Despite having an extensive track record, Jedd Fisch arrived at Arizona as a relative unknown.
An offensive-minded coach, he has worked for some of the best football has to offer, both at the college and professional level. A list of players he has coached to success, either as a coordinator or position coach, is pretty long.
Yet, for all his experience the question of what kind of system he plans on running at Arizona remains. Will he run something like we saw under Rich Rodriguez, with a heavy emphasis on the run and the read-option? Or perhaps the Wildcats will be more of a spread team, ala what we saw the last few years and even toward the end of the Mike Stoops era.
The question figured to be answered with the type of quarterback the coaching staff recruited, especially after incumbent Grant Gunnell elected to transfer.
Arizona went out and nabbed a commitment from Gunner Cruz, a highly-touted QB who is considered a “pro-style” QB with a big arm who would rather throw the ball down the field than take off and run with it.
Not long after the Cats went out and snagged a commitment from Jordan McCloud, who is more of a “dual threat” kind of QB who can pass, yes, but is also a threat with his legs.
The QB competition figures to come down between those two and holdovers Will Plummer and Kevin Doyle, though Brayden Zermeno, Nick Moore and anyone else on the roster who can play the position will have a chance to win the job.
Looking at them all, the one thing we can tell about the system Fisch plans to run is that there really is not a system he plans to run.
That’s not only a good thing, but it’s quite refreshing.
A coach’s job is to maximize the talent they have on the roster. Few players are perfect, but pretty much everyone at these higher levels can offer something to a team. The best coaches find out what their players can do and then scheme toward accentuating the positives.
The worst coaches, however, are sticklers to their scheme — talent be damned — and refuse to adapt and adjust.
Arizona fans know all too well what that can lead to, as they need look no further than the rise and fall of Khalil Tate from 2017 to 2019. There’s little need to rehash it all and in that specific case there was certainly more to it than just play-calling.
But few would look at what transpired over the last few years and contend that Arizona’s coaches were running a system, on either side of the ball, that got the best out of their players. Part of that may have had to do with coming and wanting to do things differently than the staff they replaced, which meant needing certain attributes that may not have yet been on the roster.
Still, in today’s world that’s hardly an excuse to struggle. Every coach has a right to install their system, but especially in the early years there needs to be some fluidity, not rigidity, while the roster is being filled with “their guys.”
Maybe Fisch has a system he eventually wants to run and in time we’ll see it. Or, perhaps his “system” is more of an amoeba, able to change its shape as necessary.
Fisch’s past stops have had him coaching with offensive minds such as Sean McVay, Brian Billick and Mike Shanahan, and snice being hired at Arizona has explained that he does not want to create a system that will be difficult to learn.
On Wildcat Radio 2.0, the Arizona Daily Star’s Michael Lev said Fisch has alluded to the idea of an offense that is actually simple and yet, to the defense, will appear complicated.
That sounds a lot like what McVay is running in Los Angeles, although apparently it may have been a bit too complicated for the Number 1 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Lev also said it appears as though the offense will be catered more toward whoever wins the job.
If the Rams are the blueprint, Fisch and the Cats could do plenty worse. McVay’s team has been pretty good at putting points on the scoreboard with a scheme that offers a lot of window dressing but is also pretty balanced as far as run vs. pass. Fisch brought up the Rams when discussing his philosophy during his introductory press conference.
“Offensively, I can tell you we’ll be a precision passing game,” he said in December. “I’ve always been a guy that’s thrown the football, but I’ve also been on teams that have led the league in rushing. Including this year. I’ve been on teams, when we were with the Rams, that we ended up No. 2 in rushing and at the Super Bowl.”
A few weeks later defensive coordinator Don Brown brought up his own philosophy which, when distilled, is basically that of not stressing over what a player can’t do and instead figuring out what a player can do. From there, let ‘em do it.
While Arizona has not won a game in its last 12 attempts, to say the roster lacks talent would be wrong. And maybe, just maybe, all that’s needed to unlock it was a coach who brought more than just one key to turn.