Less than one week after playing in the national championship game, Washington has had to hire a new coach. Life comes at you fast sometimes. The Huskies this afternoon announced that Washington has hired Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch to the same position for the Huskies.
Fisch’s candidacy stems from this past season where his Arizona Wildcats vastly overachieved compared to preseason expectations. Vegas had Arizona pegged to only win 5 games but instead they went 10-3 and finished the season ranked #11 overall. The Wildcats only lost one game in regulation, at home to Washington by a single touchdown. Their other two losses both came in overtime on the road to Mississippi State and USC.
Despite being in the coaching business for 25 years, the Arizona gig is the first time that Fisch has been a head coach and he has accumulated a 17-22 record there. The Wildcats were among the worst power conference teams in the country when Fisch arrived as they went 0-5 in the shortened Covid season under then head coach Kevin Sumlin. That included an embarrassing 70-7 loss to rivals Arizona State.
In the 3 seasons since then Fisch has steadily improved the Wildcats from 2-10 to 5-7 to 10-3. The 2022 team that went 5-7 was a diet version of Washington with an explosive offense but one of the worst defenses in the country. This past season kept up the offensive gains despite a new quarterback but greatly improved on defense.
The resume for Jedd Fisch is one of the more unusual in college football. He did not play either high school or college football but instead got his start as a graduate assistant after attending the University of Florida with a degree in criminology. Fisch made several connections there including being college roommates with current Philadelphia Eagles general manager Howie Roseman.
After 2 years with the Gators, Fisch spent a large amount of time in the NFL and then in college bouncing from job to job. His longest stint was as an offensive assistant for the Baltimore Ravens from 2004-07 but otherwise has never spent more than 3 years in the same job. On the NFL side he was Seattle’s quarterbacks coach in 2010 and the offensive coordinator in Jacksonville in 2013 and 2014. In college he was Minnesota’s OC in 2009, Miami’s OC in 2011-12, and UCLA’s OC in 2017. Prior to be hired as Arizona’s head coach he was the quarterbacks coach for the New England Patriots in their first season post-Tom Brady.
Bruce Feldman of The Athletic is reporting that the contract is expected to be 7 years at an average annual salary of $7.75 million. That is longer but for less money than an initial FootballScoop report that put it at 6 years and near $9 million. Washington is owed $12 million by Alabama for the hiring of Kalen DeBoer and now owe Arizona $5.5 for a net gain of $6.5 million. Given the length of the deal, that essentially covers $1 million annually from Fisch’s contract. He had previously been making close to $3 million at Arizona although a contract extension the Wildcats had on the table would have upped that number.
We will see the final buyout number but given the length of the contract, it stands to reason that UW is trying to protect itself from Fisch bouncing early to take a job at his alma mater of Florida or the NFL.
The Seattle Times’ Mike Vorel reported on Saturday night that there were 3 candidates that interviewed from the job. It appears that alongside Fisch, that Kansas’ Lance Leipold (who stated publicly that he was staying shortly before the Fisch reports started leaking), and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell interviewed for the position. Washington offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb posted on Saturday night that he was not getting the job despite interest on his part and it seems Athletic Director Troy Dannen was not willing to strongly consider a candidate without some success as a head coach.
Washington was left in a difficult position based on the timing of Saban’s retirement and DeBoer’s decision to take the Alabama job. Many obvious candidates such as former Husky OC Jonathan Smith at Oregon State (who went to Michigan State) or AD Troy Dannen’s former HC at Tulane Willie Fritz (who went to Houston) each took other jobs. Fisch, similar to DeBoer, reportedly had an extension ready for him to sign but still had not fully agreed to terms to stay with the Wildcats.
There are certainly question marks with Fisch beyond just the scattered nature of his resume. The first quarterback to have success under Fisch at Arizona was Jayden de Laura who was accused of sexual assault while in high school. At Pac-12 Media Day, Fisch stated that “what we learned was that Jayden never pled guilty or was ever found guilty of any crimes. And really, for us, that’s what we can live off of”. Jayden started the season as the starting quarterback for the Wildcats before losing his job to Noah Fifita after suffering an ankle injury and Fifita playing well in his absence. de Laura was already not a fan favorite of Husky fans after he planted a flag at midfield following an Apple Cup victory over UW in Husky Stadium while a member of Washington State. He is currently uncommitted in the transfer portal.
It will not be an easy task for Fisch to make Washington competitive despite taking over a team that just finished #2 in the country. The Huskies have 14 starters leaving for the NFL and another 4 starters currently in the transfer portal who Fisch will need to try to convince to return. There are also currently 0 quarterbacks on the roster for spring ball with incoming freshman Dermaricus Davis as the only projected player to be there for the fall.
We will see if Fisch is able to bring any of his stars at Arizona such as QB Noah Fifita or WR Tetaroia McMillan along with him through the transfer portal. He has shown the ability to recruit above Arizona’s station with the #3 class in the Pac-12 in 2022 nd the #6 class in 2023. He initially earned commitments from local star edge rush teammates Elijah Rushing and Keona Wilhite but both decommitted. Wilhite switched his pledge to Washington but decommitted earlier in the day. We’ll see if Fisch can reel back in Wilhite as well as Arizona 4-star edge rusher Noah Carter who decommitted yesterday and was the highest ranked player in Washington’s 2024 class.
It will take time to see who ends up on Washington’s staff with Fisch but it seems likely that offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll, son of former Seahawk coach Pete, will accompany him. Arizona was already facing a vacancy for their defensive coordinator role when former Husky assistant Johnny Nansen chose to leave for Texas. Arizona’s assistants also include former Husky coaches Jordan Paopao (TE) and Jimmy Dougherty (WR)
The next few days and weeks will surely be incredibly busy as both the coaching staff and roster are filled out. Washington at least appears to have their man and can begin trying to get back to the highs they felt just one week ago.