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Meet the coaching staff: Jedd Fisch’s assistants have ties to the boss, Arizona’s past

Meet the coaching staff: Jedd Fisch’s assistants have ties to the boss, Arizona’s past

From Don Brown to DeWayne Walker, the 10 men tasked with helping Fisch rebuild UA football

University of Arizona defensive line coach Ricky Hunley watches the Wildcats get loosened up for their spring practice at Dick Tomey fields, Tucson, Ariz., April 13, 2021.

When you have coached as many years in as many places as Jedd Fisch has, you meet a lot of people along the way. Fisch might need extra gigabytes for his contact list alone.

The first-year coach of the Arizona Wildcats has worked under Steve Spurrier, Dom Capers, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh, Sean McVay and Bill Belichick, among others. Fisch has worked with countless others, and that helped him form a staff of assistants who also boast a wide range of experiences.

UA offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll is the son of Pete Carroll and worked with his dad at USC in 2002-03, and then again with the Seattle Seahawks the past six seasons.

Fisch knew exactly whom and what he wanted on his staff. He’s been building toward this moment for more than 20 years.

Fisch began his coaching career as a volunteer assistant at Florida under Spurrier after essentially begging Spurrier to hire him. (Fisch now employs Spurrier’s son, Scott, who’s serving as Arizona’s special-teams analyst.)

Fisch then moved up to the NFL ranks with the Houston Texans (who were in their infancy) and the Baltimore Ravens. His first coordinator job came at the University of Minnesota. Several other posts coordinating offenses and/or coaching quarterbacks followed.

UA defensive coordinator Don Brown will make $500,000 in his first season in Tucson — a relative bargain given that he made $1.7 million last season at Michigan, and $1.5 million in 2019. Brown’s UA salary jumps to $800,000 in 2022.

Fisch last coached in college at UCLA in 2017, ending that season as the Bruins’ interim boss. He then apprenticed under McVay and Belichick — two of the sport’s sharpest minds — before landing the UA gig in late December.

Now Fisch is about to coach in a spring game for the first time as the head of a program. Here’s a look at the 10 men serving as his top on-field aides:

DON BROWN

Don Brown’s teams are well-known for bringing pressure.

Position: Defensive coordinator

Last stop: Michigan, 2016-20 (defensive coordinator/linebackers)

First stop: Hartford High School, White River Junction, Vermont, 1977-82 (assistant coach)

Connection to Fisch: Fisch and Brown were both members of the Michigan staff in 2016. Fisch was the Wolverines’ passing-game coordinator and also coached their quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Notable: Brown, known as “Dr. Blitz,” directed six consecutive defenses that ranked in the top 12 nationally in yards allowed at Boston College and Michigan from 2014-19.

He said it: “He’s a bully. I love being in system where you’re the bully, where you’re not just letting the offense dictate.” — UA cornerbacks coach DeWayne Walker

BRENNAN CARROLL

Brennan Carroll

Position: Offensive coordinator/offensive line

Last stop: Seattle Seahawks, 2015-20 (run-game coordinator/offensive line)

First stop: USC, 2002-03 (graduate assistant)

Connection to Fisch: Fisch and Carroll coached together at Miami (Fla.) in 2011 and ’12. Fisch was the Hurricanes’ offensive coordinator and QB coach; Carroll was the recruiting coordinator and also coached tight ends and wide receivers.

Notable: Carroll is the son of Pete Carroll and worked for his father at USC and with the Seahawks. Fisch also worked under Pete Carroll in Seattle in 2010 and recently invited him to speak to the team via videoconference.

He said it: “I love him. He’s a great energy guy. From the first meeting, the first Zoom meeting where we were first introduced to him ... he just came in with an insane energy from the get-go. Ever since then, he hasn’t stopped being a real high-energy guy.” — UA center Josh McCauley

CHUCK CECIL

Chuck Cecil

Position: Defensive backs (safeties)

Last stop: Arizona, 2018-20 (senior defensive analyst, interim defensive coordinator)

First stop: Tennessee Titans, 2001-03 (defensive assistant/quality control)

Connection to Fisch: Unlike most of the other assistants, Cecil and Fisch hadn’t worked together before. But it was mandated that Fisch have some UA flavor on his staff, and Cecil already was in the building.

Notable: Cecil is one of the all-time great Wildcats. He rose from walk-on to All-American, played for both Larry Smith and Dick Tomey and clinched the 1986 Territorial Cup with a 106-yard interception return for a touchdown.

He said it: “He’s just so inspirational. He just gives me the motivation to come out here every day and ... give it my all on the field, the classroom, practice, no matter what it is.” — UA safety Jaydin Young

KEVIN CUMMINGS

Kevin Cummings

Position: Wide receivers

Last stop: San Jose State, 2017-20 (wide receivers)

First stop: Oregon State, 2014-16 (quality control)

Connection to Fisch: You have to connect some dots here. Cummings played at Oregon State. Two of his former college teammates, Sean Mannion and Brandin Cooks, played under Fisch with the L.A. Rams. Their positive references helped Cummings land a job on Fisch’s staff.

Notable: At San Jose State, Cummings coached Tre Walker, a two-time all-Mountain West Conference standout who caught 178 passes for 2,674 yards (15.0-yard average) and 11 touchdowns for the Spartans.

He said it: “Coach Cummings played in the Pac-12, coached in the Pac-12 and is now back in the Pac-12. He has made a positive impact on every program he has been with and clearly knows how to develop and coach receivers in all systems.” — Fisch

JIMMIE DOUGHERTY

Jimmie Dougherty

Position: Passing-game coordinator/quarterbacks

Last stop: UCLA, 2017-20 (passing game coordinator/wide receivers)

First stop: Illinois Wesleyan, 2002-03 (defensive backs coach)

Connection to Fisch: Fisch and Dougherty worked together twice previously, at Michigan in 2016 and at UCLA in ’17. Fisch views Dougherty as the coach who knows him and his offensive philosophy best.

Notable: Dougherty is the son of a coach, Tim Dougherty, who’s the defensive coordinator at Hamilton High School in Chandler. Jimmie Dougherty played quarterback at Missouri, where he passed for 1,344 yards and four touchdowns in parts of three seasons.

He said it: “It’s been my whole life, being around football teams, being on sidelines, being in locker rooms. Football’s so important to me. My faith, my family and football are really the three things that I’m about.” — Dougherty

KEITH DUDZINSKI

Keith Dudzinski

Position: Linebackers/special teams

Last stop: Michigan, 2020 (defensive analyst)

First stop: University of New Haven, 1991-93 (outside linebackers)

Connection to Fisch: The connection is through Brown. Dudzinski and Brown first worked together at Brown University in 1996 and later at Massachusetts, Northeastern and Michigan.

Notable: Dudzinski has served as a defensive coordinator at four schools. At two of those places, Northeastern and Massachusetts, Brown was the head coach.

He said it: “He’s a hard coach, but I like that. I feel like he’s always trying to push me to be better. He’s going to demand max effort.” — UA linebacker/safety Christian Young

SCOTTIE GRAHAM

Scottie Graham

Position: Running backs

Last stop: Arizona State, 2015-20 (senior associate athletic director for student-athlete development and welfare)

First stop: NFL Players Association, 1998-2014 (regional director/director of player engagement)

Connection to Fisch: Since this is Graham’s first year as a full-time coach, there is no direct link. So how about this: Graham spent his rookie season in the NFL, 1992, with the New York Jets. The Jets’ defensive coordinator that year? Pete Carroll.

Notable: Graham was a team captain at Ohio State, where he rushed for 1,768 yards and 19 touchdowns from 1988-91. He rushed for 1,267 yards and seven TDs across six NFL seasons (1992-97) and never lost a fumble.

He said it: “He’s a phenomenal human being, a phenomenal leader, a great mentor to the kids. He knows what it looks like, knows what it feels like. (He) takes a personal relationship with every recruit and every player he has.” — Fisch

RICKY HUNLEY

Ricky Hunley

Position: Defensive line

Last stop: Memphis, 2014-15 (defensive line)

First stop: USC, 1992-93 (graduate assistant)

Connection to Fisch: Fisch and Hunley first crossed paths at Florida, where Fisch began his coaching career and Hunley served as the Gators’ defensive line coach in 2001. Fisch has said he would have hired Hunley no matter where he was coaching.

Notable: Like Cecil, Hunley is on the short list of all-time UA football standouts. Hunley, who played at Arizona from 1980-83, was a two-time consensus All-American and is still the Wildcats’ career leader with 566 tackles.

He said it: “I love being on the grass. I love being around the guys. That’s kind of like an extension of yourself. You wish you could be here. You live your life through them now. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.” — Hunley

JORDAN PAOPAO

Jordan Paopao

Position: Tight ends

Last stop: UNLV, 2020 (tight ends/special teams)

First stop: Stanford, 2008-09 (recruiting analyst)

Connection to Fisch: Paopao played for and worked for Jim Harbaugh, who was Fisch’s boss at Michigan. Paopao then worked alongside Dougherty, Fisch’s right-hand man, at Washington (2011-12).

Notable: Paopao coached UW’s tight ends for nine years (2011-19). His pupils included three NFL draft picks: Austin Seferian-Jenkins (second round, 2014), Will Dissly (fourth, 2018) and Drew Sample (second, 2019.)

He said it: “He’s been a great mentor for all of us, on and off the field. He teaches life lessons every day when we’re not on the field. On the field, he’s preparing us to be NFL tight ends.” — UA tight end Bryce Wolma

DEWAYNE WALKER

DeWayne Walker

Position: Defensive backs (cornerbacks)

Last stop: Cleveland Browns, 2017-19 (defensive backs)

First stop: Mt. San Antonio College, 1988-91 (defensive backs)

Connection to Fisch: Fisch and Walker first became friends when Fisch coached for the Baltimore Ravens and Walker for the Washington Football Team in the mid-2000s. Fisch and Walker first worked together with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2013-14).

Notable: Walker has coached at the highest levels of the sport. He has coached defensive backs for five NFL organizations, has served as a coordinator at Oklahoma State and UCLA and was the head coach at New Mexico State from 2009-12.

He said it: “Coach Walker is really laid-back at times. When he’s on the field, he’s a different guy. He gets after us and pushes us to our limits. Very detailed guy in the film room.” — UA cornerback Isaiah Rutherford


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