The NAU game was supposed to be Arizona’s chance to finally break into the win column, putting behind it a long and embarrassing losing streak. Instead, the Wildcats’ 21-19 home defeat to their in-state FCS foe has caused the program to reach a new low and has made fans question already begin to question whether Jedd Fisch is the right man for the job.
Fisch’s response: That loss may change outside perception but hasn’t impacted the internal one.
“We’re trying to build something brad new,” Fisch said Monday. “When you come in and you take on a situation where you’re trying to build (something) brand new, things are gonna happen, there are going to be setbacks. I know no one wants to here that and no one wants to be overly patient, but all of our enthusiasm and optimism doesn’t change. This is for a long-haul process to become a very good football team.
“I would say this: the program has just started. We’ve played three games. We’re in the middle of a rebuild. We are in the process of trying to get a great recruiting class. We’re in the process of trying to develop the younger players that we have.”
Arizona takes a 15-game losing streak—the longest active skid in FBS—into Saturday’s Pac-12 opener at third-ranked Oregon. The Wildcats opened as 27-point underdogs, though the line has grown since then, then have a bye before playing eight consecutive games to complete the 2021 season.
Fisch, who gave the players Monday off after meeting and practicing on Sunday, said his team “was in a great spot” when he last spoke to them. He said they’re disappointed about the NAU loss but wouldn’t as far as to consider them devastated.
“I believe that they’re going to respond really well to what’s coming our way in the next nine weeks,” he said.
It could be said that Fisch “won” the offseason with how he promoted the program, reconnecting with alumni and making inroads on the recruiting trail. That buzz is gone now, but Fisch said that shouldn’t be the case based on what he and his staff inherited.
“No one thought this was going to be an easy turnaround just because of the fact we were able to catch a football from 600 feet in the air, or because we were able to have incredible energy and enthusiasm in the offseason, or becauase we have a great bunch of recruits that want to come be a part of our program,” he said. “We took over a program that, the last game that they played, they lost 70-7 to their rival. I can point to a million different teams where, year one is a process. You don’t usually just walk into a winning organization.
“I don’t know if anyone’s been at a program that was 0-12 then had a totally brand new staff with a brand new quarterback. I don’t know if that’s ever been done.”
Examples Fisch used included Alabama, which in Nick Saban’s first season in 2007 lost at home to Louisiana-Monroe, and Penn State, where Bill O’Brien inherited a program in 2012 mired in scandal and his first season included a home loss to Ohio.
He also noted that, the year after he was at UCLA in 2017, new coach Chip Kelly started 0-5. The Bruins hadn’t won a nonconference game under Kelly until this year and are now ranked in the AP Top 25.
“We know that this season was going to be a great challenge for us, and our goal is each week to get better,” he said. “And I really believe at that point in time, the results will start coming.”
Fisch pointed to the UA women’s basketball program under Adia Barnes, which went 20-40 in her first two seasons (including a 6-24 record in 2017-18) and three years later played in the NCAA title game.
“We’re going to try to emulate or replicate what Adia Barnes did,” he said.