When Jedd Fisch was announced as the head coach of the Arizona Wildcats, the reaction was unenthusiastic at best.
But very smart people like the Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth said to give Fisch time to assemble his staff. He had accumulated a vast network of coaching contacts in his years as a college and pro coach and is putting the finishing touches on a group that features Brennan Carroll and Don Brown, who oversaw some of college football’s best defenses at Michigan.
The staff is only half the battle, though. Fisch took over a job with a roster hemorrhaging players to the transfer portal for the second straight offseason. The Wildcats need quality and quantity when adding players to create depth and compete at a Pac-12 level. To accomplish this, the mindset, the goal and the rallying cry is clear: It’s personal.
The staff repeated that phrase time and again when meeting with media on Thursday. They want to connect with the current players and recruits. They want to feel the frustration that’s lived in the building during the program’s 12-game losing streak and harbor that into motivation. To turn the corner, they’ll need to do it together.
It’s worked so far as key players like Jamarye Joiner, Boobie Curry and Stanley Berryhill opted to come back to Tucson after entering their names in the transfer portal. The roster has also started to stabilize with multiple incoming transfers including three who know the state well.
After Talking With Coach Fisch & Coach Cummings This Morning Along with Prayer. I Feel It’s Only Right To Put On For My City And BEAR TF DOWN.?? #Turnup10 @CoachJeddFisch @Coach_KC84 @CoachJimmieD pic.twitter.com/MKkUXX4wRf
— ?? ™ (@Jamaryejoiner) January 7, 2021
Fisch said the program’s recruiting priority would be Arizona. It’s a statement just about every Arizona, ASU and NAU head coach has made when they get hired since the beginning of time, and there have been varying degrees of success for past regimes. For the two Pac-12 schools, they have rated anywhere from “meh” to “fine” over the past few years when it comes to keeping the quality in-state players within the state borders.
But Fisch has already put his money where his mouth is, even if it’s making good on past recruiting misses.
Since taking over, Fisch and his coaching staff has added former Arizona prep standouts in safety Gunner Maldonado, running back Drake Anderson and defensive end Jason Harris.
Maldonado and Anderson both played their prep ball at Chandler before going to Northwestern. Harris was an Under Armour All-American at Higley and reunites with his older brother Jason at the Old Pueblo.
Yes, it’s a nice story to have local players come home, but they can also play at a high level.
Harris had 23 sacks and 25 tackles for loss as a senior and had just about every program in the Pac-12 after him. He does a lot of really good things on a football field, but he gets after the quarterback at an elite level. Pair him with a defensive coordinator nicknamed “Dr. Blitz,” and he should live in the backfield. If he can add size to his 6-foot-8 frame like his brother has, Fisch has a mutant in his front seven.
— Arizona Football (@ArizonaFBall) January 11, 2021
Maldonado was a brilliant ball-hawk for the Wolves, capping off his high school career with a seven-interception senior season. The Wildcats offered the class of 2020 standout in high school, along with the likes of ASU, Iowa State and Indiana, but the safety went the Northwestern and recorded a tackle in his freshman season before entering the transfer portal.
Anderson, a class of 2018 running back, battled injuries in his high school career before exploding for a 2,000-yard season with Chandler. In his last two seasons with Northwestern, he tallied 890 rushing yards.
“There’s a lot of guys that leave the West Coast and realize they very much prefer to be on the West Coast,” Fisch said. “Our ultimate goal is to not let them leave, but we also recognize there are some guys that are going to want look elsewhere and see what it looks like and see what it feels like. When they want to come back, we want to be able to welcome them back and the portal has permitted us to do that.”
While current high school players are limited with what they can experience in their recruitment due to the coronavirus pandemic, they still talk to guys in other classes.
With social media, 7-on-7 leagues and specialty coaches as popular as ever, players interact with other players outside of their school districts more than ever.
The fact that Harris, Maldonado and Anderson are all back gives current in-state players an extra reason to watch the ‘Cats. The coaching staff winning their first recruiting battles with the players currently on the roster makes a statement.
And now the coaching staff is setting their sights on Arizona high school coaches as well.
Fisch told reporters on Thursday the staff plans to call every high school football coach in the state in the next 48 hours.
“It’s very simple to send out a letter. It’s very simple to send out a graphic. It’s very simple to throw out a tweet,” Fisch said. “But if we’re going to share our message of it being personal, then it’s also very important to be able to personally contact each coach.”
I appreciate new UofA HC @CoachJeddFisch for reaching out to us high school coaches tonight. Smart and classy move.
— Jason Jewell (@jason247scout) January 14, 2021
The coaching staff plans to hold weekly Zooms with high school coaches to provide insight in a virtual clinic setting.
There’s a lot more that will have to go right for Coach Fisch and his staff to turn the program’s struggles around but for the steps they’ve been able to take in their early tenure, they’ve made it personal, and it’s working.