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Arizona treated Saturday as a business trip — even though they weren’t going far.
The Wildcats marched down Cherry Street to Arizona Stadium in team-issued navy suits, an idea the players came up with to coach Jedd Fisch in the offseason.
“They came to me at the end of last season or probably in the spring and said, ‘For our travels, can we eliminate tracksuits and adopt a jacket-and-tie mentality and treat it more like travel? ‘business?’ … A lot of teams are doing it across the country, and they were all for it and felt good,” Fisch said. “All of our kids were measured and fitted and we gave them a bunch of selections as far as the ties. We’re pretty uniform when it comes to suits. That’s what they asked for. It was all players.
Arizona defensive tackle Kyon Barrs was on the board that pitched the idea.
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“We know that every time we go there it’s a business trip, so we decided to put on the suits. … Every game is a business,” Barrs said. “We’re not here to play, so when it’s a business trip, you have to look good.”
Former RichRod staffer returns to Tucson
Mike Leach wasn’t the only familiar face to don the brown and white at Arizona Stadium for the Wildcats’ home opener on Saturday night.
Leach’s staff at Mississippi State includes former UA assistant Steve Spurrier Jr., former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley and a pair of other staff who are familiar to Wildcats fans.
Ex-UA softball standout Brittany Lastrapes (now Brittany Thackery) is Leach’s Associate Director of Football Administration.
Former Arizona scouting coordinator Matt Dudek is MSU’s associate director of player personnel. Dudek worked at UA for five seasons under then-head coach Rich Rodriguez before accepting a similar role at Michigan.
Dudek joined the MSU staff in 2021.
Dudek said he always cheers for the Wildcats from afar.
“Jedd (Fisch) has these guys on the right track, and there’s excitement around Tucson, it shows. I know that has been lacking for several years here,” Dudek said. “Being in town for the past few days, you can definitely tell there’s been renewed excitement for Wildcats football, which makes me happy – less on Saturday.”
The Star spoke to Dudek about his time at UA.
How do you reflect on your time in Arizona?
A: “We had some great wins. Defeating Oregon Scooby Wright as Defensive Player of the Year that year, part of Lowell-Stevens Building (Football Facility) and Early Interior Development (Training Facility) – it was cool to walk past it and see it as a building now instead of a drawing on a sheet of paper. … It was cool to come back to the mall for a brief moment. We had a lot of great memories and won a lot of football games, and I don’t think anyone has won as many games as Rich Rodriguez in those five years, and I’m just grateful to have been a part of this.”
What do you remember about working for RichRod, Harbaugh and Leach?
A: “Also add Greg Schiano and Dave Wannstedt to this list. I’ve had a few fun ones. With Rich, his passion – and people laugh about it – but his passion and love for the team came through, and that’s why we were able to win so many games. Working for him was great. It was Jekyll and Hyde in the field, and you didn’t know what was going to be said. But in the office, it was always a family atmosphere. Jim Harbaugh … I was very happy in Michigan and proud to have helped build what they are playing with now and last year. When the opportunity came up to work at the SEC and work with Mike Leach, who is one of the greatest coaches of all time, the decision was easy. And Coach Leach is awesome. He reminds me a lot more of Rich than Jim – and that’s not even close, they were worlds apart. Coach Leach is just a normal guy. He wants to know about office jokes and cares about your family, super smart, and I love to sit and talk to him. You never know where the conversation will lead, but it’s always great and interesting, and I’m proud and happy to work for him.
Do you have a favorite recruiting story in Arizona?
A: “Overall, and I may be setting myself up to fail, but I don’t think there’s one particular person or story, but this OKG (Our Kinda Guy) mantra that we brought, which really carried us in. There weren’t a lot of stars on these guys, but they turned out to be big stars, like the Khalil Tates, the Scooby Wrights, the Will Parks and a bunch other guys who are still playing in the league.
What do you think of Rodriguez’s journey since his time in Arizona?
A: “I’m glad he’s the head coach of Jacksonville State. I know I wouldn’t want to put them on the schedule. I’m just proud that he’s back and being the head coach, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was a head coach somewhere else in a few years after building up Jacksonville State on their transition to Division I. I mean, he’s the perfect guy to do it. did over and over again. Those people over there are very lucky.
Jacksonville State offensive coordinator and former Arizona running back Calvin Magee died just before the season; what was your relationship with him?
A: “We worked (together) at Pitt very briefly. …Calvin was always the voice of reason with me and he was the voice of reason for everyone. He was a very nice man, very direct, he always let you know what was going on. Then in Arizona, he was a big reason why my name came up for this job. I wouldn’t be here today without him, and I know it. He is an integral part of my journey and it was great to see him in the office. His players loved him. When I say they loved him, I mean they adored him. He was Rich’s right-hand man, so whenever Rich got hot and bothered, he would be the calming force or he would be the one gassing him because he knew when to gas him. But he was an incredible and wonderful man and it is a sad loss for the football community and a huge loss for everyone he touched.
Local stars pay a visit
Several Tucson-area players were in attendance for Arizona’s home opener, including Salpointe Catholic five-star Elijah Rushing.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound Rushing, who was named the Star’s MVP in Tucson for the 2022 season, is rated by 247Sports.com as the top rusher and 15th top prospect for the 24-year-old recruiting class.
Sabino sophomore Shamar Berryhill, who landed an offer from the Wildcats this summer, attended the game alongside his brother Savaughn and Sabino quarterback Cameron Hackworth.
He said it
“What Jedd did, he kind of took Dick Tomey’s digital-age persona and really engaged with the community, making it fun and doing everything he could before he was a team. It was awesome, and it’s what Tucson dreams of. A lot of coaches look at that, like, ‘Really? I just want to coach football. But you need a special guy to turn a program around, not just for the sake of players and winning football games, but for the inclusiveness of the Tucson community. I am delighted. He controls the things he can control and it’s not an easy task. –Former Arizona and NFL offensive lineman John Fina, on Jedd Fisch
Contact sports producer Justin Spears at 573-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @JustinESports