Jedd Fisch on why he left Arizona, angry fans and new opportunities at Washington

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Jedd Fisch on why he left Arizona, angry fans and new opportunities at Washington

It’s been a hectic few weeks for newly hired Washington coach Jedd Fisch. From his departure from Arizona to moving to the Pacific Northwest and taking over a Huskies program that just played for a national title, there hasn’t been a lot of downtime.

But Fisch took 30 minutes out of his Monday to appear on the Until Saturday podcast. He addressed why he took the Washington job and his controversial departure from Tucson.

Following is an excerpt of that conversation. If you want to listen to the entire interview, be sure to check out the Until Saturday feed on Tuesday morning wherever you listen to podcasts.

(Note: The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

It has been a hectic few weeks in your life. How has it been? 

It’s certainly been a whirlwind since the bowl game. We had a great win at Arizona winning the Alamo Bowl. Then from there, tried to take some days off and went away. Then our defensive coordinator let me know he was gonna go to Texas, which was disappointing for us, but I was happy for Johnny (Nansen) if he felt that was the best opportunity for him. Then got back into town and started getting ready for our first spring meeting. Then Wednesday, whenever that was, Nick Saban retired and then Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, which is just nuts in the coaching profession. Then Kalen DeBoer got hired (at Alabama) on Friday from Washington and then I ended up getting a call Saturday morning to gauge my interest.

It was an intriguing job. That’s for sure. Talking about their plans entering into the Big Ten, coming off of a national championship game (appearance), the resources they were referring to regarding assistant coaches and player welfare and what they wanted to do with the players was all pretty intriguing. Obviously, their commitment to the head coach was very intriguing, as well. Altogether, it just seemed like one of those opportunities you had to listen to. So we did that. And that was Saturday afternoon, and then went right back to business as usual. During that time one of our coaches was out there trying to consider joining (Nansen) at Texas. So I had to think through how we were going to replace potentially two coaches during that day. And then I got a call that night from Washington, and they offered me the head coaching job. Sunday morning, they sent over the documents, and it was one of those situations that it was one of those opportunities it was impossible to say no to.

At times, fans, in general, forget that coaches are people with families and their own personal goals and putting food on the table and all of those things. But I wanted to ask you, as the three-day window of all these coaches retiring, when you’re in your position and you’re vocal about how much you love U of A and how much you want to stay, you have in the back of your mind, “All this stuff is happening, I’m committed to where I am at, but I’m going to be involved in all of this.” How do you handle that? 

Wherever we’ve been at, we’ve been fully committed to that spot. And I think that’s why I’ve gotten the jobs I’ve gotten. You know, as December progressed, there was one job that reached out, Texas A&M, and I spoke with them briefly on Zoom. And there was no other job that reached out that I had any interest in or I spoke with. And there was really no thought in my mind about going anywhere. There was nowhere to go, there was nowhere that was interesting to me that was available. We loved Arizona. We felt like we were gonna have a great team coming back, although I was concerned about some of the missing pieces from the year before, (leaving) really didn’t cross my mind. So as I was being talked to, from the university side, from the media side, from our player side, it was very simple to me: “Yeah, we’re going to be here, we’re going to get this contract done for our assistant coaches first, then we’re going to get my contract done.”

My contract didn’t get approved by the Board of Regents in December. They needed to get it fully alumni-supported and alumni-backed. There was supposed to be promissory notes signed and 70 percent of them were signed, 30 percent were not. So there wasn’t any way to get my contract passed in the Board of Regents until at least February, and we had to make a decision. But really, there was no decision to be made. You know, yeah, Pete Carroll’s leaving, but that wasn’t gonna affect us. We weren’t gonna go to the Seahawks. Coach Belichick retiring or moving on in New England, however, the word that was Jerod Mayo’s job. And Nick Saban, I mean, there was no thought in a million years that Alabama was gonna reach out. So I kind of thought that there was no job that was going to be intriguing enough to leave what I felt was an incredible deal at Arizona.

Even if you have a personal goal to one day move on to a different job, you’re two feet down where you’re at and give 100 percent of your effort to that place. I think a lot of people at Arizona, as you know, are upset. I want to ask you a tough question about the fan blowback. A lot of people took exception to the video Washington posted of the contract being signed in your Tucson home and the three-minute meeting telling your players you were leaving. Is there anything you would have done differently? 

First of all, we loved Tucson. We loved our players and all of those players who came to Arizona signed with our staff. The whole team was signed by us. When I made the decision to take the job, I knew how many people I could help. I knew how many people I could take (to Washington). Selfishly, I could have stayed in Arizona. I would have been compensated really well. I think my contract would have been signed somewhere between February and May of the coming year. Hopefully, with the financial situation, it all would have been taken care of.

But my assistant coach pool would still have been $3.5 million less than what it is now. And some of the things I could have done for all our support staff would not have been able to get done. So what happens is you have a very irate fan base because they don’t understand necessarily why you would do it. Why would you sign a contract in your home? Or why would you have a three-minute meeting? Well, there was no other place to sign the contract. I wasn’t going to have a team meeting and let the team know that I was leaving without signing something that says, “You have a job and you’re leaving to go take a job.” Now, you know, the University of Washington has a responsibility to their fan base as well. And they have a responsibility to their recruiting class as well. And that athletic director came out. And when Troy (Dannen) flew here, he flew here because he wanted to secure me going up to Washington. And you know, I wanted to secure me going up to Washington. So that’s why I signed the contract.

I had to do everything I possibly could to make Washington football feel like they got the person that they hoped to get. And over the next seven years, when they make that type of financial commitment and that type of long-term commitment to myself and my family, they deserve that as well and then some.

It feels like some of the banter or some of the discussions that have come out since I left have really taken away from all the success we had at Arizona, taking a program that was on a 12-game losing streak and leaving it on a seven-game winning streak. And it felt like Washington has not been able to enjoy what they hope will be a great run with us as well.

And the player meeting?

The team meeting was not my choice. The team meeting was absolutely dictated to me from administration and really from the NCAA. If you’re going to call a player meeting and let them know you’re leaving to go to another Division I program, then you can’t talk about the why. You can’t talk about really any part other than I’m going to take the University of Washington job, because otherwise, you’d be considered recruiting and tampering and trying to get people to jump in the portal. And it puts you in a really weird spot.

So the three-minute team meeting, I told them that I loved them. I told them I appreciated them. I told our staff that as many of them that I could bring, I would bring. That ended up bringing 21 people in our building that we were able to help provide for their families in a way that they weren’t provided for before. And we felt as if we were doing the right thing for a lot of people. And in turn, we are excited about what the University of Washington can bring.

This isn’t about Arizona or Washington. Just in general. You were outspoken about your love for Arizona and sent a message to the fan base that Tucson is where you wanted to be. Did you learn a lesson about the things you say and how they can be interpreted by the fan base you oversee? 

Are you asking that as an Arizona alum, Ari? (Laughs)

No, no, no. Messaging is real. 

If we weren’t talking about some of the financial matters that were going on at the university at the time, then I think you could have a different conversation. But my job was to make sure that if one person felt I wasn’t committed to (that) job, we would not have had the NIL we got for our players, we would not have had the support we got for our from our fan base, we would not have gotten this assistant coach compensation that we got, we would not have gotten really anything that we ever could have given our fans.

And I was fully committed to it. Then an opportunity came to join the Big Ten and coach for the national championship runner-up. It was an opportunity I had to say yes to. And I wanted to say yes, I want to be clear on that. I wanted to say yes when Washington called. If they didn’t call, then we would be sitting here talking about what a great spring we’d be having in Arizona. We wouldn’t be talking about the UCLA job because I have absolutely zero interest in the UCLA job then or now. We’d be talking about what we’re doing at Arizona.

I just think it’s time that everyone understands our commitment at Arizona was 100 percent truthful. And we were committed to making this program great. We made our players better than they’ve ever thought they could be and we were better than anyone thought we could. We brought national attention to the program. And we’re excited about taking that exact same model and bringing that model to Seattle.

(Photo: Kirby Lee / USA Today)