The Arizona Wildcats ended the 2023 college football season riding high.
Arizona went 10-3 in Jedd Fisch’s third year as head coach in Tucson and ended the season on a seven-game winning streak after defeating Oklahoma in the Alamo Bowl.
All signs pointed toward a Top 25 ranking entering the 2024 season with a Heisman hopeful under center as Arizona kicked off its new journey in the Big 12 conference.
And then Nick Saban retired, prompting Kalen DeBoer to leave Washington for Tuscaloosa.
What transpired next created a wildly chaotic 10 days in Tucson, Arizona, culminating in a new coach who managed to keep his top players.
Jan. 14 Jedd Fisch leaves Arizona for Washington
On Jan. 4, Fisch said he had no interest in leaving Tucson.
Jan. 14 rolled around, and Fisch was introduced as the next head coach of the Washington Huskies.
“When I first arrived at the U of A, I knew we could create something truly special because of the people at this university and in this community,” Fisch said in a statement. “Today, I am broken-hearted to leave not just Arizona, but the people who have given us so much and who believed so deeply in the magic we created.”
Fisch’s decision to depart Tucson left the school scrambling for its next head coach.
30-day transfer window opens
With the departure of Fisch to Washington, the future of the Arizona football team was up in the air.
The NCAA created a provision that allows players to enter the transfer portal for 30 days after losing the head coach of their school. For the Wildcats, that meant the risk of starting over after building for three seasons under Fisch.
Quarterback Noah Fifita and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan were the biggest names that had fans of the program concerned. Fifita was coming off a season in which he threw for 2,869 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions after taking over as the starter in Week 5. McMillan, who attended high school in California, had 90 catches for 1,402 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Jonah Coleman, Arizona’s leading rusher in 2023 (871 yards), entered the portal and announced on Sunday he’d follow Fisch to Washington. Three other Arizona players have committed to Washington.
Jan. 16: Arizona hires Brent Brennan from San Jose State
Arizona quickly turned its attention to San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, who had been the head coach of the Spartans since 2017, leading SJSU to back-to-back bowl games in 2022 and 2023.
Brennan was a finalist for the Arizona job in 2020 when Fisch was hired and was a graduate assistant in Dick Tomey’s final season in 2000.
The Wildcats returned to Brennan, hiring him this time around.
“I am so blessed and excited to come back to the University of Arizona,” Brennan said in a statement. “This incredible university is special to my family and I as it’s where I started as a coach as part of Coach Tomey’s legacy. I can’t wait to meet the players, families, fans, alumni and supporters and build on the success the players and staff have started. Bear Down and Go Cats!”
Jan. 20: Fifita, McMillan announce they’re staying
As Brennan got settled in Tucson and went about building his coaching staff, the future of many Arizona players was still in doubt.
The No. 12 ranked Wildcats basketball team welcomed UCLA to McKale Center Saturday, and Arizona fans received double the amount of fun.
After the first media timeout of the game, the lights went dark at McKale, and the jumbotron played a video.
Fifita, McMillan and many members of the Arizona football team approached the court to the roar of the crowd. Their decisions are massive for the program and buck the recent trend in college football of players leaving for greener pastures.
Arizona’s basketball team erased a 19-point deficit to defeat the Bruins and move to 5-2 in conference play.
Jan. 22: Arizona parts ways with athletic director
Just two days after the university and football program received the good news, the Wildcats were back making headlines.
On Monday, Arizona parted ways with athletic director Dave Heeke after seven years.
“I want to thank Dave for his outstanding efforts in leading our athletics program through a period of significant change,” University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins said in a statement. “He helped get our men’s and women’s basketball programs and our football program on a strong trajectory, oversaw the success of several of our sports teams and greatly enhanced the student-athlete experience. Dave always displayed the highest integrity, and I am appreciative of his partnership and dedication.”
Arizona is facing a $240 million budget shortfall, and Robbins announced a financial recovery plan in December.
“We will implement an immediate hiring freeze,” Robbins said. “We will freeze international travel. We will place restrictions on purchasing. We will defer nonessential capital projects, and we will pause strategic investments.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report