Arizona football enters a new era this fall with head coach Jedd Fisch taking over in Tucson. Although Fisch did not have any direct ties to the program prior to his hiring, three of his staffers are former Arizona players who also happen to be all-time great Wildcats: Tedy Bruschi ’95, Ricky Hunley ’87 and Chuck Cecil ’88.
While Fisch has drummed up palpable excitement around the next chapter of Arizona football, he and his staff are tasked with turning around a team that’s shouldering a 12-game losing streak dating back to the 2019 season.
In this converstion, Sarah Kezele ’11 caught up with Chuck and Ricky.
How excited are you to be coaching at your alma mater?
Chuck: I coached in the NFL for a while, but I always wanted to come back to Arizona and pay it back. My life here was kind of a fairy tale. And so to be able to come back [after serving on Kevin Sumlin’s staff] and help is just fantastic for me.
Ricky: Oh, that’s an easy question. I wake up every morning at 4:30 and pinch myself. I can’t believe I’m here. Getting back to Arizona is a destination opportunity for me. It’s not a stepping stone job. This is it; I’m home. And I just love being around the players. Everything I know and everything that I’ve learned over the years, I can’t wait to share with them.
What drew you to join Jedd Fisch’s staff?
Chuck: He checks all the boxes. He is here early. He leaves late. Just trying to keep up with him is a daily thing, and I respect that immensely. I’m excited for the Wildcat Nation, because this is going to be special.
Ricky: He asked me. That’s all it takes [laughs]. Jedd Fisch is absolutely the right fit for what we need here right now. He is so innovative and so smart. He’s picked up so much from all those great coaches that he’s worked under. He will be one of the great young coaches that will be a future College Football Hall of Famer.
After a tough 2020 season, what should fans expect this fall?
Chuck: If nothing else, the team will play with energy and excitement. It’ll be something they can be proud of. The score is very simple, right? Who has the most points? But the product that you put on the field is also a reflection of who you are in the big picture and who you’re going to be moving forward. And I think we’re going to put a hard-working, disciplined team on the field.
Ricky: They should expect to see a fast-paced, high-energy, tough, hard-fighting team that will start the game like that and finish the game like that. We preach to the players: Give me everything you’ve got for three to five seconds at a time. If you can take care of the business in the first five seconds [of each play], we’re going to be in good shape.
What is your fondest memory as a player here?
Chuck: The 1986 Territorial Cup in Tucson between No. 4 ASU and No. 14 Arizona [in which he intercepted ASU for a 106-yard return to seal a 34-17 win for the Wildcats]. The student section nearly tore the stadium down — I thought it was coming down. People always remind me of that play and, obviously, it’s special. There’s no way around that. But the thing that I remember even more in that game was knocking their running back out of the game, who was a really good player for them. ASU would have been undefeated that year. That was their only loss, when we beat them. It was a big deal.
Ricky: I think we were considered giant-killers. We always rose to the occasion when we played big-time competition. We played UCLA when they were ranked No. 2 in the country [in 1980], and we beat them. We went to the Coliseum and beat the [USC] Trojans when they were No. 1 in the country [in 1981]. Then traveling back to Notre Dame and beating them [in 1982]. So those things stick out the most, because those are big, big victories. And no one expected us to even be, you know, on the same field with those teams.
Is there a player on this year’s roster that reminds you of you during your playing days?
Chuck: Well, there’s nobody that’s 140 pounds on the roster [laughs]. They don’t let the little runts on the team anymore. Jaydin Young, he’s a walk-on. I was a walk-on, too, so I respect that journey. Putting in all the work without being a scholarship guy, I can respect and appreciate that.
Ricky: I think there’s a combination of a few kids that have some of those traits, but they probably have a little better skill set with some things. Look at Kenny Hebert. He’s the same linebacker — but he’s taller, he’s faster and he’s a lot smarter. He’s going to be a special football player for us. Anthony Pandy: He can do a lot of good things, and you will always find him around the football. He makes special things happen. And then I really like this new kid we brought in, Jerry Roberts. He’s a physical, downhill player and he doesn’t lack any confidence at all. So, take those three guys and you can probably get a good version of Ricky back in the day.