It is better to have a coach be poached than fired.
With the former it means that 1) they likely did a very good job, and 2) a buyout is likely coming your school’s way.
This being true does not do much to soften the blow of Jedd Fisch’s departure for Washington, a move that happened suddenly, after a great Arizona season and ahead of one that could have seen the Wildcats reach even greater heights.
With Fisch on the way to Washington he leaves that possibility in the dust for an offer that, try as it might, Arizona could not match or surpass.
Understanding Fisch was likely never going to be football’s Lute Olson and would eventually bounce, the decision to leave this team right now is an absolutely brutal blow for the program.
Maybe things will be fine, or maybe this move will undo all the progress made and send Arizona back to the bottom of its conference. It could go either way.
While the Wildcats have been on a great trajectory, they have not won nearly enough to be an established program. Fisch has shown there is indeed a path toward winning here, but him leaving now left no room for him to show that what he’s accomplished was not a fluke.
Actually perhaps that’s why he’s leaving, striking while the iron’s hot and when a program like Washington would want him.
At any rate, Arizona’s 10-win season was a good one, and with the bulk of the roster set to return expectations were going to be high in 2024. Nothing was guaranteed, but it appeared Fisch was on the cusp of building something both special and sustainable in a landscape where that should have been difficult to do in Tucson.
Looking at it that way, it makes even more sense that he would leave for Washington, a program fresh off a championship game appearance and heading to a better conference with more money and resources than he could likely ever get at Arizona.
Of course, understanding why Fisch would leave for Washington doesn’t do much to help Arizona, which now tasked with finding a coach who will build on the success while simultaneously hoping there is not a mass exodus into the transfer portal.
If the new coach can keep the team together then everything Arizona thought it could achieve next season in the Big 12 would still be on the table.
If the new coach can’t, well, we know what could result.
Working in Arizona’s favor is that it has been done before, very recently. Fisch himself was tabbed somewhat late in the hiring cycle and managed to convince most of Arizona’s best players to give him a chance before hitting the portal. He then worked incredibly hard on the recruiting trail and turned one of the worst rosters in the country into one of its best.
Fisch leaving now is a punch to the gut, and it’s entirely possible his departure guts Arizona’s excellent roster. In a lengthy statement following his decision to bolt, Fisch wrote, “I am proud to leave everything in a better place than when I came.”
As of this exact moment, you can say that’s true. But if he is followed out the door by key player after key player, there’s a reasonable chance what Fisch leaves behind more closely resembles what he took over than what he last coached.
If that were to happen the good news, if there is any, is that Fisch has shown the path toward success in Tucson. Build a good staff, work hard on the recruiting trail and develop the talent you’ve got.
The next coach may have their struggles, but so too did Fisch at first.
Three years ago Arizona was at its lowest point and had just hired a relative unknown to bring the program out of the abyss. It happened, quickly, and because of that the coach hired then has now left for a bigger program and a more lucrative deal.
It’s entirely possible that Fisch leaving means the program has reached its pinnacle and to expect more than what we just got would be unwise. Conversely, if anyone had any doubts that Arizona could compete at the highest level on the football field those should now have been erased.
Recently Arizona has been really bad. Last season, Arizona was really good. The former got Fisch hired and the latter got him hired away.
If it wasn’t this year, then Fisch was most likely going to be gone after the next one. No matter when he left the news was not going to be taken well, and that’s a credit to not only what he accomplished in Tucson but what it appeared he was building.
It does not have to come crumbling down without him, but it might. The next hire has the blueprint for success but must have the aptitude and ability to follow it.
If they do, it’s possible Arizona will be in this same position again within a few years.
If not, Arizona will be in the position it is more used to, which is paying a coach to go away.
Neither option is great, but one is certainly better than the other.
Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.