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For Arizona football, the ones that got away don’t matter nearly as much as those that stayed put

arizona-wildcats-football-ncaa-transfer-portal-jedd-fisch-washington-tetairoa-mcmillan-noah-fifita Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Jedd wasn’t the first Fisch to go bad in Arizona.

The desert heat can be a problem for anybody, and its impact cannot be understated. For Arizona’s former head football coach, the opportunity to parlay success in Tucson into a higher-paying, more prestigious job was something he apparently just could not pass up, so off he went.

Losing the head coach who led Arizona Football from the bottom of the sport to a top-15 ranking wasn’t great, but it did not need to be the end of the program’s momentum. That is, as long as the talent he brought in did not also bolt for, shall we say, greener pastures.

(The pastures are greener because of the potential financial windfall other schools could have offered. You know, because green is the color of money.)

The funny thing about Fisch’s departure was that, up until he left, he told all who would listen that he and his staff sold players on staying at Arizona because there was more to the college experience than just making more money. This of course makes you wonder what was the pitch he and his fellow coaches have been using to try and lure their former players to the Pacific Northwest.

Ephesians Prysock, one of the two players (thus far) from the 2023 team who have left Arizona for Washington, told On3 Sports that Fisch and the staff made their spot feel like home.

“Like coach Fisch said you don’t commit to a logo you commit to the coaching staff and the relationship,” he said. “At the end of the day I committed to coach Fisch.”

That’s fair, even if one can point out that Fisch and his staff didn’t exactly commit to the players they brought to Tucson.

But hey, that’s college sports.

Whatever the pitch is and however it is being received, with just a couple weeks or so left in this portal window that opened (due to Fisch leaving) it appears to not really be working.

Yes Prysock and running back Jonah Coleman are now Huskies, and given that they were starters and potential future NFL draft picks that hurts. A couple of the team’s incoming freshmen, such as QB Demond Williams, have also chosen clouds over sunshine. Others still in the portal may eventually join them or perhaps just land somewhere other than Tucson or Seattle.

We should all be disappointed to see talented players leave the Old Pueblo, but any bitterness towards them is generally unwarranted. These are college kids and while there is no guarantee the choice to leave will work out best in the long run, they have every right to do what they think is best for themselves and their futures.

But while you should hold no ill will towards those who left or leave, you should absolutely heap praise upon those who are staying. Their reasons for doing so will vary, as not all had better opportunities elsewhere.

Not that it matters. Each of these players committed to play at the school, which is still there, though for coaches who are no longer around. That they are giving Brent Brennan and his staff a chance is all you can ask for, and if all goes well they will be the players whose names we attribute the rise of Arizona Football to.

Noah Fifita, Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Manu. Gunner Maldonado, Treydan Stukes and Dalton Johnson. Raymond Pulido, Josh Baker, Jonah Savaiinaea and Wendell Moe. Kevin Green Jr., Speedy Luke, Malachai Riley and A.J. Jones. Jordan Washington, Stacy Bey, Jack Luttrell, Chubba Maae and Dylan Tapley.

The list goes on and to name each player would take up too much space here, and this piece is already set to be a long one. But that’s the point. For many programs a coach leaving leads to a mass exodus. For Arizona, the coach leaving has led to a scene more like the movie Jerry Maguire when Jerry left and was followed out the door by a non-descript coworker and a goldfish.

OK, so Prysock and Coleman are no Dorothy Boyd and aquatic animal, respectively, and in the end things worked out pretty well for Jerry so maybe it’s not a great example. And as for references, going with a mid-90s movie that did well at the box office and with awards but is hardly seen as a classic was, well, a choice.

But focus less on my questionable decision to reference that movie and more on the exciting one made by the remaining Wildcats. Each of them decided to give coaches who they did not commit to and probably barely knew, if at all, a chance to help them build off what was accomplished last season.

Similar to the players who left, those who stayed have made the determination that at this time, this staff and school are what’s best for their future. And because of that, they have a chance to continue building toward what just a few weeks ago seemed to be an incredibly bright future, one that included an enticing 2024 season where they would enter as one of the favorites to win the Big 12 and earn a playoff spot.

On their video show “Island Time”, Fifita and T-Mac provided a lighthearted look into why they are sticking around. McMillan joked he didn’t want to move, but said nothing really pushed him to leave. Fifita went on to say he at first was ready to follow Fisch but then after meetings and everything else that transpired over the next week convinced him to “run it back.”

He pointed to the idea of leaving a legacy at Arizona whereas at Washington “you’re another team”, eventually concluding that “it just means more in Tucson.”

It does.

Fifita and McMillan, the guy mentioned as a Heisman candidate and the one who is destined to be a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, are the headliners and deserve a ton of credit for staying. While not every player on the roster could have found big NIL dollars or guaranteed starting jobs elsewhere, these two certainly could have. Beyond them though is a team that has banded together out of love for each other and, it would seem, the school they play for and city in which they play.

There is an understanding that they not only have a chance to do something that has never been done at the school, but in doing so be the ones responsible for building the program into what we all hope it can be. Nothing is guaranteed and it will never be easy for a non-blue blood, but for as messy as his exit may have been Fisch deserves credit for showing Arizona is not a lost cause that must be relegated to hoping for simple mediocrity.

Had Fisch succeeded in bringing much of the roster to Washington, it would have been understandable. But that he seemingly has failed to do so is not a knock on him so much as it is a sign that the players he brought in truly are special. Not just in their talent, but their personalities.

Without the former, Arizona would not have won 10 games last season. Without the latter, they would not be poised to build off that success.

So yes, Fisch’s finish in Tucson was not good. But it looks like what he started cannot be undone, even by him. And that, my friends, is delicious.