Gold Nuggets: Arizona, Arizona State both bring on key staff members
Welcome back for this edition of the Gold Nuggets, Saturday Out West columnist Jon Gold’s regular trip around the Pac-12.
Read below for news, notes and quotes from the the second week of February…
Arizona: Jedd Fisch brings back a legend
Jedd Fisch has long said that with the high-level coaching staff that he built at Arizona, he wanted the Wildcats to be the “33rd NFL team.”
But his latest hire has spent all but 1 season of his 44-year coaching career at the college level. And that lone year that Duane Akina spent outside of the college ranks? That would be 1986, when he served as defensive backs coach for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
Akina now returns to Tucson for a second — and nearly a third — visit, after he served in several capacities for Dick Tomey and the Wildcats from 1987-2000. He then joined Texas in 2001 and nearly returned to Arizona in 2011 before ultimately choosing to remain with the Longhorns until 2014, when he was not retained by new UT head coach Charlie Strong. He’s been with Stanford as defensive backs coach since then.
He’ll bring a wealth of Pac-12 knowledge to his role as senior defensive analyst, which is a real coup for Fisch.
Arizona State: And so does Kenny Dillingham
Every year, some Pac-12 program makes a sneaky good hire that goes almost unnoticed by the national and sometimes even the local press.
DJ Foster could never go unnoticed around Arizona State, though. In a savvy move, new Sun Devils head coach Kenny Dillingham brought the former NFL 5-year pro back into the fold as manager of player development.
Few Sun Devils can talk more about development than the running back-turned-wide receiver. A superstar at nearby Saguaro High in Scottsdale, where he played for new ASU tight ends coach Jason Mohns, Foster was a dynamic dual threat for Arizona State, rushing for 2,355 yards and 17 scores and catching 222 passes for 2,458 yards and 11 scores in four seasons between 2012-15.
His role in the program will probably take some time to develop, but it’s a smart move by Dillingham to bring back someone with the name recognition and local star power of Foster. It’ll certainly help local recruiting.
Cal: Wilcox sings Sam Jackson’s praises
One of the few Pac-12 quarterback competitions that actually feels open, the Cal QB battle might be headed in Sam Jackson’s direction. The former TCU quarterback, who didn’t get much time behind 2022 Heisman runner-up Max Duggan, drew significant praise from head coach Justin Wilcox, who needs to find his QB of the future and in a hurry.
“He’s done a really good job,” Wilcox said. “I know getting along with his teammates, meeting guys and talked about when everybody got here with all the new faces and the movement in college football, the key is how quickly can you get to know each other? And great teams still have great chemistry. And Sam’s been great with that. All these guys are fresh into winter workouts and I can tell you he’s a dynamic athlete.”
Colorado: On a Wing-T and a Prayer
New Buffaloes coach Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders is unabashed in his Christian faith, so much so that he has made it a focal point of his football teachings and addresses to his team at Jackson State.
That might not fly under the watchful eye under Colorado, at least if the Freedom From Religion Foundation has anything to say about it. The Christian Post reported on a letter sent by the FFRF to Colorado Chancellor Phil DeStefano, objecting to Sanders’ use of prayer in a Buffaloes team meeting.
Colorado Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke responded and said that Sanders was receptive to new standards with the Buffaloes and would curtail such behavior.
“Last Friday, the Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance personally met with Coach Sanders to provide guidance on the non-discrimination policies, including guidance on the boundaries in which players and coaches may and may not engage in religious expression,” O’Rourke said. “Coach Sanders was very receptive to this training and came away from it with a better understanding of the University of Colorado’s policies and the requirements of the Establishment Clause,” he added. “The Office of Institutional Equity has also trained the other coaches on the football staff. These trainings will be reinforced through additional events the Athletics Department’s compliance program offers on a regular basis.”
Oregon: Ducks have big shoes to fill in Klemm’s absence
After fielding one of the nation’s top offensive lines in 2022, Oregon not only loses a ton of starting talent, but arguably its most valuable piece up front: offensive line coach Adrian Klemm. Klemm was a star coach and recruiter for a half-decade at UCLA in the early 2010s before he left in 2017. He resurfaced as an assistant offensive line coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019 before getting a promotion to OL coach in 2021.
The fact that he left that role to take the Oregon gig said something, particularly because he left with two games left in the 2021 season. It was going to take a big gig to pluck him away, and he found it — or, rather, the New England Patriots found him, hiring Klemm as offensive line coach on Monday.
Now Zach Neel of DucksWire has a list of possible replacements, including one very intriguing idea — a reunion of sorts between Ducks coach Dan Lanning and his former Georgia comrade, Matt Luke, who retired last year to spend more time with family. The former Ole Miss head coach has spent a large chunk of his career in the SEC but he would bring a ton of cache to the role.
Oregon State: So much for the halftime suds
As if Beavers fans aren’t going to have enough to bark about when a refurbished Reser Stadium re-opens at full capacity in the future. Beaver buffs are already reconciling with higher ticket prices.
But to add insult to injury, the Oregonian is reporting that “Spectators will no longer be allowed to leave the stadium at halftime and re-enter for the second half. The policy was revealed when Oregon State football season ticket information went out to customers ahead of the 2023 season.”
Now that’s just cruel.
Stanford: Troy Taylor leading with culture for Cardinal rebuild
This 1-on-1 interview — or 1-on-2, rather — with the Cardinal podcast Farm Talk provides a good glimpse into the mind and heart of new Stanford head coach Troy Taylor.
Taylor has one of the great challenges in all of college football on his plate, trying to return the Cardinal to greatness. Put it this way: I would not want to be the guy to follow Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw.
But I thought this answer, in particular, about how he’ll guide Stanford back to prominence, was a great one.
“We’re going to win with culture,” he said. “How we treat people and how they feel within our organization, that they feel empowered, they’re happy, they enjoy football and working. We have to create an environment where everyone feels safe and accepted and then get them to play at the highest level possible. … That’s the first order of business, which will always be the first order of business.”
UCLA: Atonio Mafi puts on a good show at Shrine Bowl, lives to sing about it
I’m always a sucker for a good NFL Draft Diary, and this one featuring the Bruins’ Atonio Mafi doesn’t let me down. As told to the inimitable Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times:
“Most of the questions were the same, focusing on my experiences and knowledge of the game. Then came the curveball. One executive asked what I liked to do outside of football.
When I mentioned singing, he put me on the spot by asking me to sing right there. I knew I had to go for it. This was no time to hold back.”
I’ll let Mafi take it from here…
USC: Caleb Williams racks up the deals
You’d probably expect the reigning Heisman Trophy winner to reel in the big NIL deals.
And you’d of course be right.
Williams announced yet another brand partnership this week with his bold debut in Alo Yoga gear at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as an honorary starter of the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, which was won by Martin Truex Jr. this week. He now has nearly a half-dozen deals and an estimated NIL value of more than $3 million, according to On3 Sports.
It's always a pleasure when the Heisman Trophy winner stops by. @CALEBcsw pic.twitter.com/ntgnBHOLwC
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) February 6, 2023
Utah: Utes name spring football captains
If the Utah football program is known for one thing, it is proud, hard-nosed captains who do the U proud. The upcoming season appears to be no different, with a pair of established offensive stars joined by a pair of growing defensive playmakers.
Introducing our Spring 2023 Captains & Leadership Council 👏 pic.twitter.com/Yj1v1epJRP
— Utah Football (@Utah_Football) February 6, 2023
With the numbers that Cam Rising and Brant Kuithe have put up on the offensive side, it’s not much of a surprise the Utes are rolling with them in ’23. But Bishop and Reid both emerged in a big was defensively for Utah last season, with both earning second-team all-conference honors as true sophomores in 2022. Their continued improvement will be a big story for the Utes this year.
Washington: Huskies reel in a big QB commitment
Given the massive grand slam that is Michael Penix, Jr., it is fair for Washington fans to wonder about the future of the quarterback position in Seattle.
Will Husky Stadium turn into a rotating cast of flavors of the week, Kalen DeBoer retooling season after season with ready-made passers? Or will he find a 3-, 4- or 5-year solution in the high school recruiting ranks?
Given the Huskies’ commitment from prolific 4-star 2024 QB Austin Mack of Folsom High, it appears DeBoer and offensive coordinator Ryan Grubb are thinking long-term.
Mack’s commitment gives Washington some clarity on its depth chart moving forward, and a head start on a great Class of ’24.
“It was everything [that attracted me to Washington],” Mack told The Seattle Times Monday. “They’re the No. 1 passing team in the country. Mike Penix is the No. 1 passer in the nation. That definitely stood out a ton. Coach Grubb and [head coach Kalen] DeBoer, they also really stood out to me, especially when I was there for my unofficial [visit]. Seeing them and having those conversations with them really stood out.”
Washington State: Brennan Jackson a force on, off the field
Coming off all-conference second-team honors, Jackson is one of the top contenders for Pac-12 defensive player of the year honors in 2023. But he’s a lot more than a star player.
Jackson, a redshirt junior, also serves in multiple key roles for the Washington State Black Student-Athlete Association. He’s well on his way to making a huge impact on and off the field for the Cougars.
End your night with some words from @BrennanJ88, the Secretary and Treasurer of the Black Student-Athlete Association.#GoCougs | #WAZZU | #CVE23 pic.twitter.com/NgFMaO867q
— Washington State Football (@WSUCougarFB) February 9, 2023