Offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s Sunday started normally. He woke up, went to work and began grading film from the previous night’s game.
Then he got called into a meeting with Athletics Director Dan Guerrero. The conversation didn’t last long.
“It was pretty short in that regard,” Fisch said. “Unfortunately in this business, changes are made (even) when you still have games left to play.”
That was when the former offensive coordinator found out former head coach Jim Mora had been fired and that the team needed Fisch to step in as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Fisch will take charge of the Bruins for at least one more game, possibly two.
UCLA football (5-6, 3-5 Pac-12) will get a chance to go 6-0 at home Friday against California (5-6, 2-6). A win would send the Bruins to a bowl game, meaning UCLA will have competed in the postseason five out of the six years in the Mora era.
Fisch and the two players who spoke to the media Monday morning all said they were surprised when they heard news of the firing, which the team received from Mora himself at an 11 a.m. team meeting Sunday.
“I don’t think really anyone expected it, so it was tough obviously to hear the news,” said redshirt senior center Scott Quessenberry. “Coach Mora played a big part in my recruitment, a big part in my life, you know, turning me (from an) 18-year-old kid into a 23-year-old man.”
Because Mora’s tenure spanned six seasons, the former coach handled the recruiting for every member of this year’s team.
“I think you guys saw the social media posts and all the stuff going on,” Quessenberry said. “Everyone on this team loved coach Mora, there’s no denying that.”
The fact that the firing came immediately after Saturday’s game also made the move more surprising to some. UCLA – a heavy underdog up against No. 11 USC – dropped the game by just five points.
“You know, we come in off a hard loss against USC, 28-23, and we weren’t expecting that,” said redshirt junior safety Adarius Pickett. “He was a little down from the game, a big rival game that we had lost, but we weren’t expecting that at all. I know I wasn’t.”
Mora’s eight-figure buyout also made the deal surprising.
“I just didn’t think it was going to happen at all. … I know UCLA had invested some money in him,” Pickett said.
One element of this whole situation that may not come as a surprise, though, is Fisch’s future. Quessenberry said he wasn’t surprised Fisch stepped in as interim head coach, and although he’s never been a head coach before, some are speculating about just how long he’ll be in charge of the team.
“If they’re thinking about coach Fisch as the guy, I think it would be a really wise decision,” Quessenberry said. “I think he would do a great job, but that’s not my decision to make.”
Fisch didn’t speak directly about a potential return, saying only that he was focused on closing out the season undefeated at the Rose Bowl and that anybody would like to be the head football coach at an extremely prominent university.
Addressing the media for the first time as a head coach, Fisch reflected on what he called the hardest challenge of his coaching career.
“Very difficult, very difficult,” Fisch said. “From the outcome of the game where we thought we played a really, really, really good football game, to waking up yesterday morning and coming in here to grade the film and prepare for Cal and being told an entire life-changing experience occurred.”
“It’s been a very sad 24 hours.”