Saturday, April 13, 2024

Washington hires Jedd Fisch: Ex-Arizona coach replaces Kalen DeBoer, leads Huskies into Big Ten

Washington has hired coach Jedd Fisch away from Arizona after three seasons, the university announced. Fisch replaces Kalen DeBoer, who left for the Alabama job this week following the retirement of Nick Saban. Details of Fisch’s deal are not yet official but it is believed to be worth $7.75 million annually over seven years, according to multiple reports. 

Fisch, 47, executed an impressive turnaround for the Wildcats, culminating with a 10-win season in 2023. He solidified his reputation as an offensive guru after a winding career including numerous NFL assistant jobs and coordinator gigs with major college programs.

“It is truly an honor to join the University of Washington and do my part in carrying on the tradition of a storied football program and world-class university,” said Fisch in a UW release. “The unbelievable success of the Huskies the last two seasons demonstrates what UW is capable of and I cannot wait to compete for Big Ten and national championships with tremendous young men and an outstanding coaching staff that we will assemble.”

Fisch proved during his three-year tenure at Arizona that he can successfully build a winning program amid challenging circumstances. He inherited a team that finished 0-5 in 2020 and progressively made the Wildcats more competitive. Arizona reached double-digit victories for just the fourth time in program history this season, finishing with a seven-game winning streak capped by a 38-24 win over Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.

Arizona’s breakthrough in 2023 centered around the emergence of quarterback Noah Fifita, who was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. Fifita actually made his first career start against Washington on Sept. 30. Though Arizona lost the game 31-24, his emergence turned the Wildcats into one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous teams.

“I absolutely loved my time as a Wildcat and never thought my family and I would ever leave. Unfortunately, that day has come,” Fisch said in a letter to Arizona

It was a the instant success DeBoer experienced at Washington — 25-3 in two seasons with a College Football Playoff National Championship berth this year — will make replacing him a daunting task as the Huskies transition from the Pac-12 to the Big Ten for the 2024 season.

Prior to arriving at Arizona, his first head coaching opportunity, Fisch worked for the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams. The New Jersey native has bounced between college and professional opportunities since landing a graduate assistant opportunity at Florida in 1999. He modeled the early part of his career after Gators legend Steve Spurrier.

Offensive coordinator jobs at Minnesota, Miami and UCLA were among Fisch’s most prominent collegiate stops prior to Arizona. He also worked as Michigan’s quarterbacks coach and passing game coordinator in 2015 and 2016.

New chapter for Washington

Even if DeBoer had turned down Alabama to remain as Washington’s coach, the 2024 season was going to bring new challenges for the Huskies, who fell 34-13 to Michigan in the CFP National Championship this month. With numerous key playmakers departing for the NFL and Washington headed to the Big Ten, DeBoer would have faced an uphill battle in maintaining such prolific success in 2024.

Now, that task will fall on Fisch as the Huskies replace quarterback Michael Penix Jr., a star receiving trio and versatile running back Dillon Johnson from the nation’s No. 2 passing offense. One example of the roster complications Fisch faces is that the heir-apparent to Penix has already entered the transfer portal. Will Rogers committed to Washington in mid-December after setting the SEC’s career completions record at Mississippi State and was in line to lead DeBoer’s system next year.

But with DeBoer now at Alabama, Rogers hit the portal before ever playing a snap with the Huskies. Ultimately, someone with Fisch’s offensive track record should be able to attract a quality quarterback — or perhaps even retain Rogers. But Fisch will be assembling things on the fly heading into a 2024 slate that features games against Michigan, USC, Penn State and Oregon, just to name a few of the bigger name opponents on Washington’s schedule.

Arizona’s conundrum 

Fisch’s departure comes at an inopportune time for Arizona. A 30-day window for current Wildcats to enter the transfer portal has been reopened at a time when much of this year’s transferring talent has already committed. Thus, the Wildcats could now be subject to a roster raid at a point in the calendar when replacements are not readily available.

The coaching change is also a reminder of the reality Arizona now inhabits the shifting college sports landscape. While Washington has consistently been considered a better job than Arizona, the difference between the two is more pronounced now amid conference realignment. Arizona is headed to the Big 12 while Washington is going to the Big Ten in 2024. As the Big Ten and SEC continue to ascend in power with high-profile acquisitions that will take effect in the coming season, coaching opportunities in those two leagues now stand apart. Arizona made a great hire in Fisch, but the changing winds of college sports made it increasingly difficult to keep him.

Among the early names to watch in Arizona’s quest to replace Fisch are Group of Five head coaches Brent Brennan of San Jose State, GJ Kinne of Texas State and Barry Odom of UNLV, according to 247Sports. Arizona offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll is also a name to watch.

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