If there’s one team in the Pac-12 that Arizona “knows” better than the rest, it’s UCLA.
Head coach Jedd Fisch served as the Bruins’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2017, taking over as interim coach following Jim Mora’s firing late in the season, while UA QB coach Jimmy Dougherty had been on the UCLA staff for four years before joining the Wildcats this season.
That means the UA might have had a leg up when it comes to preparing for Saturday’s game against UCLA at Arizona Stadium, right? Not necessarily.
“We’re not going to certainly rely upon anything but film study and really recognize what we’ve seen the last four weeks,” Fisch said Monday.
Still, it’s hard not to notice all the connections between the programs.
Fisch was hired by Mora to help prop up an offense that was 10th in the Pac-12 in 2016 during a 4-8 season. In his one year there the Bruins averaged 32.5 points and 457.8 yards per game, increases of 30.5 and 20.6 percent, respectively. Quarterback Josh Rosen, who had suffered through an injury-plagued 2016 campaign, threw for 3,756 yards and 26 touchdowns under Fisch’s tutelage.
Dougherty, brought over from Michigan by Fisch to be the wide receivers coach, oversaw a position group that had three players catch at least 56 passes.
Fisch coached the final two games of that season after Mora’s firing, including a bowl game against Kansas State, before taking a gig as a senior offensive assistant with the Los Angeles Rams. Dougherty was retained by new (and current) UCLA coach Chip Kelly to coach the receivers.
“Yeah, Jimmy knows everything they’re going to do,” Fisch joked. “Everybody on that team, he was a part of either recruiting or practicing against or coaching. So he has a good feel for what they do or what they’re doing. He obviously recognizes the talent of a Kyle Phillips and a Chase Cota, they got an outstanding tight end. He saw what they can do. I think he can certainly share with us some of the things that he knows, but Coach Kelly knows that also.”
UCLA’s 2021 offense, which is averaging 35.4 points per game, features many players that Fisch and Dougherty helped lure to Westwood. 247Sports lists Dougherty as the primary recruiter for Phillips, who leads the Bruins with 22 receptions and six touchdowns, and Cota, who has six TD catches for his career.
Fisch is listed as the lead recruiter for Thompson-Robinson, who has thrown 10 TDs against one interception this season and has also run for 214 yards and two scores.
“I know those three guys extremely well,” Fisch said. “Chip has done a great job of building that team over a 4-year span, and he’s playing with a lot of seniors now. They’re a veteran team, they’ve been in the system now for all four full seasons, and we know that we got our work cut out for us.”
Fisch said he and Kelly have crossed paths many times during their coaching careers, starting with when Fisch was the offensive coordinator at Miami in 2011-12. Interactions continued when each moved into the NFL ranks.
“We played them in ‘14 when I was in Jacksonville and he was in Philly,” Fisch said. “And then I came across him plenty of different times throughout the years, we have mutual friends. I really like Chip, I think he’s a great coach and a great guy to be around.”
Even Arizona defensive coordinator Don Brown has a connection to Kelly, at least in terms of having faced him many times when Brown coached at Northeastern and UMass and Kelly was an up-and-coming offensive coordinator at New Hampshire.
“He was a big tempo guy, really fast, no huddle,” Brown said. “He was that way at Oregon. He was that way at New Hampshire. But I think he’s kind of transitioned as offenses have changed. I think his MO has changed to some degree. Very good football coach, gets the most out of his players.”
Ironically, Fisch’s season at UCLA began with a massive comeback win over Texas A&M that set the stage for A&M to fire Kevin Sumlin, and we all know what happened next.