/ Modified jan 26, 2024 12:10 p.m.

New UA football coach Brent Brennan's journey back to Tucson

He cites lessons learned from Wildcats coaching legend Dick Tomey.

UA Brennan feature
Associated Press

It is 2017, and Brent Brennan is leading a San Jose State University football team suffering through a losing season.

By this time, Brennan had been a football coach since 1996. One of his stops brought him to Tucson, where he worked as a graduate assistant with University of Arizona head coach Dick Tomey.

Now, leaving the sideline after another defeat, Brennan encountered his old boss, and tried to explain himself and his team's losing streak.

"And he said, 'Don't apologize to me'." remembers Brennan. "'Get your ass back in that locker room and apologize to your team. Because you're either coaching or letting it happen.'"

Now, Brennan is UA's head football coach. And he says he won't forget the lessons Tomey taught him.

"He just always had all these lessons for me, and never stopped."

Brennan arrived at UA last week as the 31st head football coach in the school's history.

He got the job after slowly building the program at San Jose State and eventually guiding the Spartans to back-to-back bowl appearances.

But his reintroduction to Arizona Athletics could have hardly been more awkward. Brennan was passed over in 2020 so the Wildcats could hire Jedd Fisch.

Fisch managed to turn the Arizona program around and fled to a new job at Washington, and Brennan found himself on the short list for a sudden career upgrade. Within days, he was offered Fisch's job and accepted it, meeting a new team that had just lost their leader.

"I get it," Brennan admitted. "They are a little bit hurt. It's tricky like that and the reason I can say that is because I did that to a team (yesterday)."

Brent Brennan's path back to Tucson stands as an example of how fast change happens in today's high-stakes, big-money landscape of collegiate athletics. Coaching changes come with multi-million-dollar contract signings. The switch might be preceded or followed by players announcing surprise transfers to another school hoping to gain playing time - or better image-and-likeness deals - under more favorable conditions.

All this, accompanied by the still-evolving impact of conference realignment, has unleashed a flood of uncertainty that didn't exist during Dick Tomey's years in Arizona.

His 13-year tenure in Tucson included the U of A's best football seasons, including a 1998 campaign that featured 12 wins and only one defeat. Tomey's 95 overall wins are the most in school history.

Tomey left Arizona in 2000 and died in 2019. It is his legacy with the program that makes Brennan's appointment affecting and emotional.

Fisch's 2023 team promised a return to regular top ten national rankings and a shot at championship glory. And that leaves Brennan in an unenviable spot.

It's because the new leader won't just be coaching a team, he'll be trying to sustain a reputation that Arizona players won't let go of.

"I just asked them to give me a chance to earn their trust, trust each other with respect and respect will be earned over time," explained Brennan. "I promised I would surround them with a great coaching staff and people who care about their development and who they are as men."

The Brent Brennan football era at the University of Arizona begins August 31.

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