Johnny Nansen, Brent Brennan represent Arizona football’s reported top targets to replace Jedd Fisch

Jan 15, 2024, 8:31 PM | Updated: 8:37 pm

Johnny Nansen and Brett Arce celebrate after a defensive stop against the Utah Utes during the seco...

Johnny Nansen and Brett Arce celebrate after a defensive stop against the Utah Utes during the second half at Arizona Stadium on November 18, 2023 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

(Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images)

The Arizona Wildcats seem to be making progress in their head coaching search and are focused on two targets, according to 247Sports’ Jason Scheer, who gave a 48-hour timeline from Monday night.

Athletic director Dave Heeke and the Wildcats are reportedly lasering in on former Arizona defensive coordinator Johnny Nansen and San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan.

However, others such as Arizona offensive coordinator Brennan Carroll — who, for now, is expected to join Jedd Fisch in Washington — and Cal head coach Justin Wilcox are still in the running as well.

After a 10-3 season and an Alamo Bowl victory, much of the roster remains intact with Arizona currently set to return 18 of 22 starters from last year at the time of Fisch’s departure.

Regardless of who ends up staying or going, the new head coach will oversee a program on the rise. Arizona is coming off its first 10-win season since 2014 after ending the season on a seven-game winning streak, its longest since 1998, and the No. 11 ranking — the Wildcats’ best finish in 25 years.

Who could replace Jedd Fisch as the head football coach at Arizona?

Johnny Nansen

The former Arizona defensive coordinator and newly-named co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for the Texas Longhorns emerged as one of the top candidates after many Arizona players were calling for him to be Arizona’s next head coach on Sunday. Nansen joined Steve Sarkisian’s staff at Texas earlier this month after two seasons at Arizona.

Nansen can be credited for helping turn around Arizona’s defense. Arizona allowed 39.8 points per game in 2020, 31.42 points per game in 2021 and 36.5 points per game in 2022. Last season, the Wildcats allowed 21.08 points per game, the program’s fewest since 2006.

Hiring Nansen would be the popular choice amongst players and could help ensure the current roster remains intact as much as possible with the risk of players transferring out. He would also get to work with a roster he has a deep level of familiarity with.

However, since Nansen and Sarkisian previously worked together at Washington and USC and since Arizona defensive assistant Duane Akina accepted an analyst role at Texas on Sunday, convincing Nansen to leave the Longhorns after recently arriving in Austin could be a tough ask.

Brent Brennan

Before Arizona hired Fisch in December of 2020, San Jose State head coach Brent Brennan was linked as one of the Wildcats’ top candidates.

Brennan was also a graduate assistant at Arizona in 2000 under Dick Tomey. His brother, Brad Brennan, played as a wide receiver for the Wildcats.

While Brennan owns a 34-48 career record at San Jose State, he has gone 26-19 over the last four years which has included three bowl berths.

In 2020, the Lombardi Foundation named him the College Football Coach of the Year after leading the Spartans to an undefeated regular season before losing in the Arizona Bowl.

Brennan Carroll

Arizona offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Brennan Carroll is another potential target who could fill the opening.

He lacks experience as a head coach, but he has been with the Wildcats for the past three seasons and has helped transform Arizona’s offense.

The Wildcats averaged 34.62 points per game last season (18th in the country) and 30.83 points in 2022 after averaging 17.17 points per game in 2021. The Wildcats also finished top-20 in the nation with 448 yards per game in 2023, and with quarterback Noah Fifita and wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan currently set to return, hiring Carroll would help with continuity amidst the risk of losing players to the transfer portal.

As Pete Carroll’s son, there is also the possibility the former Seahawks coach could also join the Wildcats’ staff and help the program in one way or another.

Carroll has a history of working with his father since working as a graduate assistant and a tight ends coach under his father at USC. The two also worked together in Seattle when the younger Carroll worked as the assistant offensive line coach and the run game coordinator for the Seahawks.

Justin Wilcox

Justin Wilcox has spent his entire head coaching career at Cal, running the program since 2017 with a 36-43 record over seven seasons.

Cal has won at least seven games in just two seasons over his tenure and never more than eight. Wilcox led the Golden Bears to a Redbox Bowl win in 2019 with bowl appearances in 2018 and 2023 as well.

Prior to that, he had defensive coordinator stops at Boise State, Tennessee, Washington, USC and Wisconsin.

Scheer reported that Arizona has been in contact with Wilcox in recent days, and it’s likely that if he gets the offer, the coach may prefer leading an Arizona team playing in the Big 12 rather than a Cal team playing in the ACC.

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Johnny Nansen, Brent Brennan represent Arizona football’s reported top targets to replace Jedd Fisch