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Five things Brent Brennan needs to do to be successful at Arizona

Brent Brennan has already scored a major victory in his first week as Arizona football coach by keeping a majority of the roster in tact for next season.

Compared to his predecessor Jedd Fisch, Brennan will begin his tenure in Tucson in an advantageous position. Barring an unforeseen flurry of transfers this spring, Arizona will head into the fall with a top 25-caliber roster and realistic hopes of competing for a conference title and a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With that said, Brennan is navigating waters that Fisch nor any first-year Arizona coach this century has had to face. For one, the UA is transitioning conferences from the Pac-12 to the Big 12, altering the program’s geographical footprint. And Arizona is now without a permanent athletic director after Dave Heeke was ousted on Monday.

Brennan meanwhile is still putting the rest of his coaching staff. He’ll need to get a staff in order quickly so Arizona can begin recruiting future classes.

It’s far too early to prognosticate what Brennan’s future at Arizona, but there are some sure-fire steps he should take to turn the Wildcats into a consistent. Here are five things Brennan needs to do to be successful at Arizona.

Ensure Arizona’s scheme fits with the existing roster

Six years ago, Kevin Sumlin took over an Arizona program coming off a bowl appearance with a returning quarterback earning Heisman attention.

Under Sumlin, Khalil Tate was supposed to ascend to the top of college football, much like another Johnny Manziel did playing for Sumlin at Texas A&M. Instead, Sumlin and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone put out an offensive scheme that played away from Tate’s natural athletic abilities.

Mazzone asked Tate to develop a drop-back game, rather than giving the freedom to Tate take off and run like he did to great effect in the 2017 season. Tate’s ankle injury early in the 2018 season didn’t help matters.

The Sumlin/Mazzone combination failed because the coaches went away from the system that had been working under the preceding staff. Brennan can’t afford to make a similar mistake.

Brennan and his still-to-be-named offensive coordinator need to look at what Arizona did well on offense last season and fine tune that product rather than put forth a new scheme. The Arizona staff should build the offense around the strengths of quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan while accepting there will be some growing pains with multiple holes to fill at key positions.

Accelerate Arizona’s NIL

It would be nice to believe that Fifita, McMillan decided to stay at Arizona strictly out of loyalty to the school. That would also be naive.

Now that college football players are finally able to profit from their name, image and likeness (NIL), money is one of the top factors in where someone chooses to play. Brennan seems to understand this well, even if his last school San Jose State wasn’t a big player in the NIL space.

“It’s become transactional almost, without any guardrails from the NCAA, the world, the state, the government,” Brennan said during his introductory press conference. “It’s really an interesting time that way.”

While fans might not like that college sports has become so transactional, they like losing even less. For Arizona to compete on a national level, Tucson business leaders and UA alumni will be asked to contribute more to existing NIL collectives.

Brennan has a great track record as a fundraiser. He was a driving force behind SJSU’s new $70 million athletic facility. He’ll be asked to put on his fundraiser hat nonstop over the coming years.

Connect with former players

One of Fisch’s greatest accomplishments at Arizona was getting former players more involved with the program. Fisch did this by adding Tedy Bruschi as an advisor, bringing in big names like Tate and Rob Gronkowski and hiring Syndric Steptoe as senior director of player and community relations.

Brennan needs to continue the work of program alumni outreach. He has the advantage of having coached at Arizona in 2000 under UA great Dick Tomey. Some of Brennan’s first calls should be to former Tomey players to make them feel involved and bring them back on campus.

“When I’m seeing all these former players – my brother was a former player – and how they still interact and the outpouring of love that I’ve gotten from them since this has all gone down,” Brennan said last week. “And that’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re going to double down on family, double down on loving each other and caring about each other, and we will build something you can all be proud of.”

Brennan could take a page of Tommy Lloyd’s playbook and pair former players as mentors to guys on the current roster. He has no shortage of alumni to pull from.

Broaden Arizona’s geographical footprint

Brennan is a west coaster through and through, having grown up in the Bay Area, played at UCLA and spent the majority of his adult life at either SJSU or Oregon State.

Moving to the Big 12 will be a geographical adjustment for Brennan, but one the new coach has to quickly embrace.

Arizona will always draw players from the west coast and particularly California. However, the program needs to use the Big 12 to its advantage by recruiting states like Texas, Oklahoma and even Florida more heavily.

Arizona has a great opportunity this coming season to grow its presence across the country with a pair of household names in Fifita and McMillan. Arizona should also benefit from being in a conference with a better TV rights deal. All of Arizona’s games will played on the ESPN and Fox Sports networks.

Develop NFL talent

Brennan made it clear during his opening press conference that he wants Arizona to be a program known for developing players.

“My belief is that this has always been a developmental program, and that your best players are playing as they get a little bit later in their years,” Brennan said.

While Brennan didn’t specify development for the NFL, he has proven he can turn out professional football. Three San Jose State players were drafted during his six years as head coach of the Spartans. As Oregon State’s wide receivers coach from 2011-16, Brennan also coached at least three future NFL receivers.

For Brennan’s time at Arizona to be a success, he’ll need to build up the program’s reputation as a school that can develop NFL talent. Between 2017-2023, only six Arizona players were drafted including none in the last two drafts.

Brennan alluded to how hard it to get players to the NFL, noting it’s “a combination of talent, scheme and development.”

“The developmental piece is an everyday thing,” he said. “But it also comes with recruiting the kind of player that wants to be that committed to get to that level.”