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Jedd Fisch is on a journey.
He has an idea where it’s going, but who knows the path he’ll take. His life so far does everything to solidify that thought.
The Seahawks’ 34-year-old quarterbacks coach has traveled down quite an eventful road since deciding on his career destination, becoming a symbol of setting a goal and relentlessly striving after it in the process.
When talking about why he got into coaching, Fisch sounds like any other coach.
“It’s been a passion of mine from growing up,” he said. “I always wanted to be a football coach at the highest level. It’s the only thing I really wanted to be.”
But when talking about how he got into coaching, Fisch walked a path far from the norm.
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His passion started as a 10-year-old ballboy for his north New Jersey town’s high school football team, one that was coached by an eventual mentor, close family friend and one of the winningest head coaches in the state. From the sidelines as a kid, Fisch witnessed a state championship and several other deep runs into the playoffs.
“I was brought up as a coach,” Fisch said.
Fisch was not brought up as a player — a football player, to be clear. In between volunteer coaching opportunities, he blossomed into an all-state tennis player in high school, even training at a tennis academy in Florida. It all came together on “kind of a weird path” for Fisch.
“It was a path I had to overcome as a coach,” he said. “But my knowledge of growing up around football as a kid overrode everything.”
Then when it came time to pick a college, Fisch’s dream was to work with the best coach in college football. At the time, that was Florida’s Steve Spurrier, so Fisch blindly and ambitiously packed up and went to school in Gainesville, with no connections to Spurrier or the program. He tried being an equipment manager for the team his freshman year, but that didn’t pan out. Then he decided to get back to hands-on coaching by volunteering at a high school just off campus. He’d finish class at 2 p.m. and be on the field by 2:30 p.m.
Needless to say, his career path wasn’t going the way he had envisioned when going down to Florida. No Spurrier, no Gators—just high school football.
“It was not easy at all,” Fisch said. “I honestly thought it was going to be a lot easier than it was.”
But then fortune struck and Fisch’s hard work began to pay off with a glimmer of hope. An assistant coach for the Gators was recruiting one of the players on Fisch’s high school team, and before long, he had invited Fisch to do odd jobs around the football office. He spent a year quietly laboring before another assistant started giving Fisch higher-profile tasks.
His break had come. Finally.
“After a year of hiding around the office to do random projects, Coach Spurrier started noticing the work I was doing and liked what I was doing,” Fisch said. “Our relationship grew tremendously.”
By the next season, Fisch was offered a graduate assistant position, and within five years, Spurrier was at Fisch’s wedding.
“It went from hiding from Steve Spurrier to him being at my wedding,” Fisch said, wearing a beaming smile as he recounted the story.
The fairytale was just getting started, though. Fisch’s journey took a huge step up the ladder — thanks in large part to his new relationship with Spurrier.
In 2001, Dom Capers, a longtime NFL defensive mastermind, had been hired to be the founding coach of the expansion Houston Texans franchise. When looking to hire a staff, Capers called up his old friend Spurrier and asked for a recommendation. Spurrier had the perfect guy in mind.
Jedd Fisch, welcome to Houston.
“I was fortunate that of the 11 years Coach Spurrier was there at Florida, he recommended me to go of all the people he had worked with,” Fisch said.
So Fisch was off to Texas, forming one part of a three-headed crew — along with Capers and Chris Palmer — that laid the foundation for the organization a whole year before the team even played its first game. The threesome spent eight months building the program during Year 0 of the franchise, developing practice plans, making playbooks, breaking down film and constructing the Texans from scratch.
It was an opportunity of a lifetime to help create a football team, but it only got more interesting from there.
When Capers went about hiring the rest of his staff, he gave Fisch options — did he want to work on offense, defense or special teams?
“Being 24 at the time, I said, ‘Well, what do you think?’” Fisch recounted about that conversation with Capers. “He told me, ‘If I was you, I’d get on defense and learn it even though you coach offense.’”
So Fisch did just that, spending two years as a defensive quality control coach even though he was bred as an offensive guy. The experience has undoubtedly helped shape his offensive strategies, he said.
“It was awesome,” Fisch said. “I was very fortunate.”
Fisch went on to five years as an assistant with the Baltimore Ravens, one with the Denver Broncos and, most recently, one as offensive coordinator at the University of Minnesota, all the while working for and alongside some of the most revered coaches in football, including Brian Billick and Mike Shanahan. Then add in Steve Spurrier and now Pete Carroll, and the list glimmers with Super Bowl and national championship rings.
“It’s been incredible,” Fisch said. “I don’t know if anyone else at 34 has had the opportunity to work with so many good coaches.”
Down but not out
A freak heart condition struck a 26-year-old Fisch in 2003, causing him to have emergency open-heart surgery to repair an aortic dissection (a tear in the largest artery of the heart). The events nearly ended his life, much less his coaching career.
But it also changed him for the better.
“I think there were some reality checks, but I’m not sure I went the right way with that,” Fisch said, cracking a smile. “Some people would say that would cause you to slow down, but it caused me to speed up. I took on the mindset of, ‘I might not have 60-70 years.’
“I might not be invincible.”
When remembering the story, Fisch admitted that he had a “monster of a mound to overcome and fight back from” if he wanted to get back into coaching. He was already missing precious offseason work, but even in the direst of circumstances, he knew his return was imminent.
Three or four days following the surgery, Fisch was on a ventilator in ICU when things took a turn south. “Things were not looking real promising,” as Fisch put it.
But even so, he knew he was going to be OK. His life and career were on the line, and football gave him hope. Capers came to visit the hospital during Fisch’s worst condition. The young coach, just three days after open-heart surgery, had a question for his boss.
“I couldn’t speak, so I wrote on a napkin, ‘Will I still have my job?’” Fisch recounted. “He assured me numerous times. Once he said, ‘Absolutely, 100 percent,’ I knew I was going to come back.
“Deep down, I always felt I was going to coach again.”
Fisch was back to work shortly thereafter and hardly missed a beat. His voice will forever be raspy, but no fret — the important thing is that Fisch hasn’t let a major heart issue knock him off course.
Growing up in the game
Fisch hasn’t taken the normal road to NFL coachdom, but the travels are marked with similar traits as his colleagues.
Namely, perseverance and good ol’ fashioned hard work, characteristics he’s displayed since he packed up and enrolled at Florida to pursue his dream of coaching.
“I was very motivated,” Fisch said as he described his 18-year-old self. “Perseverance was the No. 1 trait that I had then and still have now. If you want to take on a challenge and having to do it from ground zero, the only way to do it is by fighting through it and persevering.
“That’s what I did at 18 and I haven’t stopped. That won’t ever change.”
His colleagues have taken note. Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates, who worked with Fisch when both were assistants with the Denver Broncos, raves about his comrade’s “hard-working nature and through that, his understanding of the game.”
Mike Shanahan, the head coach of the Broncos when Fisch and Bates worked there, told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2009 that Fisch is “driven.”
“Look at his background, how hard he's worked,” Shanahan said. “Everything he has done, he's done to get himself to be a head football coach. Very few have that kind of commitment."
Fisch admittedly hasn’t done it alone. He’s had several mentors and guides along the way, including the distinguished list of head coaches and assistants he’s worked with — “you couldn’t ask to be around better coaches,” Fisch said. He’s also had teachers he’s never met, including another coaching prodigy in Jon Gruden. Fisch has had Gruden’s resume posted on bathroom mirror ever since college and has tried to emulate the man who became a Super Bowl-winning head coach at 39.
“I’ve always said that I’m going to try to do everything he did,” Fisch said. “I’m not there yet but I knew that was going to be a path I wanted to take.”
Fisch also credits his relationship with Bates as a reason for his rapid upward climb, as the two have had a mirrored march through the coaching ladder, both coming into the League at the same time and both rising up at astronomical rates.
“That relationship has been critical for my success,” Fisch said.
Bates added that because the two have traveled a similar path through the coaching ranks, they share a unique bond that helps both of them be their best.
“We grew up the same way, as quality control guys breaking down film and doing the dirty work,” Bates said. “So when we communicate, we’re on the same page. We can have the same conversation and the same ideas.”
What’s down the road for Fisch? Ultimately, he wants to be a head coach, and he’s working fervently to get there. He takes detailed notes in every meeting, saving the dozens of notebooks he’s amassed over the years so he can always look back along the way.
“You try to take what you can use today and use it today and then you try to store the rest of it,” Fisch said. “There’s so much from each one of these guys. I’m trying to soak it in and then make it my own — I’ve got to make sure I’m not trying to be somebody else but that I’m learning from all of these guys.”
Looking back, Fisch can pinpoint special milestones that dot his trail toward the coaching apex. There’s his take-a-chance decision to attend Florida, his ascension to the NFL at age 24, his time as offensive coordinator of a BCS program. But there’s one that sticks out the most.
“Hands down, when I look back, the No. 1 mile marker is Coach Spurrier giving me the opportunity at Florida,” Fisch said. “If he didn’t take a chance with a guy who never played for him and who had no relationship with him, if he didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be coaching.”
But Spurrier took that chance, and here Fisch is today, the quarterbacks coach of the Seattle Seahawks, with no end in sight.
The journey continues.