Jedd Fisch made his Pac-12 Media Day debut on Tuesday, taking to the podium in Los Angeles 11th among the league’s 12 coaches.
“Guess I’m second to last, which is what you guys normally rank me anyway, so it’s a good start to Pac-12 Media Day,” Fisch joked, setting the tone for his 30-minute press conference.
Fisch said he “kind of figured” Arizona would be picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South in the preseason media poll, though he said those kind of predictions are based more on 2020 and earlier. “We’ll just have to go out there and play really well and see what happens. That’s just on past performances. No one’s seen our team.”
Here’s what else Fisch, donning a red- and blue-checked blazer, said Tuesday:
On Stanley Berryhill and Anthony Pandy, Arizona’s Media Day representatives: “Two 5th-year players that have been a part of a lot of coaching changes, have been a part of a lot of different staffs. Both of them had opportunities to go elsewhere at the end of this year and both of them decided to stay. They’ve become incredible leaders for our program.”
On the team’s health and its vaccination numbers: “They’ve taken care of their bodies. They understand the importance of being available this fall. We have 93% of our team vaccinated. We have eight players out of the 118 on the roster that currently are not. We believe it’s a competitive advantage to get vaccinated, to live freely, let’s say, in terms of their health and their wellness. We want our players to take care of themselves in every way, shape or form.”
On recruiting: “We believe Tucson is a special place. We have brought in a lot of transfers that have been at other universities from around the country that have come to join our program. We’ve brought a lot of people back to the state of Arizona. We believe it is our job to recruit Arizona better than it’s ever been recruited. I 100% believe that if you’re going to choose a state university, choose the one in your own state first and foremost. If we can get guys to come to the University of Arizona from the state of Arizona, we are going to do very, very well. We also believe in our neighboring states and how important recruiting is there. We are going to spend every waking moment doing the best job we possibly can to recruit the very, very best to come to the University of Arizona.
“We can’t really speak about the current (recruiting) class, but what I can say is that we brought in … 14 transfers that have come from other Division I programs, a lot of them from Power 5 programs, that I believe that’s recruiting. When they put themselves in the portal and we had to compete to get them, that’s a huge part of it. We signed two kids in high school when we arrived, we signed Jason Taylor’s son Isaiah Taylor, who is a Hall of Famer—I always believe in pedigree—from St. Thomas Aquinas. I think he’s fantastic. And Isaiah Simpson. Also prior to our arrival we had 14 other guys that signed. They have all done an unbelievable job. All 30 of our new players have 100% embraced everything we’ve asked of them. Very proud to say everyone will be here. We’ll have 118 players walk in on August 5th, all 118 will be participating in camp.”
On scholarship numbers and a competition for the No. 1 jersey: “I believe currently we’re at 81 or 79. Then we’ll hopefully be able to award some scholarships to some guys, just like we’ll award the No. 1 (jersey) to the right guy. No. 1 is hanging in the rafters right now in the indoor facility. We had nine guys that requested it. It’s a meritocracy. They’re going to be able to compete to get that No. 1 jersey. Whoever does the best academically, socially, with community service, on the practice field, in the weight room, will be able to wear that jersey for the season.”
On his staff: “We hired a great staff. We hired Don Brown, who not even arguably, statistically is the best defensive coordinator in college football over the last eight years. We were able to get him from the University of Michigan. He had the number one ranked defense at Boston College in 2015, the number one ranked defense at Michigan in 2016, and a top five defensive for four out of the last five years. Offensively we hired Brennan Carroll, for all of you in L.A. you must be familiar with the name. It’s Pete Carroll’s son. Brennan was at USC. Brennan was with me at the University of Miami. Brennan was at the Seattle Seahawks the last six or seven years, to be our offensive coordinator. We hired Jimmie Dougherty who was most recently at UCLA the last four years, to join us and become our passing game coordinator. We believe our staff is as good as it gets.
“We have some really, really good recruiters. Jordan Paopao, very well-known in the Pac-12, is a fantastic recruiter. Jimmy has always been a great recruiter. We have a lot of great recruiters on our staff. Obviously those guys stand out. Kevin Cummings does a great job in this area. But we have a great staff. We have a great bunch of coaches. They’re all great recruiters really. That’s part of it. If you’re not a great recruiter, you can’t do 50% of your job. If you can’t do 50% of your job, you really can’t do your job. Those guys are all recruiting as hard as possible to be great at it.”
On having ex-UA players like Tedy Bruschi, Chuck Cecil and Ricky Hunley on the staff: “Bringing in Ricky Hunley and Chuck Cecil and Tedy Bruschi gave me an opportunity to bring in three Hall of Famers. We only have four (from Arizona). So the fact we have three college football Hall of Famers on our staff in different capacity gives me a great chance to be successful. When it comes to Tedy, he has really done a great job for me from the outside, being an adviser for me, being a resource and running our leadership council. Ricky and Chuck, they exude passion and joy. What we get from them is every day you have a coach of the safeties and a coach of the defensive line that has done that, been there, been to the NFL, coached in the NFL, played in the NFL, drafted in the NFL, and were some of the best players that ever played at the University of Arizona. But they love it. They love it. We love having them around. Our players benefit from it.”
On potential uniform changes: “I think I’m going to tell you the same thing I tell the recruits: ‘Don’t worry about the uniforms. We’ve got to play well.’ Hopefully these uniforms will look good on them. I think everybody will be happy with the way they look. But I do believe in tradition. I do believe in basics. I believe in being able to wear the same helmet for every game.”
On gameday traditions, new and old: “In terms of gameday, we are going to try to change as many much as we can and embrace what’s worked. For us, we’re absolutely going to do the (Wildcat) Walk. We’re excited about that. I’ve always had dreams of being a college head coach one day and getting off that bus, with my wife, and leading a team. We’re going to do that. We’re going to incorporate some new songs. We’re going incorporate a little bit more of a party atmosphere. I really believe it should be the best 4-hour party. That’s what college football is. If you miss out on that, you’re missing out—we all missed out on it in 2020. We need to find a way to get a party atmosphere back. We’re going to bring a DJ right in the heart of the Zona Zoo. We’re going to make it as much fun as humanly possible. In the third quarter, we’re going to sing some songs, hopefully win some ballgames.”
On changing the vibe of the program: “ I mean, I was the authentic me. I didn’t know what existed (before) truthfully. I didn’t really know exactly what it was like. I didn’t come from the program. I didn’t get elevated up. For me, it was to come in and be me, hire the guys that I believed in, and make it our program. Where I am the most grateful is we had an athletic director and a president that allowed me to do that. That’s how we were able to make the significant changes we made in such a short period of time.”
On his social media presence: “Well, it’s 2021. To me that’s the best way to communicate with not just our own students but potential students, prospective student-athletes, our fan base, our alumni. Really everybody and anybody that wanted to listen. I felt like very simply put we have an incredible situation. We have an unbelievable university. We have a university that is very prideful, that wants to win, that hasn’t won recently. I believe that we need everybody onboard. I’ve heard the old saying, ‘if you win, they will come.’ I always tell these guys, if you come, we’ll win. Let’s find a way to get everybody in there. We feel social media is an opportunity to do that. I mean everybody, fans, alumni, media. You guys can all come, too, cheer if you want.”
On the difference between scholarship players and walk-ons: “Whoever is the best, really that’s my distinction, if you’re good or you’re not. We’re trying to get as many good ones as we can, whether that be a walk-on or not. I do know we had a couple people we’ve been very fortunate to bring in as a preferred walk-on that have been phenomenal players. Extremely excited about some of those guys. I believe the preferred walk-on program and the idea of it is really just another way to build your roster up. I think it’s super cool that we have that opportunity. We get some guys that choose to pay when they could get it for free somewhere else. We really appreciate that. We recognize that. We give them those opportunities.”
On working with/for notable NFL coaches: “I’ve been extremely fortunate in the NFL, in college, to have worked for some of the best coaches. Certainly in the NFL, most recently Coach Belichick, Coach McVay, Coach Carroll. All three of them have not only influenced me but helped me and will help our football team. Coach Carroll and Coach McVay had already talked to our guys. With Coach Belichick, I talk to him extremely often. I will say the number one thing that I brought to our program (from working with them) is mental and physical toughness, the idea of doing what’s best for the team if it’s not what is best for you is being mentally tough. Our team knows that. We talk about that. We try to give our team the opportunity to be a smart, physical and tough football team. I certainly credit Coach Belichick for that message.”
On taking over a team on a 12-game losing streak: “They have been down the last couple years. But if you look back at last season, I mean, a minute and 27 seconds away from beating USC. They have a lead, up 30-27. First game of the year, who knows what would have happened differently. They’re up 21 points (in 2018) against Arizona State. Who knows what would have happened differently if they wound up winning that game and not losing it. I try not to spend too much time dwelling on that. I’ve been around a lot of winning programs. I’ve been very fortunate to say that. I was in the Pac-12 in 2017. I had a chance to be the interim head coach at UCLA for two games. Take a team to a bowl game. Then when I didn’t get the job, I went to the Rams, who went to the Super Bowl. You see what that’s like. You see what it feels like to be around winners and winning. It was a pretty phenomenal experience. I went back and had another good year, then went to New England to be around arguably the best coach that’s ever done it. We talk about the winning culture, and we don’t talk about what happened in the past.”
On having to outwork or out-hustle teams to make up for a talent disadvantage: “I believe that we need to work as hard as we possibly can. I was once on a team that was told we’re going to do it better than everybody else. I said, ‘how do you know how good everyone else is doing it?’ We’re not going to take that approach. We’re going to say we’re going to do it as good as we can, work as hard as we possibly can. We’ve got to turn this thing around. Our goal is to win as much as we possibly can, win as many games as we possibly can for as long as we can.”
On his support for other UA programs: “I believe that I didn’t just sign on to be the head football coach. I believe I signed on to be a great ambassador to the University of Arizona and the University of Arizona athletics. If there’s an opportunity to go support another coach, first of all, I mean, Adia Barnes, she’s an amazing coach, an amazing person. Right now she’s number one in our building in terms of what she’s accomplished. But the chance to really support her, support our baseball team, softball team. If we weren’t having an official visit, I would have been out in Omaha without a doubt. For me this is what we do. If you want to just coach football, go in the NFL, stay in the NFL. If you want to embrace a college community, you want to embrace pageantry, social media, you want to embrace the idea of bringing 70,000 people or 60,000 people, however many people we can put in there, then go coach college. That’s what I believe in. I hope to be sitting next to Coach (Tommy) Lloyd on the bench for basketball games, as well.”
On having open practices: “I don’t know why you would ever close ‘em personally. I’ll close ‘em during the season in terms of when it’s true game-planning week. We’ll do whatever we need to do there to keep it open for as long as we can for the media to be able to meet with us for half hour, whatever it might be. When it comes to training camp or spring football, isn’t football great to go watch? For me to be able to have people come watch and be a part of it is awesome. Everybody wants to perform in front of others. It’s an opportunity for our players to perform in front of other people, which I think is as cool as it gets. I’d love for our media to see what we’re doing. It’s a lot better than them guessing. It’s an opportunity for them to see how we interact, how we coach, what we do. I just feel like it’s the right thing to do and that’s why we do it.”
On QB Jordan McCloud: “The hardest position to evaluate without a football would be the quarterback position because you can’t ever see them throw. But we have had that two hours a week that we have the opportunity to meet with him. We’ve had two hours a week that we’ve been able to during that time also be able to do some drill work. We’ve been able to do some team runs and evaluate and watch how he is there. I love just to see how he interacts with his teammates. Jordan is doing good. We’ve got a nice 3-headed monster, Jordan, Gunner (Cruz) and Will (Plummer). We’d like to see one of them step up and be the guy. Right now we’ll go 33, 33, 33 for a 99-play practice.”
On if McCloud is at a disadvantage having missed spring practice: “I would hope so because those other guys, if they didn’t get anything out of the coaching in the spring, we got major problems. I hope he’s at a major disadvantage, but unfortunately I feel like he’s just at a disadvantage. I’ll talk to Coach Dougherty about that later (laughs). I think he’s doing a great job of trying to catch up, trying to learn this thing quick from what I understand. But, yeah, I mean, it’s going to be hard because those guys took almost every single rep.
“Whoever moves the ball the best in every period we have (will be the starter). Who moves the football, who gets us down in the red zone, who scores touchdowns. We’ll have a lot of competitive practices. I believe we’re going to have a very good defense this year. Let’s see what we can do. See if we can move the ball. Whoever does that will be the starting quarterback.”
On Steve Spurrier: “I was at University of Florida seven years, undergrad, student assistant, grad assistant. I went to Florida because of Coach Spurrier. I believe he is the iconic coach. I put him up on the Mount Rushmore. I have probably watched everything I could that he’s ever done. I hired his son on our staff. I hope to one day be even in the same conversation in terms of the way he manages his football team, the way he called offensive plays and the way he won games. We’re trying to build our program and coaching in a similar way. I learned a ton of football from Coach Spurrier. I’ll never forget that.”