As Brent Brennan was answering questions from reporters during his introductory press conference at Arizona, a couple more of the assistants that were part of the 2023 team were officially announced bas joining Jedd Fisch at Washington. The vast majority of Fisch’s final UA staff will be part of his first one in Seattle.
However, it appears that Brennan has managed to convince one UA coach who recently left the program to come back.
“I do think I have a decent commitment from Duane Akina to continue to be part of this, which is exciting,” Brennan said. “Just the teacher he is, the person he is, the leader he is. I’m excited about that.”
Akina, who served as the UA’s secondary coach in 2023, had reportedly taken an off-field position with Texas. He was one of two Arizona assistants headed to the Longhorns, with defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen taking a co-DC/inside linebackers position. Both moves occurred before Fisch left for Washington.
If Akina returns it would technically mark his third stint with Arizona. From 1987-2000 he was on Dick Tomey’s staffs, including in 2000 when Brennan was a graduate assistant, and then this past season he was brought on in the spring as an analyst before taking on a bigger role for the regular season.
As for the rest of Brennan’s staff, he said he’s still working on that and acknowledges that doing so is “one of the more complicated things of taking the job.” He’s so far brought one staff member over from San Jose State, Ben Thienes, who was a senior associate athletic director overseeing football and facilities operations.
“The other pieces are still moving,” Brennan said. “I do think that my priority since I’ve gotten here is a balance of trying to get to know this team and spend some time around the team and meeting one on one with some of the players, and then also meeting with some groups of players, because I’m just trying to get to know them. But more importantly, I’m trying to give them a chance to get to know me. They’re kind of in a tough spot. And with the way the rules are now, right, like anyone can leave at any time. And so that’s just the nature of college football. So how quickly can I start to get to know them, how they can get to know me and start to build a connection. I believe that the best way to move forward is right here at the University of Arizona.”
One of Brennan’s former coaches, and players, is Kevin Cummings, who had been the only full-time assistant from the 2023 Arizona staff that hadn’t found a new job before it was announced Wednesday afternoon he was joining Fisch and others at Washington.
Cummings played wide receiver at Oregon State from 2010-13, the last three seasons of which Brennan was OSU’s receivers coach. Cummings was an offensive quality control assistant with the Beavers from 2014-16 and then followed Brennan to San Jose when he got the head coach job, serving as the Spartans’ receivers coach from 2017-20 before coming to Arizona.
“I promise that we’re going to have great leaders, mentors and developers of talent in the building to help them get where they want to go and elevate our program as high as we possibly can,” Brennan said he told Arizona’s players when he met with them Tuesday.
Brennan said he tried to be as honest as possible during that meeting, knowing that there was a lot of hurt in the room following Fisch’s sudden departure.
“And the reason I can say that is because I just did that to a team yesterday,” he said. “Yesterday morning before I got on the plane to come down here I had to meet with the team at San Jose State. It was really, really hard, really emotional. And if you do build it right, and if your team is connected on a level that gives you a chance to be successful on Saturdays in the fall, they’re going to be super connected. So when a piece of it leaves, there’s gonna be some fallout, right?
“And so I was just honest with them, I just asked them to give me a chance to earn their trust, to treat each other with respect and that trust will be earned over time, and then I promised them I’d surround them with a great coaching staff and people that care about their development and who they are as men.”