Pac-12 Football: What You Need to Know About Rich Rodriguez at Arizona
This is the second in a series to examine the Pac-12's four new head coaches. Click here if you missed the first one on Washington State's Mike Leach.
I'm doing these in the order of their dangerousness if you are a fan of another school. Leach is to be feared by the other 11 teams, but Rich Rodriguez is not exactly chopped liver.
Rodriguez was an excellent hire by Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne. Byrne fired Mike Stoops early (Oct. 10, 2011) and got a jump on other schools that would dismiss their head coaches at the more traditional time at the end of the season. Rodriguez was hired on Nov. 21.
Here's what we know about the new Pac-12 addition, known as Rich Rod.
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Fairly or unfairly, controversy has dogged Rich Rodriguez (at least in recent years).
Unless you've been hunting polar bears in the Arctic for the past two years you know Rodriguez was fired from his last coaching job—Michigan—after three difficult years. He had both a losing record and NCAA sanctions as head coach of the Wolverines and was fired in January 2011.
Rodriguez's three-year record at Michigan was 15-22, but during his last year the Wolverines improved to 7-6 (which included a loss in the Gator Bowl). Conventional wisdom is that Michigan didn't really give Rodriguez a chance to succeed.
It's interesting to note that in what would have been the fourth year of Rich Rod's Michigan contract, the Wolverines went 11-2 and won the Sugar Bowl.
Coaches get fired for lots of reasons, and it appears Michigan's dismissal of Rodriguez was complicated. In addition to the overall losing record, Rich Rod never really bonded with Michigan alums. It wasn't a good fit from day one.
And then there's that unpleasantness at West Virginia.
Leaving on a Jet Plane, Don't Know When I'll Be Back Again
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Rodriguez could have used this escort when he left West Virginia for the Michigan job.
For seven years (2001-2007) Rodriguez was the head coach of the West Virginia Mountaineers. Born in West Virginia, the Mountaineers job was probably a dream job for Rodriguez at the time.
However, a mere four months after he renegotiated his West Virgina contract, and after expressing his long-term commitment to the school, Rodriguez accepted the head coaching job at Michigan.
It would be an understatement to say this did not set well with the natives.
I will spare you the lengthy, sordid details, but what transpired next was West Virginia University suing Rodriguez for breach of contract, and Rodriguez's family being subjected to all sorts of ill will, including reported death threats.
Lighten up, people—it's just a game.
College Coaching Record
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Rich Rodriguez, 48, has been a college football coach for 18 years. His career college coaching record is 120-84-2.
During the seven years at West Virginia, Rodriguez was 60-26 overall and won four Big East championships. During that tenure, he won coach-of-the-year awards and the 2006 Sugar Bowl.
Prior to WVU, Rodriguez was the head coach at Glenville State College from 1990-96 where his record was 43-28-2, and he served as assistant coach at Tulane and then at Clemson, both under Tommy Bowden.
Rodriguez's Michigan overall record was 15-22 (3-9 his first year, 5-7 the second year and 7-6—including a loss in the Gator Bowl—his last year).
Spread Offense Architect
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Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne wanted a fast-tempo spread offense when he went out looking for a new head coach to replace Mike Stoops.
Byrne is the son of former Oregon A.D. Bill Byrne and spent much of his youth in Eugene, a place that knows a little about fast-tempo spread offenses.
In spite of Rodriguez's experiences at Michigan and West Virginia, he has respect within the sport and is known to be one of the architects of the spread offense.
It's telling that six of his nine West Virginia assistant coaches are with him in Tucson and four of six went to Michigan with him. Now, maybe they just couldn't land other coaching positions, but I think they respect Rodriguez and want to be on his winning team again.
Rodriguez is a coaches' coach. He works hard, speaks his mind and expects discipline. He has already said his Arizona players "look soft and need to work on conditioning."
I suspect the Wildcats will be in shape by September.
Why You Should Be Afraid
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I doubt there is a college football coach anywhere in America hungrier to win in 2012 than Rich Rodriguez.
After sitting out of coaching for a year—doing a stint as a broadcaster on CBS Sports, where he was very good—Rodriguez has to be eager to salvage his coaching reputation. And you know he is bitter towards Michigan and anxious to prove it was oh-so-wrong to fire him.
Now, Arizona has issues, among which is that it lost its star QB, RB and WR off the 2011 team. Also, Rodriguez has already faced his first "crisis" when several 'Cats got arrested at a drunken brawl at an off-campus house party in March.
The players were suspended for spring drills because of the pending charges. The charges have since been dismissed, and the players are expected to be reinstated for fall.
I don't believe we will see a miraculous turnaround in the Wildcats this year, but I'll bet you there were several Pac-12 coaches who groaned when Rich Rod's hiring was announced.
Greg Byrne will give Rodriguez more of a chance than he got at Michigan. If I were Rich Rod, I would quit renting Stoops' house and buy my own place.
Karma, man, karma.
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