Gold: Storylines emerge from Pac-12 Media Day (Pt. 2)
Here are the second half of the main storylines to emerge from media day, following up on yesterday’s initial half dozen.
Remember to stay tuned: Saturday Out West will be diving deeper into all these stories during training camps.
Arizona: Fisch turns to his Rolodex to impress Wildcats
There is well-traveled, and then there’s Jedd Fisch.
The second-year Arizona coach is settling into his role in Tucson, and now the clock is on. If he stays just one more year, it’ll be the second-longest stint of his whirlwind coaching career.
Since beginning his coaching career in 1997 at the age of 21, Fisch has 17 stops in 25 years, including roles with seven NFL teams and now six college programs.
As a result, his cell phone is packed with more numbers than AT&T.
He’s not shy to turn to his celebrity coaching comrades, either.
“We talk to our players all the time about being the 33rd NFL team based on our experiences in the league,” Fisch said. “We have 150 years of NFL experience on our staff. What we’ve done is we’ve tried to commit to allowing our players to see it from the inside-out, to see what the NFL looks like, to see what it looks like to be a pro, to see what it looks like to build champions. We brought Bill Belichick into Tucson, Sean McVay to Tucson, Steve Spurrier to Tucson, to talk to our players. Our players have heard from Zach Taylor, from Jim Nagy at the Senior Bowl, from LeCharles Bentley at the NFLPA, Mike Tannenbaum and Mike Lombardi over the last seven weeks. We believe our guys need to know and hear what it’s like to be a pro, what the program should look like.”
Arizona State: Sun Devils somehow survive solemn season, offseason
The precarious mixture of a looming investigation, coaches being fired because of that dark cloud, and the fleeing of numerous players because of both of those facts, has the Sun Devils entering the 2022 campaign as one of the most fragile teams in college football.
But for head coach Herm Edwards, who miraculously emerged unscathed from the chaos that befell the program, he was impressed how his team responded last year and during this offseason.
“I think our players and our staff did a great job of having to deal with all that,” he said. “It’s just another testament to the mental toughness that these guys had last year. When you go through things like that, it brings you together. Every season is a different journey. If you lose some players and you gain some players, you’re just trying to find out their identity. It’s a pretty tight football team right now, what I’ve learned. You’re talking about 43 new players that chose to come here. I think we all get worried about the players that leave. I don’t worry about guys leaving. Who are we getting, right? Who wants to come here?”
Colorado: Buffaloes won’t roll over for anyone
Once one of the top programs in college football, Colorado has long been a Pac-12 doormat. A 4-8 record last season didn’t instill much confidence in Pac-12 voters, who picked the Buffaloes to finish last in the conference this season, behind even 1-11 Arizona.
Just don’t tell the Buffs that.
“This team is hungry,” offensive lineman Casey Roddick said. “There’s a passion that’s been brewing ever since last year. Last year was one of the worst years, and I never want to be a part of a part of another year like that. That’s definitely driven us this offseason and helped motivate us. Most importantly, things in the media may come out, but I don’t see the media at the workouts that we’re at. So nobody knows what’s going on behind closed doors. Nobody knows what’s going on when the lights aren’t on. That’s when real grown men work, when the lights are off. That’s what I really like to see.”
UCLA: Coaching staff must come together quickly
Chemistry is a buzzword regularly used to discuss college football locker rooms.
Does that extend to the coaching room?
UCLA introduced five new assistant coaches this offseason and promoted a sixth – offensive line coach Tim Drevno – from an offensive analyst role. How the Bruins buy in to their new leaders will tell the story of their season, especially on the defensive side of the ball, which has struggled under this regime.
“We believe in Coach Kelly and what he has in store for us,” fifth-year starting safety Stephan Blaylock said. “Bringing in a new set of coaches, we just went along with it. We’re going to trust him to do his job, and we’re going to do our job.”
USC: Trojans open season with sky-high expectations
Before Lincoln Riley even stepped foot on the USC campus, expectations were high for his tenure. The simple mention of his name in the rumor rill started creating visions of sugar plums and rainbows for Trojan fans who’d been treated to a parade of lunacy in the years following the vaunted Pete Carroll era.
Then came Caleb Williams. And Mario Williams. And Jordan Addison. And Shane Lee and Travis Dye and a host of other star transfers.
Now the expectations are so high for USC that it’s basically championship or bust. And that doesn’t mean Pac-12.
“Not my place to say whether the (expectations are) fair or not,” Riley said. “Like I said in my opening press conference, before even one of these players had come in, I mean, you don’t come to USC and you don’t come to Los Angeles to do things small. You got to set your sights big. I don’t think it’s too much. I don’t. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in what we’re teaching. I believe in the people that we have in there. Obviously it’s going to continue to evolve through years. I didn’t come here for one season. I didn’t come here to do this in a short-term.
“In some respects you keep the long game in mind. The people we brought in here, the staff we brought in here, we didn’t come here to play for second. We are not wired that way. We came here competitively to win championships, win them now and to win them for a long time. That will always be our expectation.”
Utah: Rose Bowl a big step for Utes, but still leaves a bad taste.
The Pac-12’s longest-tenured coach by what seems like an eon, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham knows a thing or two about laying a foundation. His fundamental principles have guided the Utes since 2005. So when he called the Utes’ first Rose Bowl bid in 2022 as “the next step in the evolution of our program,” he doesn’t say those words lightly.
But while Utah was proud of its accomplishment, a sour taste lingers after a 48-45 loss to Ohio State in the Granddaddy of them All.
“Everybody’s probably seen that game,” defensive back Clark Phillips III said. “One of the things that stuck with me, everyone was saying, ‘That was an entertaining game.’ Being a defensive player, you don’t want to be a part of an entertaining game. That means a lot of touchdowns were scored. It was tough to see that in every headline. To my room, what I preach is, ‘It happens.’ That’s a learning experience, how do we grow from it? How do we move from it? How is it going to set us up for next year? How is this going to make us a better DB room? A better defense? Our mindset was let’s play, next man up. There’d be no receivers if they never scored touchdowns.”