What to know about new Arizona football coach Brent Brennan
Jan 16, 2024, 1:09 PM
(Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
The Arizona Wildcats moved swiftly in replacing departing football coach Jedd Fisch with Brent Brennan, the San Jose State head coach credited with turning around an underfunded Mountain West program.
What made Brennan one of the top candidates for athletic director Dave Heeke and University of Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins in 2020 and again in 2023?
Here are a few quick facts to get to know the Wildcats’ new leader.
Brent Brennan’s ties to former Arizona coach Dick Tomey run deep
Brennan only spent one year in Tucson as a graduate assistant on Dick Tomey’s staff in 2000. While that year was underwhelming, with a 5-6 record being Tomey’s last season at Arizona, their connection does go well beyond a single season.
Brent’s brother, Brad Brennan, played for Tomey as a receiver at Arizona from 1996-2000.
Brent Brennan and Tomey reconnected from 2005-09 at San Jose State, where the latter was head coach. Brennan coached receivers, tights ends and ultimately became offensive coordinator.
In May 2019, Brent Brennan spoke at Coach Dick Tomey's celebration of life service at McKale Center. He shared a now very fitting "Tomeyism" about coaching:
"You're either putting a team together, keeping a team together, or putting it back together." https://t.co/LuovkYuBCP
— Blair Willis (@BlairWillisUA) January 16, 2024
Brennan spoke at Tomey’s celebration of life in 2019, calling him his “football dad.”
In that speech, Brennan also mentioned Marcus Arroyo, who was also on San Jose State’s staff under Tomey from 2005-08.
Arroyo was just hired this offseason as rival Arizona State’s offensive coordinator under second-year head coach Kenny Dillingham.
What is the context behind a 34-48 record as head coach?
Brennan’s record as head coach at San Jose State might stand out. He’s 34-48 without any other head-coaching job on his resume, but the circumstances are worth pointing out.
He went 2-11 and 1-11 in his first two years (2017 and 2018) leading the Spartans before hitting the five-win mark twice and seven-win point three times in the past five years. SJSU lost all three of its bowl games under Brennan.
But here’s a lens of understanding what Brennan was working with at San Jose State, from The Athletic’s Antonio Morales’ insider peek at the Spartans’ program this past year:
Breakfast is the the only meal of the day that is served to the football players in the Spartan Athletics Center. They’ll get swipe cards for lunch and dinner that can be used for meals on campus, but that’s a far cry from what occurs at Power 5 programs, where players are provided with three meals per day and nutrition plans targeted specifically for their needs.
The “complication” is cost. Cash rules above all else in college football, and San Jose State simply doesn’t have enough of it. The Spartans are one of the worst-resourced schools in FBS. It might sound weird to others at the university as Brennan sits in a new facility that costs roughly $60 million dollars, but the Spartans are drastically behind in the sport’s never-ending arms race.
The goal post on the practice field is broken. It’s August and the field, which is shared with the men’s and women’s soccer programs, is already brown. But if it comes down to fixing that or raising money to buy food for the players, food takes precedence.
Those inequities show up in other ways too. There are only two full-time strength coaches, one full-time recruiting staffer and one student manager each for offense and defense. Position coaches often set up their own drills during practice.
Up until this month, the staff had to set up and break down 120 folding chairs every day just to hold team meetings.
What’s Brennan’s football ID and developmental track record?
Dating back to 2019 after Brennan’ helped to shift SJSU’s losing culture, the Spartans have been predominantly an offensive team.
According to ESPN analyst Bill Connelly’s efficiency rankings, San Jose State has been a top-50 offensive team two times (2019, 2023) and a top-50 defensive team once (2020) by efficiency rating.
The Spartans in the past five years have ranked higher on offense than defense three times and by average have leaned more offensively talented (66.4 average ranking to 79 ranking on defense).
That’s unsurprising with Brennan having a background coaching receivers.
Among the individual seasons that stand out in his offenses, Brennan coached Fred Biletnikoff Award winner Brandin Cooks, the Oregon State receiver who put together an NCAA-leading 1,730 receiving yards with 16 receiving touchdowns in 2013.
This past year, San Jose State running back Kairee Robinson posted 20 total touchdowns, fourth-most in NCAA.