Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Since the turn of the century, there
haven't been many more polarizing figures in the world of major college
football than Rich Rodriguez.
The majority of people choose to focus on the negative, that of course being
his controversial decision to leave a West Virginia team he had turned into a
national power for what he thought was a move to an even bigger stage at
Michigan, only to have that blow up in his face after three unsuccessful
seasons, including 2008 when the Wolverines went a dismal 3-9 in posting the
worst record in school history.
In addition to the unprecedented lack of success on the field, Rodriguez came
under fire for some of his coaching methods, including the alleged belittling
of players and even more serious NCAA violations regarding the running of
practices and off-the-field workout sessions that resulted in sanctions
against the program for the first time in history.
Michigan fired Rodriguez in January of 2011 after amassing a 15-22 record, and
he spent nearly a year working as a television analyst while continually
weighing his options.
Whether you like him or not, agree or disagree with his tactics, Rodriguez is
a very good football coach and Arizona Director of Athletics Greg Byrne got
the jump on the rest of the schools who may have considered courting him at
the end of last season by hiring Rodriguez on Nov. 21, 2011, a little more
than a month after firing former head coach Mike Stoops.
Arizona logged just three winning seasons in Stoops' seven-plus years at the
helm, and since 1998 when the Wildcats went 12-1 and finished as the No. 4
team in the country under Dick Tomey, they've won fewer than 45 percent of
their games and haven't finished higher than a tie for second (2009) in the
Pac-10/Pac-12 Conference standings. Stoops had the team in three straight bowl
games (2008-10), but lost two of them.
At the press conference introducing Rodriguez, Byrne was clearly pleased with
where his search for UA's new coach took him.
"We looked far and wide for our next coach and found what we were looking for
in Rich Rodriguez. He's a talented, proven leader with outstanding success at
the top level of college football," Byrne noted.
For his part, Rodriguez certainly said all the right things as he tried to put
his past indiscretions behind him, while at the same time energize a fan base
that has been clamoring for a winner for quite some time.
"I'm eager to get back to coaching and look forward to becoming part of the
Arizona family," Rodriguez said. "It's a great individual opportunity for me
and I believe that outstanding success is on the horizon for Arizona
Lest anyone be fooled, while almost assuredly a wiser man, Rodriguez hasn't
softened his approach in his first year in Tucson and it's already paying
dividends as the Wildcats have exceeded last year's win total (four), doing so
in impressive fashion last week by turning a 15-point, second-half deficit
into a 39-36 victory at home over No. 10 USC.
At 5-3, Arizona needs just one more win to become bowl eligible and while a
lot would need to go right for the team to earn a spot in the Pac-12
Championship Game, picking up that season-defining victory should happen at
some point as bouts with UCLA, Colorado, Utah and rival Arizona State remain.
Rodriguez is known for his wide-open offenses, and it hasn't taken long for
his new team to buy what he's selling, the 'Cats ranking first in the
conference in total offense (553.6 ypg) and second in scoring (39.1 ppg).
Impressive individual efforts have come from senior QB Matt Scott, who leads
the league in passing (2,724 yards, 20 TDs, nine interceptions), Tucson native
Ka'Deem Carey (961 yards, 12 TDs) who ranks third in rushing, and the duo of
Austin Hill (54 rec., 937 yards, seven TDs) and Dan Buckner (51 rec., 656
yards, three TDs) who rank in the top-six among the league's pass catchers.
The UA defense has a ways to go to catch up, the unit allowing 31.1 points and
483.9 total yards per contest to rank 11th in the conference in both
categories. The Wildcats have been especially lax in defending the pass (316.4
ypg, 16 TDs allowed), which not only ranks them last in the league, but 117th
Rich Rodriguez attracts attention simply by walking into a room, but the hope,
at least for Arizona and the man himself, is that it will all be positive from
here on out as his Wildcats continue to claw their way up the Pac-12 ladder.
Beating USC was certainly a step in that direction, and a return to postseason
play will give the program additional ammunition when it comes time to landing
big-time recruits who would have otherwise looked elsewhere in the past.
The Sports Network