The fourth head football coach at the University of Washington in six years made a good first impression Tuesday. Then again, what top-tier coach doesn’t? Most of them have had a lot of practice at making good first impressions.
The college coaching carousel will soon reach a spin rate rivaling a super-colliding superconductor. The speed is astonishing. Almost between the words “drop” and “dead” uttered by Kalen DeBoer in response to UW’s contract extension offer just before accepting a larger deal from the industry’s aircraft carrier, Alabama, athletics director Troy Dannen whipped up an impressive offer to the University of Arizona’s coach, Jedd Fisch.
A recent hire himself — poached from Tulane about three months ago — Dannen hastily followed up with a private jet trip to Fisch’s Tucson home for coffee, cookies and a handshake. Fisch showed up Tuesday morning in the Huskies’ football offices with a smile and a seven-year, $54 million contract, eight days after the program began its astonishing plummet from the summit that started with the 34-13 loss to Michigan in the national championship game.
Yet Dannen’s actions were too slow.
Exercising their increasingly liberalized rights as contractors, numerous Huskies players quickly left the program before Fisch arrived. According to Dan Raley at Husky Maven, only three starters remain from the roster rolled out in Houston. UW currently is 21 players under the NCAA scholarship limit of 85. Those with expired eligibility were inevitable departures, but others were lost to early entry for the NFL draft, the rest to the transfer portal, retirement or perhaps severe whiplash injuries from the reckless business of big-time college sports. And several players recruited to Washington by DeBoer have de-committed from the incoming freshman class, meaning they are subject to predation by Alabama.
Despite the heavy steam wafting out of the crater in the middle of the program, Huskies fans need to know all is not lost. Fisch is allowed to attempt to reel back the would-be transfers, as well as the NFL wannabes. He is also permitted to pillage the roster of his former team (as DeBoer is doing with Washington). The Wildcats had a 10-3 record last season, including a bowl-game clobbering of Oklahoma and a 31-24 squeaker loss to the Huskies. How does he-resell Washington to the refugees?
Not just for Fisch, or his assistants. For his players: NIL money. Give Fisch credit for blunt talk where normally there are nervous coughs from college-football employees.
“As far as NIL, there’s an enormous commitment to doing that the right way here in Seattle,” he said of the private cash from boosters that is not part of the athletics budget, but has become the most prominent difference-maker in college football. “We are in a place now where these players need to get paid, and they need to get paid a lot of dollars, and you need a lot of resources to do that. You need the community behind that.
“What I felt here when we met was that there’s a commitment to making sure our players not just want to come here, want to stay here, and that there’s nobody that can offer a better financial opportunity than the University of Washington.”
Whether that is true, we’ll likely never know, because there is no transparency in these transactions. It’s all done in a style that would impress leaders in the Kremlin or North Korea. But there may be some substance to the bodacious brag about big money in the Big Mossy.
According to the college sports finances database at Sportico.com, UW in the 2021-22 school year spent $70.5 million on its football program, from coaching salaries to ankle tape, and part of the buyout of fired former football coach Jimmy Lake, all independent of NIL money. Meanwhile, the same tabulation said Michigan, always near or at the top in football lavishness, spent a mere $52.4 million.
On the revenue side, Huskies football earned $91 million. Over in Ann Arbor, with its 104,000-seat Big House and more lucrative media contracts, Michigan football revenues were $131.5 million. In those two sentences, you have the tidiest explanation of why the Pac-12 Conference shall be no more, and why the Huskies are members of the Big Ten Conference this fall. The Huskies need more revenue to fund things like the $200,000 Fisch will get for relocation expenses, which is part of the new deal. Personally, I’d do it for half, and pay for the truck rental.
Fisch’s claim of UW’s private-money financial swagger may be exaggerated. But at least he knows that UW’s public-money commitment to football is up there with the most over-wrought in the NCAA, and can be used to help leverage contributions from the 38-year-old frat-boy alums turned software developers that increasingly populate the Tyee booster club.
As far as football chops, Fisch never played college football. But he has been on staffs of numerous proven head coaches, such as Steve Spurrier, Bill Belichick, Jim Harbaugh, Dom Capers, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan and Sean McVay. He even spent a year in Seattle. In Pete Carroll’s first year, Fisch was the Seahawks quarterbacks coach. For the past three seasons, Carroll’s son, Brennan, was his offensive coordinator at Arizona.
In 25 years of coaching, Fisch had 14 stops. Which means, given the realities of college ball, if he’s as good as he thinks he is, he’ll be around for two or three years. But while he’s in a stopover here, it would be gratifying if he continued his trend toward candor.
A couple of times Tuesday, he fell back on the old trope of referencing the college game as “family.” No. College football is not a family. It is a business. Which is good, because most families are dysfunctional. So is big-time college ball, but everyone now is paid over the table to deal with it. Along with that, I heard him use the phrase “student-athlete.” Again, no. Each player is an athlete-businessman.
Fisch seems good at transitions. If he manages those two, he’ll set a high standard for the fifth coach in nine years, likely Brennan Carroll. He may come with his own defensive coordinator.