When asked to recall his his first professional coaching gig with the New Jersey Red Dogs of the Arena Football League, Jedd Fisch compared himself to a TV character.
Not Eric Taylor, the head coach of the Dillon Panthers in “Friday Night Lights.” Not Ted Lasso, either. And surely not Hayden Fox, the coach of the fictional Minnesota State Screaming Eagles in “Coach.”
Fisch? He was Dwight Schrute, a beet-farming, “Battlestar Galactica”-loving, brown suit-wearing workaholic in “The Office.” The cocksure Schrute referred to himself as assistant regional manager of Scranton, Pennsylvania’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Company — even though his title was “assistant to the regional manager.”
“I was like the nothing,” Fisch said of the 1998 gig. “I came in and was the intern. I was working with the wide receivers at the time. They didn’t have an analyst, so I came in to break down all the film.”
New Jersey was where Fisch first encountered Kevin Guy, current head coach of the Arizona Rattlers and co-owner of the Tucson Sugar Skulls. Tucson (4-7) will face the Rattlers (9-2) at 3:05 p.m. Sunday in Phoenix.
Guy was a standout defensive back and wide receiver for the Red Dogs at the time. He also served as a liaison between players and coaches. It wasn’t long before Guy noticed with the new coach.
“You could tell — even back then — that he was very structured, organized, had a lot of poise and was very easy for the players to approach and have conversations with,” Guy said. “If I remember right, that might’ve been the first coaching job he’s ever had, and he did a great job.”
The Red Dogs, named after Red Dog beer, were coached by former Penn State star quarterback John Hufnagel, who is now one of the winningest coaches in Canadian Football League history. Rickey Foggie, who threw for 155 touchdowns over three seasons in the AFL, was the team’s quarterback. The Red Dogs went 8-6.
“It was a great experience. … I remember us scoring a lot of points, but that’s kind of the Arena League,” Fisch said.
Following their one season together in New Jersey, Fisch and Guy went their separate ways.
Fisch became a graduate assistant at the University of Florida under Steve Spurrier. Guy finished his playing career with the Orlando Predators before returning to New Jersey as a coach. He climbed the ladder quickly, moving from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator to head coach by the midway point of the 2000 season.
Guy interviewed Fisch to become New Jersey’s offensive coordinator. But a player’s strike was looking, and — with uncertainty surrounding the upcoming season — Guy urged Fisch to pursue other jobs.
So Fisch went to the NFL, serving as the defensive quality control coach for the Houston Texans in 2002 before joining the Baltimore Ravens’ staff as an offensive assistant. Fisch coached the Denver Broncos’ wide receivers in 2008, then — after one season with the University of Minnesota — returned to the NFL as the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterbacks coach.
Fisch’s coaching journey has since taken him to the University of Miami, the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, and to UCLA and Michigan. Along the way, Fisch coached under Bill Belichick, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan and Pete Carroll, who combined to win 10 Super Bowls.
Guy has become indoor football’s version of the aforementioned coaches. Under Guy’s direction, the Rattlers have won four ArenaBowl championships and one United Bowl title. Guy also started Tucson’s franchise, which is in its second official season.
Twenty-three years after first meeting each other, Fisch and Guy both call the Old Pueblo home — and are both head coaches.
“It’s great knowing the co-owner of the Tucson Sugar Skulls is friends with the new head coach of the University of Arizona,” said Sugar Skulls head coach Dixie Wooten.
Fisch said he hopes Guy can attend some practices and games in the fall once the IFL season concludes.
“I saw recently that he was here running the show,” Fisch said. “I hope he comes out to practice and comes and says hello, because it would be great to see him again.”
Guy has taken notice of Fisch’s progress since he was hired by the UA in December.
“He’s done a great job,” Guy said. “He’s moved around the country just like me for different jobs, because we’re always growing and getting better. I’m excited for him and his first year, and I think it was a great pick (by the UA). You could tell he’s done a great job of bringing the alumni back and getting them involved in the school and getting some excitement around the program.
“I would just tell the fanbase to be patient. Looking and evaluating their situation, and I know they don’t want to hear this, but it’s going to take a few years to get that program turned around for it to consistently win from year to year.
“But I think he’s the right guy for the job and it looks like he put a quality group around him.”
Tucson re-signed All-IFL kicker Jimmy Camacho, who briefly left the team for CFL training camp. Camacho replaces Kevin Goessling.
Skulls offensive lineman Brandon Haskin will miss the remainder of the season with a torn meniscus.
Last week, Tucson signed former Kentucky Wildcat E.J. Price, a 6-foot-6-inch, 315-pound tackle. The signing happened by accident. Wooten said he put his cell phone in his back pocket and “butt-dialed” agent Brian Bundage. When Bundage discovered Wooten was in the process of finding a replacement for Haskin, Bundage suggested Price. “Next thing you know, I saw his film and we had to get him to Tucson. … When he’s walking out of the airport, I’m like, ‘This can’t be him. I can’t be this lucky,’” Wooten said.
Tucson will wear all-white uniforms against the Rattlers.
Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or
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