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Grading Arizona’s hiring of Jedd Fisch

How do you feel about the Wildcats’ new football coach?

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The Arizona Wildcats officially hired Jedd Fisch, a longtime college and and NFL assistant, as their next head football coach. How do you feel about that hire? Our staff graded the move and we encourage you to leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Brian J. Pedersen — C-

When Kevin Sumlin was fired, a whole bunch of names got thrown out for who Arizona should hire. Jedd Fisch was not one of them.

But apparently, he was very high on the list of someone who had a lot of say in the search: UA president Robert C. Robbins. That got Fisch into the candidate pool, but it wouldn’t be fair to assume that’s the only reason he got the job.

Fisch has had a lot of jobs throughout his career, which can be looked at as a bad thing since he doesn’t stick around anywhere long. But it can also be construed as him being highly sought after, which is probably more likely the case. Whether that can translate over into a long-term gig running a program remains to be seen.

But from the optics standpoint—which is all we can grade this by, for now—this doesn’t look good. Dave Heeke listed a bunch of things he wanted from a coach, and while Fisch certainly fits some of them he doesn’t have any background in the outside-the-football-facility stuff that is going to be so important to rebuilding the program. Which means any on-field struggles he has at the outset, which figure to be many, are not going to go over well.

Ryan Kelapire — C

The more I hear from Fisch and learn about him, the more I’m starting to believe in him. I waited as long as I could to write this just so that my initial reaction to the news—which wasn’t good—would wear off.

Still, it’s hard to get over the fact that he doesn’t really check any of the boxes Heeke publicly said he was looking for in a coach.

Fisch’s ties to Arizona and the West Coast are minimal at best. He’s never showed a commitment to one program throughout his entire coaching career. He’s never turned a program around. He’s always been an offensive coach, not exactly the person you’d look to to instill the toughness that Heeke said he wants Arizona’s teams to be known for again. He also doesn’t have a track record of being a strong recruiter. How can you when you’ve had 15 jobs in 23 years?

For all those reasons, it’s understandable why fans are feeling betrayed by this hire. The administration said one thing but did another.

After three dismal seasons under Sumlin, Arizona really needed to hire someone who could inspire the fans, and this isn’t going to cut it. No matter who took this job, they already had a big hole to climb out of because of the dearth of talent on the roster. Now it’s even deeper.

That said, Arizona fans will only make things worse if they aren’t willing to give Fisch a chance. I’m not saying you need to go out and buy season tickets, but don’t be so quick to kick him to the curb, either. The administration’s shortcomings aren’t his fault.

I thought Fisch did a good job during his introductory press conference of showing that he has some knowledge of the UA and what has made the football program successful in the past. I also like what he said about making the program open and accessible to former players and alumni. That’s how you build a family environment. And there’s no doubt he’s learned under some great coaches who have had plenty of nice things to say about him.

This could also be a situation where he is highly motivated to prove himself. Fisch has said he’s been dreaming of becoming a head coach since he was a kid growing up in New Jersey. So much so that he has a book filled with all kinds of notes that he has taken at his various coaching stops. The title of it? “One day as a head coach.”

The way he got into coaching is pretty inspiring too. He was a student at the University of Florida and left notes on head coach Steve Spurrier’s car for a year until he landed a job. It shows Fisch is passionate about what he does and won’t stop pursuing his goals.

He’s the opposite of a retread and that’s what Arizona fans wanted, right?

The key for Fisch will be surrounding himself a strong staff—one that has recruiting connections in the West and can make up for his lack of UA ties. Normally I’m not a big Arizona-needs-to-hire-Arizona-people type of guy, but in this case it could go a long way toward Fisch earning some trust from a fan base that has one foot out the door.

Adam Green — C

Let’s face it: No matter who Arizona hired, the coach was going to come with some question marks.

That was the case for Brent Brennan and Ken Niumatalolo (could they win in the Pac-12?) and would have been for guys like Joe Salave’a Antoine Cason and Antonio Pierce (are they ready to be a head coach?).

The same holds true for Jedd Fisch, albeit his questions are different. His resume is more expansive than it is impressive, and since he has never led a program it’s fair to wonder if he can.

Look a bit past the disappointment that he was not _______ and ignore that he may be the guy only because the school president wanted him and you could at least find some positives.

He has worked under some of the game’s best coaches. He appears to be a grinder. He’s not a retread and it’s very possible Arizona (or really any college) is a dream job. If he can assemble a quality staff and is willing to work hard, this may turn out to be a good move.

It could also be a disaster, leaving the program...about where it is now?

As is the case for any coach, time will be the ultimate judge. Fisch should benefit from incredibly low expectations, though that honeymoon period may have dissolved with the doubts about his hire.

But let’s remember that about three years ago most of us liked the hire of Kevin Sumlin, and we all know how that turned out.

Ronnie Stoffle — F

If F- were a thing, it would be warranted here. It is so obviously clear that this decision was made by President Robbins and not by the person (Dave Heeke) whose job responsibility it is to make this decision.

I was not excited about the prospect of Brent Brennan taking over but it at least made sense. Arizona Football is at its lowest point in program history and I think there’s a strong argument that it just got worse. Next season’s game against NAU will almost certainly mark the end of the losing streak, but it will also almost certainly mark the beginning of a new losing streak of at least nine games.

I will be absolutely shocked if this team beats an FBS opponent next year. I really try to avoid hyperbole and irrational-fandom thoughts and the following may be considered just that. But there’s a real chance the soon to be 14-game losing streak is blown away in 2022 as they’re scheduled to play at San Diego State, Mississippi State and North Dakota State before entering conference play.

In summary, this is an absolute joke and good luck selling season tickets. If I’m Dave Heeke, the hunt for my next athletic director position begins today.

Ezra Amacher — B-

I’m not as sour on this hire as others seem to be. Fisch has spent two decades working under some of the most innovative minds in football. He’s held offensive coordinator positions at three respectable Power Five schools (Minnesota, Miami and UCLA) and also worked for Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan program when the Wolverines were still a threat.

As far as football coaching pedigree goes, you’d be hard pressed to find someone with a better background who was also a realistic candidate.

Fisch’s results are a bit trickier to gauge, in part because he has never stayed with one team long enough to demonstrate a consistent level of success (or failure). However, Michigan and UCLA people were impressed by how Fisch performed during his short stints at their respective programs. That’s worth taking into consideration.

So much of any hire is about perception, and there’s no denying Heeke and Robbins lost the PR battle — and for good reason. Fisch will face an enormous challenge winning over a fan base who doesn’t think he fits the bill for what UA needs right now.

My biggest concern with the hire is that I lack confidence Fisch will stay in Tucson very long if Arizona starts putting together winning seasons. Fisch is clearly ambitious and football coaching ambitions are rarely realized and almost never satisfied in Tucson.

An eight-win season would likely be enough to get Fisch an interview with a better funded program, and given his track record, there’s a good chance he’d jump if given an offer. The alternative is that the Wildcats stick to mediocrity (four to seven win seasons) and Fisch is fired before the expiration of his contract. Either way, it’s not going to end well, but when does it ever for Arizona football?

Kim Doss — D

I am quite a bit older than most of the staff here at Arizona Desert Swarm, so I have never been comfortable with the idea that Arizona football can’t be something good, a source of pride. The football program at U of A was my first sports love when I was growing up. It’s the reason I fell in love with sports.

I am old enough to remember the time before Lute Olson in men’s basketball. I watched Arizona women’s basketball go from good to terrible to great. And I watched Arizona football go from Larry Smith to Dick Tomey to the instability of the past 20 years. The differences in those programs? They each found a long-term stable coach who was committed to Arizona.

I think the demand to have a former player coaching at Arizona is unreasonable. Yes, there are some solid options among the football alumni, and I would have been excited to see Joe Salave’a get his shot. That just wasn’t the first thing on my list.

Mostly I just wanted a guy who wanted to be at Arizona and I wanted someone to rescue it from the turmoil and scandal of the past decade. I was more than willing to give Brent Brennan a chance. He had enough ties to the program to satisfy the fan base, he had taken on a rebuilding project, and he had experience as a head coach.

Even Ken Niumatalolo would have satisfied me. If they were going to go with a guy with no head coaching experience, it just seems like there were better options out there.

I honestly don’t know if Fisch has the commitment to Arizona to bring it back to the point where the program is competitive every year and has some truly great years sprinkled in. He certainly has had an itinerant career.

For someone without West Coast ties, that’s a huge red flag. If he can make even a marginal improvement, does he jump at the first chance and head back East again and make Arizona start over? Is he Larry Smith, looking for the first big-name job he can get, or is he Dick Tomey, coming to a new place and making it home?

Fisch will be the fifth head coach hired since Tomey left. That’s a mere 20 years. Can any program find stability when it’s changing course so often? Taking a flier on a guy who could make the Wildcats hire a sixth time in just over two decades doesn’t fill me with hope, especially given the questions about the two hires under Dave Heeke and Robert Robbins.

Mostly, I’m just disappointed that Robbins appears to have his fingerprints all over this hire yet again. The story that has the Kevin Sumlin hiring being done at his insistence is believable to me. This appears to be another example, and the first one didn’t work out as we hoped.

Christian Mortensen — C

You can’t give this hire anything more than a C.

That’s because most fans and alumni now feel more alienated than they already were before, and for a program that has done plenty to piss off both of those groups, that’s a hell of an accomplishment.

With that being said however, I’m not feeling as negative as most about Fisch.

He said all the right things in the press conference, and his overall first impression was MUCH better than Kevin Sumlin’s was. Sumlin just looked off when he was hired. Fisch, at least, looks and gives off a better vibe.

His resume as a journeyman in both the NCAA and NFL makes you think he should be able to bring in a quality staff, and while he doesn’t have any Tucson ties, he seems to grasp the things he needs to do to be successful here.

It could turn out to blow up in Robbins’ and Heeke’s faces, but for now I’m not going to be too critical.