Jedd Fisch wore a checkered, button-down shirt to his season-ending news conference Sunday. Other coaches could be seen roaming the halls of the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility with collared shirts in tow.
It’s recruiting season for Arizona, which concluded its 2021 campaign with a 38-15 loss at Arizona State on Saturday. The Wildcats finished 1-11 in Fisch’s first year, so they clearly need help.
Fisch isn’t just recruiting future UA players, though. He needs a new defensive coordinator. He’d like to finalize that hire by the middle of the week.
The job is officially open with the season in the rearview mirror. Don Brown is headed to UMass to become the head coach of the Minutemen. Fisch on Sunday outlined some of the qualifications he’s seeking in the next coordinator. They include:
Being a “great talent developer.”
Being a “great recruiter” who will “go out there and harvest talent, find talent, search for talent and really make sure that we continue to bring in great players.”
Having “incredible passion — similar to Coach Brown in that regard, different maybe in terms of personality, but someone that you can feel and see on the field.”
Being “very familiar” with the West Coast, the Pac-12 and “what we need to do here in this conference to win.”
Having some level of coordinator experience, which could include sharing the duties as a co-coordinator.
Having some connection to Fisch or someone on the current staff. The new DC doesn’t have to have worked with Fisch in the past.
Having “been a part of a rebuild.”
Fisch didn’t mention any specifics about scheme, but he liked the mentality Brown brought to the program. The Wildcats improved markedly in overall defense and pass defense, among other areas, during his one season.
“As I mentioned to the whole team at the end of the game, what Coach Brown did for our program is tremendous,” Fisch said. “He brought in a passion for defense. He brought in a mentality of aggressiveness, and he laid down a great foundation of how we can play football.
“Now we have to find guys that are going to improve upon taking the ball away, red-zone defense, continuing to develop the talent we have.”
What coaches fit the criteria? Coordinator candidates with West Coast ties include former Washington head coach and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake; Oregon associate head coach/co-defensive coordinator Joe Salave’a, who previously played for and coached at Arizona; San Diego State defensive coordinator Kurt Mattix; and Auburn outside linebackers coach/special-teams coordinator Bert Watts, who was the DC at Fresno State in 2018 and ’19 and played for Cal.
Current UA cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker also fits the description, having previously worked as the defensive coordinator at UCLA. It’s conceivable Fisch could make Walker the pass-game coordinator while the new coach is the run-game coordinator and calls the defensive plays.
Safeties coach Chuck Cecil and linebackers coach Keith Dudzinski also have coordinator experience. Dudzinski might join Brown at UMass, though. The two have worked together for years.
“I have not heard that,” Fisch said. “I’m sure he’ll probably have a decision to make at some point in time, because I know how close they are.
“But right now I expect our entire coaching staff to be on the road tomorrow recruiting ... all nine guys.”
Fisch has numerous items on his offseason to-do list. They include improving Arizona’s red-zone offense and reversing the Wildcats’ turnover margin. Both were the worst in the nation.
Fisch also wants Arizona to commit fewer penalties. Only four teams had fewer infractions at the end of the regular season.
The Wildcats were whistled for 12 fouls against ASU, their second game in a row with 11 or more. They were flagged 12 times on three occasions.
Fisch described the ASU game as one in which “we really found a lot of ways to lose.” That was a common theme for the 2021 Cats, who were outgained by only 198 yards over 12 games.
Fisch didn’t outline an exact plan for correcting the problem aside from doing something different.
“Clearly what I did during the season wasn’t good enough,” he said. “So we’re gonna change that.”
Fisch did suggest the coming offseason would be more challenging for the players than the last one.
“We have to not fall into the ‘this is how it’s been’ routine,” Fisch said. “It has to be harder, tougher, more disciplined, stricter.
“It’s not gonna be fun this offseason. The first offseason, we got to learn each other and we got to know each other. This offseason, we gotta figure out a way to take (it) from where we were to where we want to be and ... do an unbelievable job of improving every single day.”
Incident in Tempe
A handful of UA players were involved in a scuffle with a member of the ASU grounds crew during pregame warmups, according to a series of pictures posted on Twitter by a freelance photographer.
The pictures appear to show the grounds-crew member coming into contact with three Wildcats — Rashie Hodge Jr., John Burton and Nahe Sulunga. At one point, the grounds-crew member ends up on the turf in the south end zone. He eventually is escorted away by UA staffers.
Fisch said he was unaware of the incident until he was shown pictures of it just before his news conference Sunday. He lamented the “extracurricular nonsense” that broke out in rivalry games across the country. The Wildcats’ penalties included an unsportsmanlike-conduct foul at the end of the first half and a “flagrant” unsportsmanlike infraction in the third quarter that resulted in receiver Dorian Singer being ejected.
“There has to be some determination, decision, plan that hey, this is just not OK,” Fisch said. “We have to have serious ramifications for teams that are going to get involved in pregame scuffles, stupidity between you and another team. It’s not what you do.
“These guys ... all say they want to be NFL players. And then they turn around and get in ridiculous fights before a game.
“I don’t know the exact answer to that. But I do know that it will certainly be addressed, not just with our team.
“You see more highlights of fights in rivalry games than you do highlights of good football.”
Fisch said Arizona will be able to sign up to 23 players on Dec. 15. That number could grow by seven if seven or more players leave via the NCAA transfer portal after that date. The Wildcats currently have 15 verbal commitments.
Fisch cited two positions in most need of reinforcements: linebacker and offensive line. Weak-side linebacker Anthony Pandy is out of eligibility. Middle linebacker Jerry Roberts just had surgery. On the offensive line, center Josh McCauley is out of eligibility; guard Donovan Laie might go pro; and right-side starters Josh Donovan and Paiton Fears have at most one more year.
The states Fisch is set to visit in the coming days include California, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Nevada, Texas and Utah. “And then we’ll figure out what happens next week ... next week,” he said.