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Jedd Fisch explains cryptic tweets, plan for recruiting Arizona, transfer portal strategy

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NCAA Football: Cactus Bowl-Kansas State vs UCLA Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one thing Jedd Fisch has not been since getting the Arizona job, it’s inactive.

Though his first game as Wildcats head coach isn’t until Sept. 2, when the UA is scheduled to face BYU in Las Vegas, Fisch has spent the first three-plus weeks in his new role seemingly working nonstop. It helps that there’s a lot of work to do.

Since Dec. 23 Fisch has filled out a coaching staff, added four players from the NCAA transfer portal and convinced four UA players to withdraw from the portal. He’s also landed two additional commitments for the 2021 recruiting class, while he and his staff have put out a slew of scholarship offers to 2022 prospects all over Arizona and California and made sure to touch base with high school coaches across the state.

There’s also Fisch’s Twitter game, which can best be described as cryptic.

Fisch discussed all of these topics, among others, during a 30-minute Zoom press conference on Thursday that followed 20-minute sessions with eight of his assistants.

Turning the portal into a pipeline

The transfer portal is still a relatively new thing for college football. But with the anticipation that NCAA is going to grant a one-time transfer waiver to all student-athletes in the near future—it was supposed to have happened this month, but the issue was recently tabled along with proposed NIL legislation—the portal has swelled to include hundreds of players looking for a new place to play.

It would be silly not to mine that market for gold, Fisch believes, particularly nuggets that previously slipped out of Arizona’s grasp once before.

“I think an important part of this transfer portal is to recognize, there’s a lot of guys that leave the West Coast and go to other places and recognize they really much prefer to be back in the West Coast,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is to not let them leave. But we also recognize there are going to be some guys that are going to want to look elsewhere and see what it looks like, and see what it feels like. But when they want to come back we want to be able to welcome them back, and the portal has permitted us to do that.”

Arizona has added Fisch transfers from the portal since Fisch was hired, and three are from Arizona. Running back Drake Anderson and safety Gunner Maldonado, who both played at Northwestern, prepped together at Chandler High School, while defensive end Jason Harris is a Gilbert native who originally chose Colorado over the Wildcats, where older brother Jalen Harris is a redshirt junior linebacker and father Sean Harris was a key member of the Desert Swarm teams of the 1990s.

The fourth portal addition, ex-Notre Dame cornerback Isaiah Rutherford, is from Sacramento. Arizona offered him during the 2018 recruiting class cycle but couldn’t compete with the Fighting Irish.

A fifth transfer, ex-Baylor offensive lineman Davis DiVall, signed in December before Kevin Sumlin was fired. DiVall is originally from the Phoenix area.

“We’re gonna continue to try to find the right guys, and if they’re there at another school and they’re in the portal and they’re from the West Coast I believe we’re gonna have a great chance to get them here at the University of Arizona,” Fisch said. “And I believe we’ll have a great chance to keep these guys in state before they even want to leave you.”

Keeping the good ones home

The transfer portal gives Arizona a second chance to make a first impression with the state’s growing talent pool, but Fisch would much prefer to impress those kids during their prep years. And he sees a key to that being by establishing relationships with their high school coaches.

Fisch said Thursday it was the goal of he and his staff to make a phone call to every Arizona HS football coach over a 48-hour time period. A quick scan of Twitter shows that appears to have been accomplished, as dozens of coaches from the state’s top programs have made mention of hearing from a UA staff member.

Fisch said he plans to open up a weekly Zoom call to all Arizona HS coaches so he and his staff can check in with them.

“It’s very simple to send a letter, very simple to put out a graphic, very simple to throw out a tweet,” Fisch said. “But if we’re going to share our message of being personal, then it’s also very important to be able to personally contact each coach. Make them see our commitment. It’s our goal and our job to help provide the best opportunity for high school players in our state.”

Not including transfers, the Wildcats’ 2021 recruiting class has only one in-state signee, running back Stevie Rocker Jr., the No. 20 player in Arizona. Players ranked above him signed with the likes of Oregon—the Ducks landed three of the top five prospects, including Tucson offensive lineman Jonah MillerOhio State, UCLA, Minnesota, Utah, Cal, Kansas State, San Diego State, UCF and ASU.

The 2017 recruiting class was the last time Arizona signed more than three in-state players.

“I think it’s a great reflection of the quality of football we have out here, with the amount of teams that are trying to come out and recruit our players in the state of Arizona and the state of California,” Fisch said. “They’re swarming out here, and coaches see it and coaches recognize it. It’s our responsibility to provide a similar or better opportunity for these players to come right here, stay in the Pac-12 or come to the University of Arizona.”

To that end, in the past two days several in-state 2022 prospects have tweeted out being offered, or in some cases re-offered, by Arizona’s new staff. That includes 3-star Goodyear offensive lineman Gavin Broscious, who had the Wildcats among his finalists before committing to Michigan State in November.

Tweeting through it

It’s become a common thing for college football coaches, particularly the head coach, to send out a tweet when something big is about to happen for his team on the recruiting front. Since coaches can’t comment on a player until he is signed, these tweets usually include a hashtag and some sort of graphic or video.

When Sumlin did these, us reporters knew a commitment was soon to be announced by a high school or junior college prospect. An unofficial heads up, if you will.

Jedd Fisch has taken this concept and turned it on its head. And maybe photoshopped it.

“It’s 2021,” he said. “Social media is a huge aspect of our way to communicate and it’s a critical part of the messaging that we’re trying to get across. In my mind, it’s a way for us to have some fun together. I don’t need to call up a guy and break a news story, I might as well throw it out there and see who can figure it out. I like to play around Twitter myself, so I do my own stuff.”

Each of Fisch’s impending assistant coach hires has been preceded by a tweet that includes either a GIF, a meme, a picture or a custom image meant to serve as a clue as to who is coming on board. He’s also done this to signify impending commitments, either at the prep level or from the transfer portal.

Some of the highlights include a lottery ticket where the numbers corresponded to new defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defensive rankings at Boston College and Michigan and a picture showing boxes full of SEC and national championship rings that signal that Alabama staffer Tyler Owens was about to become Arizona’a strength and conditioning coach.

Fisch’s most recent tweet puzzle confirmed the speculation that former UA safety Brandon Sanders, who has been a high school coach in Tucson in recent years, was joining the staff in an administrative role:

GIFs from The Office and of WWE fixture The Undertaker have been used to tip off an upcoming commitment, so we can expect to more such media as the February signing period approaches and 2022 commitments start happening in the spring and beyond.