As the old saying goes, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
That appears to be the approach Jedd Fisch is taking as he assembles his coaching staff in preparation for his first season as the University of Arizona head football coach.
Fisch, who was hired just a couple of days before Christmas, has already put together a staff that features a combined half-century of NFL experience. Fifty-eight years, to be exact.
That insurgence of professional-level coaching has been a major contributor to the success that Herm Edwards has been enjoying at Arizona State since taking over that program three years ago and given the mission of re-igniting a stalled football program.
Edwards, an NFL lifer who spent almost his entire coaching career in the pro ranks, had a vision that using an NFL approach to the college game could yield the kind of results it would take to get the job done. He set about blending the college and professional games into a single concept, and ASU became his laboratory.
Adding assistant coaches with NFL experience to his staff was paramount to his game plan.
Now, Fisch has begun loading his staff with coaches steeped in experience in the pro game. Chuck Cecil and Ricky Hunley were his first hires, adding 38 years of NFL experience right from the start.
Cecil brings 14 years of NFL experience as an assistant coach to the party and will move from his job in the booth where he was the senior defensive analyst for the Wildcats down to the field to take over as defensive backs coach. Also, during his seven years as a player he was on the roster of three teams, including the Phoenix (now Arizona) Cardinals.
Hunley (photo above) also spent seven years playing in the NFL, combined with 10 more years as an assistant coach. The No. 7 overall pick in the 1984 NFL draft, he played in two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.
Both men are UofA alums, which Fisch considers another important attribute. Cecil played safety for the Wildcats from 1984-87 and Hunley was a linebacker who preceded Cecil at the school as an incoming freshman in 1980.
Add to the roster another six years as an NFL assistant coach for Brennan Carroll and 14 more that DeWayne Walker, who was hired just last week, spent coaching defensive backs for five different NFL teams. Carroll, the son of Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, will serve as offensive coordinator and Hunley steps into the role of defensive backs coach.
There’s also some NFL experience on the offensive side of the staff. Scottie Graham, the new running backs coach, doesn’t list NFL playing or coaching experience on his resume. But he spent 16 years working in key positions for the NFL Players Association, eventually being elevated to Director of Player Engagement. During his time with the NFLPA, he was involved with a wide range of matters, including multimedia rights, marketing, licensing, and sponsorships.
Perhaps better than anyone, Graham can understand what Herm Edwards is trying to do at ASU, bringing the influence of NFL structure to the college program.
But that doesn’t mean Edwards’ success will translate to his Pac-12 rival. It will take more than NFL experience to turn around a program that has been underachieving for so long.
That will also take talent at the player level. Recruiting will be the defining difference from past failures.
However, just having NFL coaching experience on staff is already paying dividends in the recruiting effort. There are lots of kids out there with aspirations for the pro game.
And they’re looking for guys like Chuck Cecil and Ricky Hunley to help them get there.