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Roundtable: How have recent developments changed your opinion of Jedd Fisch?

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Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics

The Arizona Wildcats’ hiring of Jedd Fisch was met with a lot of skepticism, but he has made a lot of notable moves since joining the program, hiring a coaching staff and making some roster additions.

How have those recent developments changed your opinion of the hire? Our staff members chime in.

Brian J. Pedersen

I’ll turn to noted philosopher Michael Scott to properly illustrate how the mood has changed regarding Jedd Fisch in less than two weeks as Arizona’s coach:

Fisch was the last thing from a popular hire when officially announced on Dec. 23, mostly because his name wasn’t well known or among those thrown out there as top candidates. But since getting tabbed for his first head coaching job he’s done about everything possible to be welcomed by the fan base.

Add former UA players to the coaching staff? Check. Hire assistants who have a reputation of developing and/or recruiting? Check. Be active in the transfer portal? Check. Get current UA players to buy in? Check. Focus heavily on Arizona for recruiting? Check.

And most importantly, at least for us reporters, he is interesting on social media. And if that does it for us, it certainly resonates with future recruits, which is particularly huge during a time when in-person contact remains off limits.

Will any of that translate into on-field success? Who knows. But in terms of what can be accomplished to this point, so far Fisch is doing about as well as possible.

Gabe Encinas

What a turn of events, man. It was absolutely soul crushing to have a slam dunk candidate like Brent Brennan be the top candidate just spurned at the last minute for someone who wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Fisch was nowhere close to anyone’s top 10 of coaching candidates for Arizona.

I was irate. I had entered the transfer portal myself. I was sour during his introductory press conference. I thought he just rattled off key words to try and win people in. It was a tough uphill battle as he was put into a pretty unfair situation given the hiring process. But he’s shown that he is grinding and proving that he can build a foundation at Arizona to rebuild off of.

So now I’m opting back in. Fisch could not have started off any better. The hiring of Chuck Cecil and Ricky Hunley doesn’t appeal to me since I had no real ties to Arizona until about 2010 but I understand how it can mean so much for lifelong fans.

Then the offensive staff started rolling in. I love the Brennan Carroll hire for a variety of reasons between his recruiting experience, NFL knowledge and approval of Pete Carroll. You get a true tight end coach who has produced a lot of talent and can hopefully have a Polynesian influence on recruiting with Jordan Paopao. And you also get a very solid receivers coach in Kevin Cummings.

Out of nowhere Fisch starts going after a pair of former Chandler High recruits and Northwestern transfers with Gunner Maldonado and Drake Anderson and land them both. Not only do they come from a top five high school where they can host recruits from Chandler now, but they both had a pretty solid recruitment and played under a great staff and enter with five years of eligibility remaining.

Jason Harris was a huge miss for the 2020 class. And after not getting a shot at Colorado he opts to come join his brother which is a huge recruiting win. Again, he has all of his eligibility remaining too.

The next big splash was getting Ma’jon Wright back out of the portal. If there was one guy I could pick to have back from the portal it was Wright. I’d pick him over Gunnell, Berryhill, Joiner, anyone who opted out of last season. He was the one I wanted most. He is a fantastic receiver and did a lot of great things in his limited snaps. He will be one of the best receivers in Arizona history. Now he comes back with all of his eligibility.

There have been a handful of guys who have confirmed they are coming back. They could have easily left and gone elsewhere more polished than this rebuild. But for the staff to keep in place some key guys is another big win.

Now you get Dr. Blitz in the mix who has as phenomenal a track record as anyone when it comes to turning around defenses. Michigan had a lot of personnel issues this season and I can’t fault this defense for totally tanking in the rankings.

This could not be a better start to the Fisch era. He won me back over. I’m in. He’s got this thing rolling. It’s still frustrating about how the hiring process went down with Robbins but I’m going all in on Fisch.

Ronnie Stoffle

Now that the coaching staff is complete and the roster is shaking out, I’d be lying if I said wasn’t impressed. There seems to be a lot of reasons to be pleased with the work that has already been done in a very short period of time.

Starting with the coaching staff there is a clear message being sent with its construction: “we know what it takes to get to the NFL and we have connections to help you get there.” I’m really excited to see what that does for future recruiting classes and we are getting a glimpse of that now with the recent incoming transfers and portal withdraws.

There’s no debating that this coaching staff has a wealth of experience in college and the NFL. I’m just not sure what it’ll immediately look like and that’s OK. I’ve accepted the fact that there’s a real chance the next couple seasons will be brutal.

As for the personnel, Fisch has done a great job pulling key pieces out of the transfer portal. Yes, Grant Gunnell has left but keeping Jamarye Joiner, Ma’jon Wright and Boobie Curry is a major win as it provides stability to a position group that appeared to be in shambles.

Retaining Joiner is also significant as it continues with the theme of keeping the in-state players in the state. The point has been hammered home with the additions of Jason Harris, Drake Anderson and Gunner Maldonado.

The biggest remaining question marks appear to be who will be the signal caller and what will happen with the remaining available scholarships. This is not a knock to Will Plummer at all because I believe he showed that he has a future in the FBS but I would like to see a transfer with more experience leading the offense next year.

In fact, my hope is that the remaining scholarships are all filled by incoming transfers who have experience playing at this level. This will potentially make the team competitive immediately and will allow for the young players to develop naturally.

My initial grading of this hire was an F but seeing how recent events have unfolded there’s really no way anyone can make the case it deserves worse than a C at this point. Fisch has hired former UA players to his staff, he kept/brought home multiple Arizona HS players and he seems to fully understand the challenge at hand. It’s another great lesson that “things are never as good or as bad as they seem” (Scott Galloway).

Adam Green

How could anyone say anything other than yes? I guess if they thought he was a great hire to begin with, maybe?

The truth is the backlash over his him being named the coach was always a bit over the top. He was fairly qualified and there was no reason why it had to fail. As was the case then, we knew we’d learn a lot about his abilities based on the staff he could assemble.

Since that time he’s put together what appears to be a top-notch staff, and at the same time has pulled key players back from the transfer portal while bringing in some high-quality talent through it.

As someone who was not terribly down on him to begin with, my opinion probably hasn’t changed as much as others. But certainly his first couple weeks on the job have been impressive, to say the least, so as of now I certainly feel better about Fisch as the coach than I did at the start.

Ryan Kelapire

I gave the initial hire a C and a lot of people thought I was too generous. But the more I listened to Fisch speak and saw his enthusiasm for the job, my opinion changed. I also wanted to see what kind of coaching staff he could bring in.

Safe to say, it’s a lot better than Sumlin’s. It has experienced coaches, coaches who are hungry to prove themselves in the industry, and then of course two UA legends in Ricky Hunley and Chuck Cecil to please the fan base and help restore some of the qualities that used to make this program great but have been missing in recent years.

The way Fisch was able to control the transfer portal and bring back guys like Jamarye Joiner, Boobie Curry and Ma’jon Wright was huge to accelerate the rebuild. It seems like most of the seniors are sold on returning too. (I’m telling you, Fisch is a convincing speaker.)

We’ve seen Fisch extract talent from the portal too, including Notre Dame cornerback Isaiah Rutherford, a former four-star recruit who fills a big need. He was a top-300 recruit out of high school, the kind of talent Arizona hasn’t been able to land.

Obviously we won’t have a complete picture of the job Fisch is doing until the team starts playing games, but so far he is doing and saying all the right things. In just a couple of weeks, he’s made the program more interesting than it ever was under Sumlin.

I mean, his Twitter game alone has been keeping everyone on edge.

Brandon Combs

This will be a relatively shorter answer than some above, mainly because I was willing and open to give Fisch his chance. But I will say, he has been impressive.

He has established quite the staff. I can’t remember a staff like this in some time, if ever. Every single coach is a great hire. Even the unknown’s like Scottie Graham, who is probably one of the nicest human beings you can meet from what I understand.

The staff is made up of great teachers, a ton of experience, and strong recruiting chops. Jordan Paopao, Jimmie Doughtery, Brennan Carroll, and Kevin Cummings will make a giant splash on the recruiting trail. Don Brown, with his reputation and passion, will draw a lot of attention. Having Chuck Cecil and Ricky Hunley, and their passion for Arizona, will do nothing but help. DeWayne Walker and Scottie Graham are great human beings, experienced professionals, and have played at the highest level. Those attributes are attractive to parents and athletes alike. I’m really interested to see who the last coach will be to round out the staff.

Recruiting wise, Fisch and Company are off to very loud and large bang. Reeling in transfers like Jason Harris, Isaiah Rutherford, Gunner Maldonado, and Drake Anderson is impressive. But what’s even more eye-opening is the ability to successfully re-recruit players thinking about leaving or already in the transfer portal. That is a whole different ballgame and this staff has been batting near 1,000. Throw in that they have already secured two more high school prospects for 2021 and I’d say it’s been a roaring success thus far. I’ll delve more into this topic in the coming week.

From what I’ve seen, Fisch is 150% invested. There are zero indications that he is half-assing anything. He has been focused unlike Sumlin, or Rich Rod for that matter. The buzz around the program is palpable. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this kind of energy around the football team. Even with this kind of energy, it’s been really good to see fans acknowledge that it will take time. They are already being realistic, while at the same time, excited for the future of Arizona Football.