By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
When Arizona decided to part ways with Mike Stoops, it desperately needed to make a splash with its next head coach. It’s easy to throw around the phrase “home-run hire” during coaching changes, but I feel confident using that term with the Wildcats’ hire of Rich Rodriguez.
Stoops didn’t do a terrible job at Arizona. He led the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games from 2008-10 and finished with 41 overall victories. However, a 1-5 start and his antics on the sideline were enough for athletic director Greg Byrne to make a change midway through 2011.
Byrne was looking for a coach that can help elevate Arizona football to the next level. Success on the gridiron is something that has eluded the Wildcats. Arizona has only two seasons of double-digit wins since 1899. Also, they have never made an appearance in the Rose Bowl or claimed an outright Pac-10 (now Pac-12) championship.
With the addition of Utah and Colorado and a title game, the road to a conference championship became more difficult. Finishing 6-6 or 7-5 just wasn’t going to cut it anymore in Tucson.
That’s where Rodriguez comes in. Humble and eager to get back to work after a disappointing tenure at Michigan, Rodriguez is the perfect fit at Arizona.
You can’t judge Rodriguez by the 15-22 record at Michigan. From the start, the hire had a negative buzz, and he never seemed to mesh with the culture in Ann Arbor. And of course, he wasn’t a Michigan man, which didn’t sit well with the fanbase from the opening moment of his press conference. The Wolverines had an awful 3-9 record in 2008, but improved their win total by two in 2009 and 2010. Also, the players Rodriguez recruited have Michigan on the door step of earning a BCS at-large bid this season. His three seasons with the Wolverines can be summed up in just a few words: Good coach, bad fit.
While the Michigan tenure was not a success, Rodriguez led West Virginia to a 60-26 record and two BCS games from 2001-07. Also, six of his seven seasons in Morgantown resulted in at least eight victories.
A coaching change is rarely flawless, so there will be a transition period from Stoops to Rodriguez. His first year at West Virginia resulted in a 3-8 finish, followed by a 9-4 record the following year.
With the personnel currently in place, Rodriguez’s spread offense is going to require an adjustment period. However, there’s no question his offense will work in the Pac-12 (see Oregon) and is a scheme that should have no trouble luring recruits to Tucson.
Looking ahead to 2012, Arizona has some pieces in place, including quarterback Matt Scott and promising freshman running back Ka’Deem Carey. The defense has some rebuilding to do in the front seven, but the secondary could be among the best in the conference next season, especially with hard-hitting safety Adam Hall returning from a knee injury.
Although 2013 is a long time away, with USC getting hit by scholarship sanctions, the South Division will be up for grabs. Rodriguez’s teams have always shown big improvement in year two, and it would not be a shock to see Arizona in the conference title mix by then.
Hiring a defensive coordinator is also going to be important to Rodriguez’s success at Arizona. The defense was atrocious during his three seasons at Michigan, which largely led to his downfall in Ann Arbor.
Rodriguez has never coached in the Pac-12 or held a coaching job west of Michigan. And he will probably need to hire a few assistants with experience on the West Coast and who can help recruit Texas and California.
Attendance was an issue at Arizona Stadium as the Stoops’ era was nearing an end. That won’t be the case over the next few seasons, as the Wildcats should become one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the Pac-12.
Arizona was the first BCS school to make a head coaching change during the season and it paid big dividends by landing Rodriguez. Had Byrne waited to fire Stoops until the end of the season, Rodriguez might have landed with North Carolina or Ole Miss.
Considering the change in schemes on both sides of the ball, Arizona might struggle to get into a bowl game next season. However, after a year on the sidelines, Rodriguez has to be eager to erase the bad memories from Michigan. And he should be a great fit in Tucson, and will have the Wildcats in contention for the Pac-12 South Division crown sooner rather than later.
The Recruiting Impact of Rich Rodriguez
- by Tracy McDannald, GoAZCats.com (follow him @TracyGoAzCats)
There may not be a happier current Arizona football player than the one being saved for next season at the announcement of the hiring of Rich Rodriguez on Monday night. Senior quarterback Matt Scott, who is redshirting this season, is a dual-threat quarterback and has potential to be “Pat White 2.0” next season under Rodriguez. Overall, Rodriguez is inheriting talent that would seem to work well in his style of offense – running back Ka’Deem Carey and receivers Dan Buckner and Juron Criner among others. As for recruiting, the 2012 commitment reaction has been mixed so far – receiver commit Jarrell Bennett told GOAZCATS.com that he was excited about Rodriguez, while quarterback commit Nathan Sudfeld says he’s uncertain right now. So, it appears that Rodriguez at least has pieces to work with at UA. And the Wildcats just plugged in a big piece to their own puzzle.
For more Arizona team and recruiting news complete with prospect rankings and message boards, visit www.GoAZCats.com