A name likely recognizable by only the most die-hard brand of college football fans, Jedd Fisch has become a coach worth knowing as Jeff Long, athletic director at the University of Kansas, continues in his search for the football program’s next head coach.
On Tuesday, Long flew from Lawrence to Colorado Springs, Colo., and back.
This week, the Los Angeles Rams are practicing at the Air Force Academy’s facilities, just north of Colorado Springs.
Fisch currently works for the Rams as a senior offensive assistant.
And there is more to this than connecting dots and making assumptions.
On the same day Long flew on KU’s private jet to Colorado Springs, Angelique Chengelis, who covers Michigan football for the Detroit News, tweeted out that she was “hearing” KU is considering Fisch for its head coaching vacancy.
Back before Fisch worked as UCLA’s offensive coordinator — and, eventually, interim head coach — in 2017, he spent two seasons as the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks/wide receivers coach at the University of Michigan.
What’s more, Jon Kirby of Jayhawk Slant has had Fisch on his KU coaching hot board for more than a week.
On Wednesday evening, CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd reported Long and Fisch met this week about the vacancy.
So who is Jedd Fisch?
Fisch, 42, doesn’t fit Long’s publicly stated preference for a candidate with head coaching experience at the college level.
Before joining the Rams, Fisch, then the offensive coordinator at UCLA, served as the program’s interim head coach for two games to close out the 2017 season. The Bruins defeated Cal and then suffered a 35-17 loss to Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl. And that’s the end of his head coaching résumé — 1-1.
However, as an assistant, Fisch has worked for a long list of successful head coaches, both with Power Five programs and NFL franchises, including Steve Spurrier, Dom Capers, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Pete Carroll, Jim Harbaugh and others.
Fisch also has worked as the offensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars at the NFL level and both Miami and Minnesota at the college level.
Long admitted on the day he announced he would not retain David Beaty as KU’s football coach that he couldn’t rule out the possibility of hiring a coordinator with “demonstrated” potential as Beaty’s replacement.
No one figured it would take Corione Harris long to break into the starting lineup at Kansas. Still, the freshman cornerback from New Orleans might have even flown past some of his highest expectations.
It only took Harris until the second game of his college football career to graduate from contributing reserve to a first series appearance.
On the same day that fellow four-star Louisianan Pooka Williams Jr. sprinted and juked to a spectacular debut at Central Michigan, Harris, a 6-foot-1, 180-pound corner, started, too. And while Harris, who played in spots off the bench the previous week, didn’t provide the same fireworks for the defense that Williams did for the offense, his teammates and coaches thought the young defender held up well.
“He handled it exactly like we thought he would. He didn't make any big deal about it. It was just very workmanlike,” KU coach David Beaty said.
Harris replaced senior Hasan Defense in the starting lineup.
“We felt he had earned that opportunity,” Beaty explained of the switch. “He had shown we could trust him in that position, that he had adapted to the scheme and the way that we were able to do things and that it really, ultimately, with him and all of them, it comes down to who we trust is going to be able to do it the best.”
Initially, it appeared Central Michigan (0-2) might try to test the true freshman often. On the Chippewas’ second play from scrimmage, quarterback Tony Poljan targeted Harris’ man, Brandon Childress. With Harris giving the receiver roughly a seven-yard cushion, CMU picked up 9 yards and a first down, as Harris got credit for a tackle, bringing Childress down out of bounds.
However, CMU spent the majority of the game either running or throwing nowhere near Harris. He finished with three total tackles (two solo) in a road win that improved KU to 1-1. According to analysis from Pro Football Focus, Harris played 49 snaps (on possessions that he sat, Elmore Hempstead Jr. replaced him) and received a grade of 62.6.
Though far from proven at the college level, Harris’ approach and ability has long made teammates think it’s only a matter of time before he starts playing to a level worthy of his high school hype.
Junior safety Bryce Torneden said Harris — KU team policy doesn’t allow freshmen to do media interviews — looked like a natural at times, as early as this past spring’s practices.
“It’s very apparent to see,” Torneden said. “It’s definitely going to be awesome to see him put his whole game together with his natural raw ability that he has and the coaching that we have here.”
According to Torneden, Harris’ ball skills likely are his biggest strength in the secondary.
“When that ball is in the air, he’s a go-getter,” the safety said of the corner. “He’s going to go up and get it.”
Although KU picked off four passes at CMU, Harris didn’t get an opportunity to show off that ability. His best chance to join the takeaway brigade came on the first play of the second half. Poljan didn’t pass to the freshman’s man, but Harris was one of a swarm of Jayhawks zeroing in on a fumble — even getting a hand on it — before Torneden secured it. Harris hopped up off the turf and was the first KU defender pointing in the other direction to indicate Shak Taylor’s forced fumble was recovered by the Jayhawks.
Taylor, who also returned an interception 55 yards for a touchdown while playing opposite Harris, said the freshman corner passed a potentially tough test, making his first career start on the road.
“He played his game, and did what he had to do,” Taylor said. “Of course, there are going to be little things you need to work on when you’re a true freshman coming in for your first start. But I felt like he played really well being in that position.”
One example of Harris simply carrying out his assignment came later in the third quarter. On 3rd and 21, he played far off receiver Jamil Sabbagh, making him an easy underneath target. But Harris and senior linebacker Keith Loneker Jr. easily stopped Sabbagh 10 yards shy of a 1st down.
The Jayhawk who knows Harris best, junior safety Mike Lee, a fellow Landry-Walker High graduate, expects the freshman to continue developing and improving.
“He could be real good when it gets to learn things he needs to learn. I think he does everything well: tackle, cover, catch,” Lee said. “He’s just a physical, smart guy. He’s fast. … I ain’t going to say he’s faster than me, but he’s fast.”
The defenders who have witnessed Harris’ growth since he arrived in Lawrence in January think his first career start and the lessons that accompanied it will only help his trajectory.
“Obviously, he’s an amazing player and an amazing athlete,” Torneden said. “I think he played great. He was very consistent throughout the game. I think the big thing about our defense is playing consistent. I think he did a great job of that. He did his job, he played his role and I’m expecting a lot out of him.”
Frisco, Texas — Through three seasons as head football coach at the University of Kansas, David Beaty has not yet been able to pull off the grueling task of turning around the long-struggling program.
Addressing reporters Monday, at Big 12 Football Media Days, for the first time since the conclusion of the Jayhawks’ spring football schedule, Beaty, now 3-33 at KU, didn’t want to give many specifics about his expectations for Year 4.
Asked what win total would need to be achieved in order to display the growth and success that has been lacking at Kansas, Beaty opted not to put a number, or even a ballpark figure, on it.
“The name of the game in college sports is production, and we feel like we understand that is no different for us than it is for anyone else, that production is the name of the game,” Beaty began. “When it comes to our preparation, that’s not going to change. We’re going to start with Game 1 and the goal is go 1-0, to win that game and then put just as much focus on that next game to be able to do the same and repeat that.”
Beyond KU’s Sept. 1 opener against Nicholls State, and the obvious objective of leaving that game victorious, Beaty had no interest in projecting desired outcomes.
“When it comes to a win total, I don’t have that answer. I don’t know that many people do,” Beaty said. “But I do know this: I bet around Christmas time, we’ll know.”
State of QB competition
It appears Beaty doesn’t want this season’s quarterback competition to end up as prolonged as last year’s, when KU didn’t name Peyton Bender its starter until the day of the opener.
Beaty said Monday during his morning press conference at Ford Center at The Star, “it is still a competition” entering preseason camp in August, between Bender, Carter Stanley and Miles Kendrick.
However, the coach indicated he and offensive coordinator and QBs coach Doug Meacham would like to determine a winner sooner rather than at the last minute.
“We’re going to narrow that down to two pretty quick. And I know our guys understand that. They know that there’s urgency to get yourself in that top two,” Beaty said.
Due to the “rough-and-tumble” nature of the Big 12, KU’s head coach added that all three QBs will be prepared and ready.
“But we would like to get it down to ‘the guy’ pretty quickly,” Beaty said. “Not going to give a timeline on it, but I would say we want to get it done pretty quickly.”
No longer playing for KU
The KU offense lost two skill players this summer, when running back Taylor Martin and tight end Kenyon Tabor had to leave the team.
Beaty said Martin wanted to be “closer to home,” in Fort Worth, Texas, while Tabor will remain at KU and involved with the program in a nonplaying role.
After receiving what the coach described as “extensive” evaluations for his ailing back, Tabor had to give up football.
“We feel really good about him getting back to a normal, healthy lifestyle," Beaty said. And, although Tabor will no longer be playing with the team for medical reasons, "he is still a huge part of our program."
The coach originally had anticipated that Tabor, a 6-foot-4 tight end from Derby, would become a big part of the program, calling him “probably the best player” in the Sunflower State in the Class of 2017.
“That’s hard to deal with, not having him. We were counting on that. But we’re counting on him having a great life, and that’s the most important thing,” Beaty said.
Tabor never played a game for Kansas, but Martin spent three seasons as a regular in the backfield.
“Taylor did a lot for us while he was here,” Beaty said of the 5-10 rusher, who gained 286 yards and ran for three touchdowns in 2017.
Beaty said Martin encountered “some issues” that led him to want to leave KU, adding Martin “certainly didn’t get kicked off the team.”
“Sometimes, you do what you’ve got to do for family. His situation, my prayer for him is it doesn’t end his football career. That he’s able to handle that,” Beaty said.
Offensive lineman Jacob Bragg (medical) and fullback Quinton McQuillan also left the program.