Arizona’s rise from the bottom of college football to national prominence under Jedd Fisch seemed like it happened overnight. And now just as quickly it may be going away.
The Wildcats are in the market for a head coach again, as Fisch has been hired by Washington. He will be replacing Kalen DeBoer, who left to take over Alabama following Nick Saban’s retirement.
The 47-year-old Fisch went 16-21 in three seasons at Arizona, including a 10-3 record this past fall that included a win over Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl. It was just the fourth 10-win season in school history and came two years after the program lost 20 consecutive games including the first eight of Fisch’s tenure, when he went 1-11.
Arizona finished 11th in the final Associated Press poll, its best season-ending ranking since 1998. The Wildcats were set to return at least 16 starters for 2024 as they move to the Big 12 Conference, including Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Noah Fifita and future first-round pick Tetairoa McMillan, but Fisch’s departure opens the NCAA transfer portal for UA players for 30 days.
Arizona FAU safety Dalton Johnson shares his thoughts as Jacob Manu, Jonah Savaiinaea and others head in behind him to the players meeting pic.twitter.com/wIUvxxERYB— Brian Pedersen (@realBJP) January 14, 2024
Many of Arizona’s top players figure to see what options they have in the portal, and several could follow Fisch to Seattle. Same goes for most of the coaching staff, though two have already left for other jobs.
Arizona’s financial troubles may have contributed to this opening. The school had been expected to sign Fisch to a contract extension that was to include a substantial raise–he was due to make $3.5 million in 2024–and the coach had more or less confirmed this in an interview on the Jim Rome show.
"I have no interest in going anywhere.— Jim Rome (@jimrome) January 4, 2024
I have a lot of interest in seeing if we can get to that CFP."
.@CoachJeddFisch says he's close to an extension that will keep him at Arizona. pic.twitter.com/EI2r4dCG9i
But the optics of giving out a big contract while the UA is dealing with a major budget shortfall, which has resulted in hiring and compensation freezes across the school, may have delayed the process.
Fisch becomes the first UA football coach to leave for another college job since Larry Smith went to USC after the 1986 season. His successor, Dick Tomey, is the winningest coach in school history.
No other sitting head coach had left Arizona for another job until 2021 when, in the span of a few months soccer coach Tony Amato went to Florida and baseball coach Jay Johnson left for LSU days after leading the Wildcats to the College World Series.
At Washington, Fisch will once again have to rebuild a roster after the vast majority of the Huskies team that lost to Michigan in the CFP title game have either run out of eligibility or declared for the NFL Draft. Several others have entered the portal following DeBoer’s departure, including quarterback Will Rogers, who had transferred in from Mississippi State a few weeks earlier.
Like Arizona, Washington is joining a new conference. The Huskies are one of four Pac-12 schools moving to the Big Ten.
As for who Arizona might look to replace Fisch with, it could try to elevate someone from the existing staff like offensive line coach/offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll or keep the coaching carousel going by poaching a sitting head coach from another program. Among the candidates the UA considered before hiring Fisch was San Jose State’s Brent Brennan, a former UA graduate assistant under Tomey whose team tied for first in the Mountain West in 2023.