The Arizona Wildcats team you saw walk off the field after another disappointing loss on Saturday is going to look very different when the 2022 season begins next September in San Diego. And not just because seven starters and a handful of backups are either out of eligibility or walked during Senior Day activities earlier this month.
Read between the lines of coach Jedd Fisch’s comments after the 38-15 loss at ASU and it’s clear that there will be major roster turnover during his first full offseason in charge of the program.
“This offseason will not be easy,” Fisch said. It will be hard, in order to change losses to wins. It’s about commitment, it’s about dedication, it’s about loyalty, it’s about trust. And those four words will be discussed often in our building. If you’re going to commit to wanting to be a good football team, and if you’re wanting to have a championship-caliber program, that’s going to take every single person. I look forward to watching our guys embrace that mentality and recognize that’s not for everyone. That’s just the way it’s going to work, that we’re a program that’s committed to getting this thing flipped.”
Asked what he learned from his first season as a head coach, Fisch said he’s already laser focused on putting together a roster that better fits what he and his coaching staff wants to do. The Wildcats added quite a few transfers after Fisch’s hiring, as well as some freshmen (though most were walk-ons) to the mix, but by and large he inherited the bulk of a roster that had lost the previous 12 games and had noticeably quit toward the end of the 2020 season.
“We have opportunities to see what our team looks like, who our players are,” Fisch said. “Last season we didn’t know them. Now we know exactly what these guys do well and we’ll be able to work off of that and be able to see what they can do.”
There are 27 players on the UA’s online roster who have either exhausted their eligibility or walked on Senior Day, about 20 of which were on scholarship. Assuming none return—expect at least one to do so—the Wildcats would only have seven returning seniors in 2022.
That number figures to go up significantly via the portal, while the other classes, particularly the freshman and sophomore ones, are likely to see the most attrition in terms of players moving on.
Entering the Territorial Cup there were more than 20 scholarship players who did not appear in a game this season, as well as another dozen or so walk-ons. Many of them may look to go elsewhere in search of playing time, as could some who saw limited action during the fall.
Fisch also needs to find a defensive coordinator to replace Don Brown, who is leaving to become the head coach at UMass. The Wildcats may also need a new linebackers coach if Keith Dudzinski follows Brown to Amherst.
Fisch indicated he’d like to have a new DC in place in the next 48 hours, and that getting one on board as soon as possible can only help with recruiting and roster management. The early signing period in mid-December, as well as the ever-growing list of players in the NCAA transfer portal, makes this a necessity.
“I’m sure there’s coaching things, things that happened today that I don’t even know about, guys hired, whatever,” he said. “I think what it comes down to is, with recruiting starting tomorrow, with the transfer portal being as active as it is, when you have an early signing period, which is going to be in, whatever, 18 days, the earlier you get your staff, especially when you’re talking about coordinators, especially when you’re talking about a coordinator on the opposite of the ball of the head coach, the faster the better. We’ll try to move quickly on that.”