LOS ANGELES — During one of the many interviews he conducted during Pac-12 Media Day, Arizona linebacker Anthony Pandy was asked a classic, roll-your-eyes Media Day question about his coach.
If you could pick out a Halloween costume for Jedd Fisch, what would you pick?
Conscientious student-athlete that he is, Pandy took the assignment seriously. He chose the Marvel character Thanos. Not because Fisch is some sort of maniacal warlord but because Thanos, in “Avengers: Infinity War,” snapped his fingers and changed everything.
It wasn’t that quick or simple for Fisch, the first-year coach of the Wildcats. He’s a little over seven months into the job. He hasn’t coached a game yet. Arizona — which has lost a school-record 12 consecutive games — has a long way to go.
But Fisch has changed a lot in a relatively short period of time. He has brought light to the UA program in the wake of its darkest hour.
“It’s a completely different feeling,” senior receiver Stanley Berryhill III said. “It’s just a 180 turn.
“Coach Fisch came in, started regulating and people are buying into what he’s preaching. We all believe in his vision. I think that’s half the battle. Now all we’ve got to do is execute the game plan.”
Despite almost losing his voice at one point Tuesday, Fisch continued to promote all the positive aspects of the program. He briefly acknowledged the Wildcats’ wretched recent past but refused to dwell on it.
His plan for turning around the program is straight out of the LaVar Ball playbook: Fisch is trying to speak it into existence.
“We’ve worked extremely hard over the course of the last seven months to not just change the culture but create our own culture” Fisch said. “We recognize the landscape of building a program. We are excited to do it. We’ve embraced it. We believe in it. We believe Tucson is a special place.”
Seeing is believing, and the media who cover the Pac-12 haven’t seen enough yet to predict progress for the Wildcats. Of the 40 reporters who participated in the annual conference media poll, 39 picked Arizona to finish last in the Pac-12 South. One had them fifth.
The Wildcats’ current place in the Pac-12 pecking order wasn’t lost on Fisch. By sheer coincidence, he was the 11th of 12 coaches to speak Tuesday, prompting this quip: “Guess I’m second to last, which is what you guys normally rank me anyway.”
The poll results didn’t surprise him.
“Figured as much,” Fisch said. “So we’ll just have to go out there and play really well and see what happens.
“That’s just (based) on past performances. No one’s seen our team.”
Not only do the Cats have a new coaching staff, they have a new cast of players. By Fisch’s count, Arizona added 14 players from the NCAA transfer portal. His staff added two to the 2021 signing class, raising its total to 18.
Fisch views the portal additions as a sign that players want to play for Arizona. That hasn’t necessarily been the case in recent years.
How has Fisch gone about changing the vibe around the program? Two main factors stand out. One is the work ethic Fisch brings to campus every day and expects of his staff.
“Jedd hit the ground running when he came in, and he has never stopped running since that day,” UA athletic director Dave Heeke said. “His enthusiasm, his passion, his energy around the building, around the program, has just been tremendous. And I think it’s infectious. People are energized and excited about the future.
“Everything is pointing in a real positive direction. If you’re not all in, and you’re not passionate about your program, I think it’s a recipe for disaster. Jedd’s not gonna not do that.”
The other factor is that Fisch has been genuine. Did he come off like a salesmen when he was first introduced in December? Maybe. But he hasn’t let up.
He knew the program he inherited was in a sorry state, but he never let that dampen his spirit.
“I was the authentic me,” Fisch said. “I didn’t know what existed (before), truthfully. I didn’t really know exactly what it was like. I didn’t come from the program. I didn’t get elevated up.
“For me, it was to come in and be me, hire the guys that I believed in, and make it our program. Where I am the most grateful is, we had an athletic director and a president that allowed me to do that. That’s how we were able to make the significant changes we made in such a short period of time.”
But will they win?
More changes are on the way. Fisch hinted that Arizona would wear the same helmet every game — likely the old-school white model with stripes down the middle. He also described plans for game days at Arizona Stadium that would include a DJ operating out of the ZonaZoo. He wants to create a “party atmosphere” akin to the spring game.
“I really believe it should be the best four-hour party. That’s what college football is,” Fisch said. “If you miss out on that, you’re missing out.
“We’re going to make it as much fun as humanly possible. In the third quarter, we’re going to sing some songs. Hopefully win some ballgames.”
Oh yeah. That.
For everything Fisch has done this offseason — and he truly has won the offseason — it’s the on-field product that matters most. Arizona has to start winning games at some point, or Fisch’s message will start to ring hollow.
That work resumes a week from Friday, when the Wildcats open training camp. The players understand what they’re up against. When Arizona opens this season against BYU on Sept. 4, 700 days will have passed since the Cats’ last win on Oct. 5, 2019.
“I’ve been an underdog my whole life,” said Berryhill, a two-star recruit who began his college career as a walk-on. “Always had to play with a chip on my shoulder. My whole life my dad told me, ‘Just keep your head down. Work. Do what you have to do.’
“You’ve just got to rise to the occasion, and that’s what we’re aiming to do.”
Contact sports reporter Michael Lev at 573-4148 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @michaeljlev