A Dream Come True

Q&A: Brent Brennan, Arizona football head coach

Spring 2024
A photograph of a man wearing a white UArizona shirt and white UArizona hat holding up a Wildcat sign

Arizona football coach Brent Brennan

Photos: Arizona Athletics

Nearly a quarter-century after he coached his final game in Tucson, the late Dick Tomey remains the standard for Arizona football as the winningest coach in program history. Brent Brennan was a member of Tomey’s staff in that final season, an eager 26-year-old graduate assistant who was embarking on his own coaching journey. Now, following the Wildcats’ best season since 2014, Brennan is back in Tucson and taking the reins of a program dear to his heart.

Brennan spoke with Sarah Kezele ’11 about honoring Tomey’s legacy, keeping a promising young team intact, and the importance of home-field advantage.

Q: Your coaching career has taken you all over the West Coast since you were on Arizona’s staff in 2000. How does it feel to be back all these years later?

Oh, it feels incredible to be back. I’ve had the chance to meet and reconnect with a bunch of great people who care about the U of A. It’s a little bit surreal, too. As I walk down the Mall or I’m walking up to the [football] facility, I think, wow, this is amazing. My wife went to school here, and my brothers both went to school here, so I have always had a strong connection to the U of A. (Brennan’s younger brother, Brad, played wide receiver for the Wildcats from 1996-2000.) 

This has been a dream come true for me, and I mean that. I feel an incredible responsibility for this program right now and for our path and our process going forward.

A man in a purple windbreaker side hugging another man in a black quarter zip on a football field at night

Brennan and Dick Tomey

Q: You spent several years under Dick Tomey’s tutelage at Arizona and San José State and looked at him as your “football dad.” What do you think he would think about you returning to this program?

I think he would think it’s great. Coach is such a special guy to so many people, and that’s one of the cool things about coming back here, is getting a chance to work with some of those people who played for or coached with Coach Tomey. I’ve made sure that we have people connected to the U of A joining our staff. We have that feeling of pride and commitment to the U of A knowing that, for all of us, it started here with Coach Tomey. I’m sure he’s smiling somewhere, watching me try to figure this out.

Q: When you think back to working under Tomey, are there any lessons that have stuck with you over the years?

He had so many one-liners. We refer to them as Tomey-isms. He always talked about “the team, the team, the team.” But another one that lots of coaches remember: When your players made a mistake or were late for class or something, he had his way of turning the mirror back on you. He would say, “You’re either coaching it or allowing it to happen.” That one really stuck with me, because I do think it’s true: Things that happen with your players — good or bad — are a direct result of what you’re either coaching or allowing to happen. So, the longer I’ve been in coaching, that’s been a fundamental thing for me.

Coach Tomey really is a part of my thought process every single day. He was a coach who really cared about his players, and I think that’s never been more important than it is right now, given where young people are in terms of their mental health and their exposure as Division I athletes. The world has so much more access to them than they did 20 years ago via social media, their phones, etc. So, his investment in the whole person is definitely where I start fundamentally as a coach, and that’s a direct result of my time with him.

Q: When Jedd Fisch left Arizona for Washington, a lot of the fan base feared that the core of this team would transfer and the program would take a step back, but you’ve managed to keep the team intact. How did you do that?

Well, I didn’t try to sell the players anything. I didn’t try to pitch them anything. I just gave us some opportunities to get to know each other. They were really connected as a team, and I think that’s what kept them here. It’s the fact that they’re really connected to each other, and they’re really connected to the University of Arizona and Tucson. I think being a college football player here is really special, and I don’t know that you get to feel that kind of support at every other program in America. The young men here chose to stay for each other, and that gives us a great foundation for a good football team.

A man in a suit smiling and pointing with a football in front of him at a press conference

Brennan was once a graduate assistant under Tomey.

Q: What is the signature of a Brent Brennan program?

When teams play us, they talk about how hard we play, and we have more fun playing football than everybody else. That’s a really important thing to me, because this game can get so outcome-driven that you can get lost in the journey. If you don’t focus on the journey — you don’t focus on the process — you’re not going to like the outcome. So, trying to keep us in the right here and right now, and focused on just this moment, is what I want to help our team do.


Q: What is your message to the fans?

Just keep showing up. I think that’s one of the things that can get lost in the comfort of our living room, where there’s no traffic and everything’s easy. Going to a college football game is a special event, and we only get six or seven of them at home a year. Home-field advantage matters in sports, and it really matters in football. We know that we’re going to be playing on the road in some really tough environments, and we need the environment here in Arizona Stadium to be every bit as tough, if not tougher, than those places in the Big 12. I want us to make it hard on the people that come to play here.

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