TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Brent Brennan served as a graduate assistant under Dick Tomey for a season at Arizona and spent four more years working for the coach at San Jose State.
As Arizona's newly named head coach, Brennan is both a link to the program's past successes under Tomey and a future that looks brighter than it has in years.
“I don’t think very often in your life when you work, you think about somebody every day, but that’s what Coach Tomey has been for me,” said Brennan, who got emotional seeing Tomey's widow, Nancy, during his introductory news conference on Wednesday. “He’s been the guy that every single day I think about: what would coach T do here.”
A Northern California native, Brennan spent just one season as a graduate assistant in 2000, but made a strong connection with the school and Tomey. Brennan's brother, Brad, played under Tomey at Arizona and Brent followed the coach to San Jose to work as an assistant. He became the head coach there in 2017.
Brennan was a candidate for the Arizona job after Kevin Sumlin was fired in 2020, but the job went to Jedd Fisch.
A longtime NFL and college assistant, Fisch took the Wildcats out of the depths at the bottom of Power Five football, leading them to 10 wins in 2023, just two years after going 1-11.
Fisch's success in the desert helped land him the job at Washington after Kalen DeBoer left for Alabama following Nick Saban's retirement last week.
The revolving door of jobs opened the opportunity for Brennan to secure the job he missed out on three years ago.
“If you want to talk about coach Tomey — the harder it gets, the better we play,” Brennan said, “Like, OK, I didn’t get it, but I need to keep doing a good job at San Jose State so at some point down the road, I might have a chance to go back there."
San Jose State struggled to gain traction in the Mountain West Conference at the start of Brennan's tenure, winning nine combined games his first three seasons.
The Spartans didn't win a conference championship, but Brennan led San Jose State to three bowl games the last four seasons, including the 2020 Arizona Bowl in Tucson. He's the first coach to lead the Spartans to three bowl games.
“Whenever I’m around Brent, the glass is always full," Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke said. "Not half full. It’s always full with Brent.”
With Arizona moving on to the Big 12 next year, Brennan's first task will be to convince the core players to stick around instead of bolting for the transfer portal.
Running back Jonah Coleman was the first to leave after Fisch's departure, but Brennan is hoping retain as many players as possible, particularly star quarterback Noah Fifita and receiver Tetairoa McMillan.
“I was just honest with them,” Brennan said “I just asked them to give me a chance to earn their trust, to treat each other with respect and the trust be earned over time. And I promised them I would surround them with a great coaching staff and people that care about their development, who they are as men.”
Fisch had success recruiting, pulling in some of the Pac-12's best classes, even when the team was mired in a program-record 20-game losing streak.
Brennan proved to be an adept recruiter at San Jose State, even while working in a lower talent pool, landing and developing six players who went on to play in the NFL.
Brennan will now have a chance to recruit higher-rated players and use the transfer portal to add players who might have been out of reach while he was at San Jose State.
“I think this place has everything you need to recruit absolutely high-level talent,” Brennan said. “We will be based developmentally and try and be smart about the portal.”
Now that Brennan has the job he wanted, it's time to put in the work.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-football