Coming into 2024, the University of Arizona Athletics was at a peak. The football team had climbed through the Top 25 under exciting new leadership, basketball was continuing a dominant streak that had been held for the past three years, and Baseball was gearing up for its third straight NCAA Tournament Berth.

The big three were looking to make the Arizona Wildcats into a premiere athletic university, especially after the collapse of their previous conference, the PAC-12. That was when the dominos began to fall.

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Basketball Blunders

Arizona Wildcats Basketball Arena
Credit: Frankie Lopez on Unsplash

Wildcat Basketball has been the highlight of Arizona athletics for some time now, playing dominant in the regular season and putting up a fight in the NCAA's yearly "March Madness" tournament. With a conference championship and Sweet-16 appearance in head coach Tommy Lloyd's first season two years ago, and a second-place conference finish and NCAA tournament invite last year, Wildcat basketball had finally seemed to hit its stride.

After a couple of quality wins early in the season, including a close win at #2 Duke, Arizona was propelled to #1 in the AP Rankings, and stayed there until a heartbreaking loss to #3 Purdue. Since then, the Wildcats have been solid, but with consistent road losses, Arizona has continued to slide down the rankings.

Fisch Out of Water

Football team entering the stadium before a game
Credit: Frankie Lopez on Unsplash

After their first 10-win season in almost 10 years, Wildcat football thought they had finally found their guy. Head Coach Jedd Fisch had turned the program around from a team that struggled to win 5 games to a juggernaut in the dying PAC-12. Ending the season ranked 11th in both the AP and Coaches rankings, as well as securing a Bowl game win against the Blue Blood Oklahoma Sooners was about the best you could ask for. The team was playing with passion, the coaching staff was making incredible moves, and the fans were showing up in droves to watch the new and improved Arizona Wildcats.

Then, on January 10th, the unthinkable happened: Nick Saban, one of the greatest coaches in College Football History, retired. This move sent waves throughout the league that directly affected the future of the Wildcats. Washington Head Coach Kalen DeBoer left his team that had played in the National Championship game just under a week prior. This left the very desirable Washington coaching job wide open, and who filled that vacancy? None other than Arizona's Jedd Fisch.

While their star Quarterback Noah Fifita is planning on returning, as well as most of the Wildcat's biggest playmakers, it's hard to see what the trajectory of Arizona football will be without the Coach who inspired the massive turnaround. Brent Brennan was announced as the new head coach on January 16th, but it is unsure if the former San Jose State coach can recapture the magic that made Tucson fall in love with Wildcat Football.

The Proverbial Nail in the Proverbial Coffin

Student Rally at the University of Arizona
Credit: Getty Images

While Wildcat nation was still reeling from the loss of Jedd Fisch, things were about to get much, much worse.

One week after Fisch's departure, longtime Athletic Director Dave Heeke announced to the media that he would no longer represent the University of Arizona. This comes in the wake of serious financial troubles caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic, as well as the school's shift into the Big XII after the PAC-12 disbanded.

Former Arizona Softball Head Coach Mike Candrea, the winningest softball coach in NCAA history, will replace Heeke as the interim AD while the school scrambles to find a full-time replacement.

While the past month has put Wildcat fans in a state of turmoil, it's the unknown that's the issue. Brennan may bring the Wildcats to the first 12-team College Football Playoff, the basketball team may find its stride and make a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

The new AD hire may be just the thing Arizona needs to become a power program in the Big XII, but we won't know until it happens. The best thing Wildcat fans can do right now is hope.

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