Washington hires Jedd Fisch: Assessing the circumstances, risk factors and sample size behind the move

Washington hires Jedd Fisch: Assessing the circumstances, risk factors and sample size behind the move

It took Washington months to lose its head coach but only days to find a replacement.

The Huskies hired Jedd Fisch away from Arizona on Sunday following a two-day search to replace Kalen DeBoer.

DeBoer, of course, left for Alabama after steering the Huskies to the brink of the national championship — this, after UW could not secure a contract extension early enough in the hiring cycle to keep DeBoer off the market.

Fisch also was on the short list of the country’s hottest coaches after a breakthrough season that featured 10 wins and an Alamo Bowl victory over Oklahoma.

His appointment makes sense for the Huskies on several secondary levels:

— Fisch has ties to Seattle, having worked for Pete Carroll on the Seahawks staff in 2010, and he employed Carroll’s son, Brennan, as Arizona’s offensive coordinator.

— He is familiar with the Big Ten terrain as Washington transitions to its new conference. He spent two years as Michigan’s offensive coordinator under Jim Harbaugh.

— He recruited well in Tucson, knows the West Coast footprint and has proven adept with the transfer portal.

— More importantly, Fisch is accustomed to competing against programs with greater resources — exactly the situation Washington will experience entering the Big Ten with a half-share of the media rights revenue.

When the Huskies hired the little-known DeBoer in late 2021, during the same span that USC landed Lincoln Riley and Oregon grabbed Dan Lanning, the Hotline noted that “Washington fans … (had reason) to be encouraged.”

We feel much the same way about Fisch.

With Huskies supporters reeling from DeBoer’s exit — and the subsequent attrition (to the NFL Draft and transfer portal) — there is good reason to believe athletic director Troy Dannen and president Ana Mari Cauce made the most of a difficult situation.

The difference: Washington was in a far sturdier place this week than it was at the end of 2021, after Jimmy Lake crashed and burned and the program staggered to a 4-8 season.

DeBoer elevated the Huskies with remarkable speed, creating a candidate pool this time around that was stronger than when the Huskies hired him away from Fresno State.

Was Fisch the first choice? Did UW make a run at Kansas’ Lance Leipold, Kansas State’s Chris Klieman or Iowa State’s Matt Campbell? We might never know the full story.

All we know is that Ryan Grubb, the brilliant offensive coordinator who served under DeBoer, was not a candidate. Clearly, Washington was hesitant to hire a first-time coach in the wake of the failed experiment with Lake.

That’s not to say Fisch comes without concerns (of varying degrees) for UW fans.

In our view, he should be considered a flight risk.

Fisch has never coached anywhere, at any level, for long. Washington will be his 14th different pro or college job since 2000. If he wins on Montlake and another opportunity emerges, there is decent reason to believe he’ll flee.

(A Florida graduate, he will undoubtedly be monitoring Billy Napier’s success — or lack thereof — in Gainesville.)

That said, Washington might be thrilled if Fisch wins at a level that impresses suitors enough to lure him away. Maybe the flight factor simply isn’t a concern for the Huskies given their level of desperation this week and Fisch’s qualifications for the job.

If there’s a reason for UW fans to view the Fisch hire with slight skepticism, it’s less about the flight risk than on-field success.

His head coaching experience consists of three seasons at Arizona. That’s it. And for most of that time, he would never have appeared on Washington’s radar.

The Wildcats were 1-11 in 2021 (his first season), won five games in 2022 and were just 3-3 in the middle of October before getting hot.

The season-ending, seven-game winning streak is the reason UW hired Fisch.

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Forget the one year with the Seahawks and the two with Michigan. Those connections make for nice window dressing, but they could hardly be considered foundational reasons for the hire.

At least, they shouldn’t be the reasons.

Fisch got the job because of the Wildcats’ sizzling finish. If they had won five games during that stretch, and finished with an 8-5 mark, he would not have been on UW’s short list.

Then again, you could make the case that Fisch would have been just as qualified for the job — that his coaching acumen with a 10-3 record is no different than if the Wildcats had gone 8-5.

But one thing doesn’t change: Fisch has been a head coach for all of three years.

The Hotline would prefer to offer a definitive assessment of Washington’s fourth head coach in just over four years. We hate vacillating on matters of major consequence.

But in this case, we’re forced to adopt a somewhat nuanced view: Yes, Fisch brings a degree of risk, but he certainly was on the short list of best possible options for UW under the circumstances.

The Huskies should contend for College Football Playoff berths on an annual basis in the Big Ten and reach the 12-team CFP two years out of every four years.

Can Fisch clear that bar? We like, but don’t love, his chances.

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