovic was the head coach, and then when Mike Stoops was the head coach, and then when Rich Rodriguez was the head coach, and then when Kevin Sumlin was the head coach. And I recognize and see what has gone on and what some of the positives and negatives were in each one of those years and tenures and times.
“What I’ve asked them to do is to 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. That 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 and 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, how much we’re going to try to get back to where it once was in 1998 when they were fourth in the country and 12-1. I had an unbelievable conversation with Tedy Bruschi, both last night and this morning, and really understand where University of Arizona football was, and really looking forward to trying to get it back to that place that nobody wanted to play Arizona football and were a team that played angry, a team that played mad. We were a team that played tough and we were a team that found a way to hold the team to 30 yards rushing per game, which is about the craziest statistic I think I might have ever heard in the game of football.”
On why Arizona was the right job to take: “Everything about college football to me is about the pageantry, about the energy, about being on a campus. Where you’re not just talking about a sport, you’re talking about all sports, to be a part of a program that’s competing and has the opportunity to compete at the highest level, in a place where you have support from an athletic director, a president and a board of regents—and really a set of donors—that are willing to help you build a program that’s top notch. The idea that my 9-year old and my 11-year old can go to the basketball game of the number No. 6 basketball team in that country and watch Adia Barnes lead a team as a top-10 team. To go meet with Sean Miller and be able to watch Arizona basketball, and we all know all the successes of Arizona basketball. I texted with Steve Kerr this morning. And the idea to be able to be at a place where I could pick his brain about all the successes that Lute Olson had and why they had the success that they had. To be able to be around the one of the best, if not the best, women’s softball program in the country and to be able to let my girls go and spend a Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m/ in the springtime and go watch them softball, and to really be a part of everything that this university has to offer. It doesn’t just stop, or start I should say, with football.
Football is important. Football is huge and football has ruled my life for 22 years and I would be lying to say if it was anything but that. But I’ll tell you that the part of being on a campus again, the part of being at a place where our daughter chose to go to school, who’s now able to be close by (us), and to be back in Tucson. All of those things led to the opportunity and the timing and the timing was right. I said to Dr. Robbins in our interview. You go to college, and you go to medical school, and then you have a residency, you have an internship, you have a fellowship, and then maybe you take another fellowship, and then it’s time to go out on your own. And it’s time to open up your own practice, and the timing is right.”
On leaving notes on Steve Spurrier’s car every day for 450 days while a University of Florida student: “Coach Spurrier, I said that to him one day, who would have ever thought that after a daily grind of leaving notes on your car and asking you to open up a 5-minute slot of time to be able to let some New Jersey tennis player get into your building and start learning football from you and start volunteering my time, way before there ever was student assistants, and way before there was more than two graduate assistants, and way before there was recruiting assistants, that you’d be at my wedding. That you would be at my first game at Michigan-Michigan State. That you would then be able to be a part of a press conference where I have now become a head coach. I am so eternally grateful that on about the 400th day or so he finally actually accepted that letter, or that invitation that I had. There was a lot of creativity there, I want you to know, it wasn’t just the same letter every day. I didn’t just hit computer print and redo it again, I mean we had handwritten notes, we had packets, we had everything possible to sell and to get an opportunity to be resilient. And that’s why one of our core traits with our Arizona football players is resiliency, and I really believe that if you never quit and you never give up, and you give it everything you have every single day, that rewards will come. And today, and truthfully my entire career, rewards came because of that.”
On what his team’s identity will be: “Our identity is gonna be toughness. Mental toughness and physical toughness. It’s gonna be about a team that will never, ever, ever stop competing. If I was to sit here and tell you we’re going to be a 4-3 or a 3-4, that we’re going to play a diamond front, I don’t know that. I haven’t sat in and watched what spring ball looks like yet. I haven’t been able to sit there today and be able to evaluate each one of our players and tell you what position rooms our players fit into. Offensively, I can tell you we’ll be a precision passing game. I’ve always been a guy that’s thrown the football, but I’ve also been on teams that have led the league in rushing. Including this year. I’ve been on teams, when we were with the Rams, that we ended up No. 2 in rushing and at the Super Bowl. We’re going to find a way to run the football. Really in order to know if your team is tough, you better know how to run the football, you better 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 gonna have tough football team, and we’re going to be a hard out and there’s not going to be one team that’s going to be looking forward to or circling Arizona on their schedule and not think that that’s going to be the toughest game of their season. That’s what our ultimate goal is going to be. It’ll take some time, I understand that, but what it will do, or what it won’t do is it won’t be out of reach. We’ll make sure that we get there and we’re gonna have a brand of football that people are gonna want to be a part of here.”
On his connection to Dr. Robbins, a heart surgeon: “I happened to have had heart surgery in 2003. And I met Dr. Robbins in 2017, but that is about the only relationship of the past is that we met in 2017. Fortunately, he did know about, when I explained to him what type of surgery I had, and he gave the blessing like my surgeons did that it’s gonna be a long, long road of life.”
On his family: “My family has not missed many games in my lifetime, and I can promise you every Saturday in Tucson, there’ll be a school of Fisch waiting to meet the bus and to be on that field every Saturday in the fall.”
On not getting the job back in 2017: “I was finishing up my time as the interim head coach at UCLA. I spent six weeks in that role, and I learned a ton. I coached in two games, one of which was a bowl game. And while I didn’t get the job then, and I had great disappointment. What I wasn’t sure of is what was going to happen next. I was blessed with the opportunity, between then and now to have worked for both Sean McVay and Bill Belichick.”