PHOENIX — Uncertainty has beset UCLA’s football team throughout its preparation to play Kansas State in the Cactus Bowl.
Coach Jim Mora was fired Nov. 19 and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch was named interim coach. Chip Kelly was hired as head coach Nov. 25, but Fisch will direct the team against the Wildcats in the bowl game Tuesday (8 p.m., ESPN).
Quarterback Josh Rosen has been an unknown commodity for the bowl game because of a concussion suffered in the Bruins’ last game, as well as his future as a potential NFL Draft early entry. He has been projected as a potential No. 1 overall draft pick, and multiple media reports Saturday indicated he had been advised by doctors to sit out the Cactus Bowl.
“There’s a lot of external pressure coming down on this team,” Bruins center Scott Quessenberry said. “Everyone wants to know Josh’s decision and where coach Fisch is going to end up, but internally we’re tight, and we’re here to win a (bowl) championship.”
Since being hired, Kelly has focused his attention on recruiting and putting together a staff, but Fisch has not been retained or dismissed.
“It’s certainly been a unique month or five weeks,” Fisch said. “I became the interim head coach the day after the USC game, and we had a short week to play Cal on Friday night. After the Cal game, which we won with three seconds left when we kicked a field goal, they made the final arrangements to hire coach Kelly. I met with coach Kelly on that Sunday morning and he just said, ‘You take this team until the bowl game is over, and at that time I’ll assume the duties of being the head coach.’ That’s how we’ve made this thing work.
“The interaction we’ve had has been more informative in regards to where we’re going, what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. He’s spent a lot of his time with the early signing period doing the recruiting. He’s put together a staff. There are some guys that will be remaining on the staff, some coaches that we have already announced that have joined the staff.”
Fisch is in his first season at UCLA after two years at Michigan, with previous stints at numerous college and NFL teams.
“It might be a little different for the defensive guys, but for us (offensive players) it’s been business as usual,” Rosen said. “Coach Fisch is running the offense and his time might be split up a little more, but it’s been smooth. We have a lot of high-character guys on the team that’d take ownership and leadership if we had no coach. I think we’ll be just fine.”
“Coach Fisch has done a good job of shifting our focus from that,” Kenny Young, the Bruins’ All-Pac 12 linebacker, said of Mora’s dismissal. “It was rough when it happened, but we had a quick turnover because that week we had a Friday game, so we had to focus on what we could control, which was our preparation in practice to win that last game to get us into this bowl game. I’m proud of the way our guys responded.”
With an interim coach and likely a back-up quarterback — redshirt freshman Devon Modster — the Bruins’ focus to prepare for the bowl game against the Wildcats has been tested.
“It’s a little adversity,” said UCLA defensive back Adarius Pickett, “but we have good leaders on the team to make sure we keep the main thing as the main thing, and that’s to go out there on Tuesday and win a football game.”
Contact Ken Corbitt at (785) 295-1123 or @KenCorbitt on Twitter.