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New Era in Tucson as Wildcats Greet Brent Brennan


Brent Brennan speaks at Arizona
© Zachary BonDurant/USA TODAY SPORTS

The Arizona Wildcats are coming off their best season since 2014, going 10-3 overall and 7-2 in the Pac-12. With a roster that returns a vast portion of its roster, much has changed since December. For one, the Wildcats made the move from the Pac-12 Conference to the Big 12, joining Utah, Arizona State, and Colorado. A new conference brings new competition, and new competition brings new challenges in game prep, travel and more. Secondly, Arizona has seen many transfers come and go, as well as a new batch of recruits needing to be developed. While the roster remains mostly the same, some holes will have to be filled by these new additions.



The biggest change though for the Wildcats is likely not the change in conference or the new additions needing to be acclimated, but rather the departure of Jedd Fisch for Washington. Fisch orchestrated the turnaround Arizona has gone through and was an integral piece in keeping recruits here. With him gone, in his place, the Wildcats hired former San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan, who brought over many of his assistants, after a vast majority of those who were still at Arizona either followed Fisch to Washington or took their work elsewhere. The big question for the Wildcats is not only how they will fare in the Big 12, but also how Brent Brennan's first season at the helm will go as well.


About Brent Brennan

Brent Brennan began his coaching career in 1996 as an assistant for Woodside High School in California. He would then make the jump to the college ranks in 1998, where he would join Hawaii as a graduate assistant and wide receivers coach. Brennan would then make the jump to the Power 5 a year later when he was hired on as an assistant and tight ends coach. Brennan would then make his first stop in Arizona, where he would be an assistant for 1 year before moving on to Cal Poly to be wide receivers coach once again. He would spend 3 years there, his longest tenure so far, before making his first stop at San Jose State at the same position.


Brennan has spent the majority of his career at San Jose State, only switching schools once when he had a stint at Oregon State as wide receivers coach from 2011-2016. Brennan would see action as wide receivers coach, tight ends coach, co-offensive coordinator, offensive line coach, and special teams coach before finally making the jump to head coach after his five years with the Beavers.


Brent Brennan San Jose State
© Troy Babbitt/USA TODAY SPORTS

Brennan would be head coach of San Jose State from 2017 to 2023, where he would have a 34-48 record with the Spartans and go 0-3 in bowl games. Brennan would win Mountain West Coach of the Year in 2020 when he and the Spartans made the conference championship game after going 7-0. Since then, he has kept the Spartans right around bowl-eligible, going at worst 5-7 and at best 7-5, having a winning conference record each of those last two seasons. Arizona would hire Brennan on January 16th, 2024.



What Brennan Can Do for the Wildcats

On paper, Brennan's tenure is not exactly what you'd prefer to have in a Power 4 coach who will be leading a team that just went 10-3 and returns a vast portion of that roster. A losing record at a Group of 5 School, experience only as an assistant at the Power 4 level, 0-3 in bowl games, the list goes on, but Brennan brings a few key components that Arizona fans should pay attention to before they crucify the hire.



The candidates for the Arizona job were, unfortunately, few and far between, as Arizona isn't quite a program that can buy a coach off a Power 4 or NFL team yet and there weren't many other Group of 5/worthy assistant candidates that were available still. The process of finding a new coach started just a hair too early to hire someone like Curt Cignetti or Willie Fritz.



That doesn't mean Arizona necessarily settled with Brennan though, as Brennan has been with Arizona before, has head coaching experience and has won games at a place that historically, has been very hard to win at. Arizona's internal candidates did not have the experience Brennan has, with none of them ever leading a program before, much less leading a program that has found it hard to win more and see more success. Arizona is coming into success now, but in order to maintain it they need a guy who can do just that.


Many anticipated Arizona to promote Johnny Nansen, the defensive coordinator who helped turn around a formerly abysmal Arizona defense, but he had no experience in leading a program. Brennan made San Jose State better during his tenure there and can better maintain the newfound success Arizona has with his head coaching experience, something that could have proven to be a challenge with a new head coach, especially at the Power 4 level.



An experienced head coach knows the ins and outs of recruiting, NIL, talent evaluation and other key aspects of running a program more than an assistant that's only seen a few parts of that. Brennan, while not being at a marquee program, knows this and utilized it at San Jose State to propel their success, getting them out of the basement of the Mountain West into a program that regularly competes for the conference championship now. Brennan may not have had a great record, but he also inherited a dumpster fire and made it into something respectable.



Not only that, he maintained that respectable status and left the program better than he found it. This hire makes it more likely that Arizona can maintain success than if they had promoted internally, especially seeing that now Arizona's assistants have either left for different jobs (Nansen, in particular, leaving for Texas) or followed Fisch to Washington.



This brings us to the final point, Brennan is an Arizona guy and has personal ties to the school. His brother played for the Wildcats, he was an assistant under Dick Tomey and has ties to the area being primarily a west coast coach. Brennan's proximity to the program also makes him a decent at worst hire because part of building NIL, recruiting and other aspects is being a program guy. Brennan has a love for Arizona and that will help in bringing a personal touch to everything a head coach is responsible for.


Conclusion

There are no guarantees with any hire. Brennan could be wildly successful at Arizona or could fall apart a year into his tenure, such is the unpredictability of the coaching carousel. Arizona though gave themselves the best chance possible at maintaining their success and building off of it with a program developer like Brennan. Not only that, but Brennan brings his personal ties to the program with him, which should make him a fan, donor, and recruit favorite who can vouch for the school instead of (at least being less likely to) looking at other, higher paying, higher "value" opportunities.



Overall, the Wildcats, with their vast amount of returning talent, should have no problem repeating or even improving upon what they did last year, even with last year's coaching staff all but completely gutted. Guys like Noah Fifita and Tetairoa McMillian will be heavy favorites to make the All-Conference teams and will make Brennan's life much easier, at least for this year. Brennan, given his ample experience in the passing game, could work wonders with two proven guys like that at the helm and Arizona could turn out to be one of the best passing teams in the FBS. Brennan should have no problem though continuing to develop this program into a consistent winner if his tenure at San Jose State is any proof.







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