Monday morning, news broke via Bruce Feldman that UCLA was poised to hire Michigan QB and WR coach Jedd Fisch to be their new Offensive Coordinator. The OC search, which began back on November 27, is finally over.
Honestly, I’ve written this article in my head a few times as different names popped up, complete with different reactions each time. For example, the early Gregg Knapp rumors would have led to something titled “Gregg Knapp is a Trash OC Hire.” Sterlin Gilbert would have gotten a “Mora Finally Makes a Good OC Hire.” And recent name Mike Debord would have gotten a “Mike Debord is the Trashiest of Trash-Ass OC Hires, and is also a Trash OC.” You get the picture.
But Jedd Fisch? It’s hard to pin down my reaction.
Fisch actually checks off a lot of my boxes for an OC. He’s young, has some experience, can run an up-tempo attack, and is an excellent recruiter. Plus he has some intangibles that I hadn’t considered; specifically, coming from a winning culture like the one at Michigan. Say what you will about Jim Harbaugh and his antics, but the dude knows how to win, and maybe Fisch can bring some of that to Westwood. Scheme-wise, Fisch seems to favor a zone-blocking system for his run game, which is what UCLA ran for 4 years under Noel Mazzone to great effect.
There are, of course, some areas of concern with Fisch. Fisch only has 5 years of experience calling plays, and it’s a mixed bag in terms of results. The low point would be his time in the NFL with the Jacksonville Jaguars, where Fisch’s offense ranked 31st twice while breaking in QB Blake Bortles. His other stops featured good performances with teams that hadn’t been known for offensive success before he got there (remember he went to Miami on the heels of the Randy Shannon era), but nothing that would put him among the best of the best.
Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to feel confident in this pick? It probably doesn’t help that this was a hiring that Jim Mora absolutely, 100% had to get right. Nothing less than his future employment at UCLA depended on it, as even the national media has managed to notice the poor performance of the Bruins this past season. But, at the same time, this isn’t the worst-case scenario that UCLA fans probably envisioned after last season’s disaster.
The bigger issue, of course, is more systemic, which is why the hire by itself ends up so average. Most UCLA fans seem to recognize that this team is not an Offensive Coordinator hire away from winning the Pac 12. I don’t know if I can even say they’re an offensive staff away from winning the conference.
But that’s also why it’s impossible to grade this hire at this point. We all know more needs to be done, and a new offensive coordinator was only one piece of the puzzle. The good news is, with the biggest piece now in place, we can now see where other dominoes fall. That’s exciting and terrifying all at once.
Of course, we need to talk about the other elephant in the room. It’s probably not a coincidence that the hiring of a new UCLA OC leaked the same day that USC was playing in the Rose Bowl. It’s actually a pretty clever bit of PR, but it also managed to highlight just how much UCLA under Jim Mora has blown their opportunity. Clay Helton is the third non-interim HC of USC since Jim Mora arrived in Westwood, and yet it’s his team that’s in the Rose Bowl and not the Bruins. The first year of Jim Mora at UCLA was so full of promise, including a Pac 12 South championship and narrow loss to Stanford in the championship game, and Bruin fans envisioned UCLA finally climbing out of the Dark Ages that had plagued the program since the last years of Bob Toledo. Yet, here in the first days of 2017, it’s UCLA trying to find the answers to some serious questions while USC celebrates another Rose Bowl victory.
Hopefully, Jedd Fisch is a part of the solution.