NCF Nation: Greg Byrne

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez is mad. And by mad, we mean in both senses of the word -- angry and crazed. He was vexed when practice began Wednesday and he was volcanic when it ended. With each, er, colorful verbal explosion, the collective shoulders of reporters a football field or so away from the closed practice slumped just a little bit more.

There would be no affable exchange of pleasantries about his quarterback competition or any breezy banter on sundry topics that typically are covered during a post-practice media session. While many coaches' calculated fits of pique during practices are pure motivational theater -- and there was some comic element to Rodriguez's stomping around like vintage Earl Weaver hounding an umpire -- there is no question his cataclysmic frustration is genuine. He expects more from his players than they are giving him and he can't stand it that they are not responding to his challenge.

"I'm allowed to be mad," he harrumphed to reporters. "It's my right."

[+] EnlargeRich Rodriguez
Kelvin Kuo/USA TODAY Sports"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," Rich Rodriguez said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."
He was then asked -- carefully, softly -- if this was just one bad practice among many great days of growth during preseason camp.

"I ain't seen enough growth anywhere. Nowhere," he groused.

So, yeah, don't expect much of a revelation about the Wildcats' quarterback competition, which officially remains a wide-open race between four guys, though most observers see redshirt freshman Anu Solomon as the leader at present. That conclusion is based on Solomon getting the most reps with the first-team offense. Senior Jesse Scroggins, the consensus leader after spring practices, missed a lot of offseason work because of injuries suffered after a automobile accident. Jerrard Randall, the most physically talented of the four, continues to struggle with the mental side of the Wildcats' scheme, while Connor Brewer is steady but brings the least to the table athletically.

Rodriguez is on edge because the winnowing is coming. Must come. With a scrimmage Saturday, he and offensive coordinator Rod Smith both said they want to narrow the field heading into next week. That means tightening the screws in practice, and that process often means delivering an earful and seeing how the recipient of said verbal projectiles reacts. As Rich Rod often says: He wants his guys to become comfortable being uncomfortable.

"I've never been one to treat [a quarterback] with kid gloves," he said a few hours before said practice. "I don't worry about their confidence. Hell, I'm worried about my confidence."

Rodriguez has an interesting team, one that has some holes but also has enough returning talent to become a factor in the Pac-12's South Division -- if it gets solid play behind center. With a deep and talented crew of receivers and one of the nation's most experienced offensive lines, the guy who ends up winning the job will have a lot to work with.

Rodriguez knows why reporters are obsessed with his quarterback competition. For one, the Pac-12 has 10 returning starters at quarterback and Cyler Miles is the front-runner at Washington, so Rodriguez's situation is the most wide-open and intriguing. He also doesn't resist the notion that fans and media should be obsessed because he readily admits you can't compete in the Pac-12 without a good QB.

"You have no chance to win unless you get good quarterback play. You can't win a championship," he said. "I don't think you can have a winning season unless your quarterback play is pretty good."

Solomon's apparent rise, though not yet decisive, comes with a notable advantage over Scroggins: It would mean that for the first time in Tucson, Rodriguez and Smith would have a returning starter for the following season (when Solomon becomes a redshirt sophomore). That's not a present concern, Smith said, but he acknowledges the future benefit.

Rodriguez's and Smith's track record with first-year starters at Arizona so far has been outstanding. Matt Scott, the 2012 starter, earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors and is playing for the Cincinnati Bengals. B.J. Denker might have been the conference's most improved player from Week 1 to the end of the 2013 season, transforming from a liability to a QB who outplayed Oregon's Marcus Mariota in the Wildcats' upset victory over the Ducks.

Solomon was a touted recruit after a spectacular career at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. His team went 57-3 and won four state titles with Solomon as a four-year starter. He passed for 10,112 yards and 138 touchdowns with just 17 interceptions. Yet he seemed overwhelmed as a true freshman, and his naturally mellow demeanor sometimes didn't mesh with the high-strung Rodriguez, who wants his QB to be a take-charge sort. Solomon also had a tendency to mix a few forehead-slapping plays into practices.

"He's not making as many of those ‘oh no' moments. He's been more steady," Smith said. "He's made some progress. He's starting to get comfortable with what we are doing. He's more in control now. He's trying to be more vocal -- that's what he wasn't doing in the spring. He's got some talent. He can make some plays. He can do some things with his mind and arm."

While Solomon was made available to the media for the first time this week, that was the exception for the QBs. It's also clear that Wildcats players have been well-schooled on keeping their evaluations of the QB competition to themselves.

Rodriguez rated the odds as pretty good that he'll play more than one guy early in the season, though he won't pull a starter who's playing well. It also wouldn't be surprising if Randall, an LSU transfer who has two years of eligibility remaining, gets a package of plays because his talent has intrigued coaches.

If Rodriguez's mood doesn't improve, it's also possible we won't know his mind until just before UNLV visits on Aug. 29. Such a thought actually make him grin, though. He recalls how his hiring was announced by athletic director Greg Byrne.

"I might pull a Greg Byrne and tweet it two hours before kickoff," he said.

Arizona linebacker Jake Fischer is among six current FBS players who have joined a federal anti-trust lawsuit against the NCAA, a court action originally filed in 2009 by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon that could change the financial landscape of college football.

Wildcats kicker Jake Smith also joined the lawsuit, and the good news is Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez and athletic director Greg Byrne are supporting their right to take part in the process.

"Jake and Jake came to my house the other day and talked to me about the case and their involvement," Rodriguez told ESPN's "Outside the Lines." "They're two conscientious guys, and they're both really appreciative of playing college ball. It's not like they're disenchanted with the system. They love being student-athletes. But with the likeness issue, they wanted to see if they could have a voice for college athletes, and I said I support that.

"I know there's concerns [in the NCAA] about where this lawsuit will lead. And we need to keep it as amateur status. We already have a pro league, it's the NFL. Let's not make college a minor league. I just think we can do a few things, get a couple thousand more [dollars a year] to help out the players."

Said Fischer: "I'm not surprised at all. [Rodriguez] has his players' back, and that's why we love playing for him."

The other players joining the lawsuit are Vanderbilt linebacker Chase Garnham, Clemson cornerback Darius Robinson, and Minnesota tight end Moses Alipate and wide receiver Victor Keise.

Why take a stand?

"For me, it's about the money and the fact that the revenue that's generated is so vast, and the players are essentially the people that drive the engine that is the NCAA," Smith said. "If we didn't exist, there would be no University of Arizona football team. There would be no Alabama Crimson Tide football team. There would be no Florida Gator football team. There would be no Texas A&M football team. Yes, we are a part of the program. I love Arizona and I love my coach, our athletic directors, everybody that's a part of this program are great.

"However, without us, there is no they, if that makes sense."

Obviously, this is a prickly situation. These players are suing the entity that oversees their sport. And Rodriguez and Byrne benefit substantially -- just as all coaches and athletic directors do -- from the current system.

Byrne, of course, has to tread lightly.

"We are aware that Jake Smith and Jake Fischer are now plaintiffs in the lawsuit," Byrne said in a statement. "While we do not support the lawsuit, we support their right to be involved and express their opinion. They are two fine young men and we are glad they are part of our program and University."

The Pac-12 is certainly out front of this potentially momentous legal action, seeing that O'Bannon is a former UCLA basketball player.

From the story:
The O'Bannon complaint alleges the NCAA, EA Sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., the nation's leading trademark and licensing firm, violated antitrust laws.

It accuses the NCAA of fixing at zero the amount that players can receive from video games and other products that use players' names, likenesses and images. Last year, the plaintiffs amended their lawsuit, asking that current players be included and arguing that players deserve a share of the billions of dollars in television revenues that flow to the NCAA, conferences and member schools.

Suffice it to say, the plot with this lawsuit is thickening.

Pac-12 athletic director salaries

March, 12, 2013
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UCLA's Dan Guerrero is the Pac-12's top paid athletic director, according to recently released figures from USA Today, while Colorado's Mike Bohn ranked last in the conference among the public schools that are required to disclose salaries.

The salaries for Stanford’s Bernard Muir or USC’s Pat Haden are unavailable because they work for private schools.

Vanderbilt's David Williams tops the list at $3.24 million, but he's a special case. The "true" leader is Louisville's Tom Jurich at $1.412 million.

Nine athletic directors make more than $1 million a year, though none in the Pac-12. It's also notable that the cost of living is much higher in Pac-12 cities compared to cities in just about every other conference.

Guerrero's total pay of $715,211 ranks 18th in the nation.

1. If you want to see Oregon or any Pac-12 team in one of the preseason “bowl” games a la Alabama-Michigan, you’ll wait a long time. To bolster the Pac-12 Networks, the league won’t play any neutral-site games unless “all video/audio rights” are given to the Pac-12 (a home-and-home neutral-site game is OK). In a league in which teams soon will play nine conference games and a Big Ten opponent, maybe no Pac-12 team is interested. But you think a USC-LSU game would draw any attention on Labor Day weekend?

2. Chris Low and David Ubben reported Wednesday on the opposition to multiyear scholarships in the SEC and at Texas, respectively. But according to Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, the Wildcats student-athlete council, representing the supposed beneficiaries of the legislation, voted overwhelmingly against it. The reasoning – if a teammate proves to be a locker-room cancer, the Arizona student-athletes want their coaches to have the ability to remove the problem.

3. Warm weather usually means that southern schools start spring practice early. But at Texas A&M, coach Kevin Sumlin is waiting until March 31 to start spring practice because he wanted to give his strength coach, Larry Jackson, as much time as possibile to work with a team that consistently blew fourth-quarter leads last season. And at Georgia, coach Mark Richt didn’t start until this week so that the spring game would not be played on April 7, clashing with both Easter weekend and the Masters.

Four new coaches highlight Pac-12 spring

February, 23, 2012
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Oregon coach Chip Kelly was baffled in a phone interview before the Rose Bowl. How the heck could little-old-him be important to a reporter?

"The big story," he said conspiratorially,"is all these new coaches."

Well, it's the big story now as the Pac-12 turns its attention away from the 2011 season and toward 2012 spring practices. And, of course, Kelly is part of a reason there are four new coaches in the conference. Mike Stoops, Dennis Erickson, Rick Neuheisel and Paul Wulff -- fired at Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and Washington State, respectively -- never beat Kelly and, in fact, came within double digits of his Ducks only once (Arizona, with a 44-41 loss in 2009).

But the story isn't just four new coaches. It's four new coaches whom folks have heard of, each of whom is getting a big-boy salary that would fit in among the SEC or Big Ten. Big salaries are the new normal in the Pac-12 after the conference signed a $3 billion TV deal with ESPN and Fox.

[+] EnlargeMike Leach
Karl Anderson/Icon SMIWashington State went from paying Paul Wulff a $600,000 salary to paying new coach Mike Leach $2,250,000.
So out goes Stoops and his $1,456,000 salary, and in comes Rich Rodriguez and his $1,910,000 paycheck. Out goes Erickson and his $1,503,000 salary, and in comes Todd Graham and his $2 million tab. Out goes Neuheisel and his $1,285,000 salary, and in comes Jim Mora and his $2.4 million annual take. Out goes Wulff and his $600,000 salary, and in comes Mike Leach and his $2,250,000 price tag.

The chief idea is obvious: Pac-12 schools are paying for an upgrade in coaching talent, and there are high expectations for getting their money's worth. And, by the way, there's an added bonus for each hire: Each new coach has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove.

  • In 2010, Rodriguez was ingloriously dispatched at Michigan after three tumultuous and unsuccessful years. Athletic director Greg Byrne is betting that Rodriguez is far closer to the highly successful coach he was at West Virginia than the one who got run out of Ann Arbor, and Rodriguez surely wants that impression to be his legacy. It helps that he got his man, Jeff Casteel, to run the Wildcats' defense, which he failed to do at Michigan.
  • Graham took a lot of heat from a pandering, sanctimonious media and a whiny Pittsburgh fan base for how he left the Panthers. "He didn't even say goodbye," they collectively sobbed. "Waaah." Of course, Graham does have an unfortunate habit of describing every job as his "dream job." All that stuff is mostly hogwash, though. What matters is winning, and if Graham does that, the media will all come down en masse to Tempe pretending they didn't trash Graham's character for taking a better job, in a better conference, in a better place to live while making his family happy in the process.
  • Mora was fired in 2009 after only one season with the Seattle Seahawks, and he's bided his time looking for another head-coaching job. Seeing that he was two or three names down UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero's coaching list -- Chris Petersen! Kevin Sumlin! -- some Bruins fans reacted with disappointed smirks to Mora's hiring. Then Mora hired an outstanding staff. Then he reeled in an outstanding recruiting class. Some of those frowns are turning upside down.
  • Leach was fired at Texas Tech in 2009. He's one of the best offensive minds in the nation, and the almost universal reaction is athletic director Bill Moos hit a home run with this big-name hire. The Pirate Captain looks like the perfect match for Pullman and the Cougs, and he'll be plenty motivated to prove his critics wrong and erase the bad ending in Lubbock.

It's fair to say these four hirings have generated positive momentum for these programs, though, of course, to varying degrees. There's a hope among the fan bases that these four can create quick turnarounds.

And that also leads into another major coaching story entering the spring: The Pac-12's most senior coaches, California's Jeff Tedford and Oregon State's Mike Riley, sit on the hottest seats.

Tedford enters his 11th season in Berkeley having followed up his first losing campaign -- 5-7 in 2010 -- with a middling 7-6 finish in 2011. Riley, the man deserving the most credit for making one of the worst programs in college football respectable, enters his 12th year in Corvallis -- two tenures wrapped around an ill-fated stint with the San Diego Chargers -- burdened by consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-9 finish that felt so 1987.

Spring practices for Tedford and Riley will be about setting up turnaround season that give their frustrated fan bases hope -- and keep their athletic directors from issuing dreaded votes of confidence while checking their coaching Rolodexes.

Meanwhile, Kelly and USC's Lane Kiffin, still relative coaching newbies in the conference, enter spring likely trying to tone down the positive hype. Both will begin the 2012 season ranked in the top 10. USC could be preseason No. 1. Both are overwhelming favorites in the North and South Divisions. And their meeting on Nov. 3 in L.A. could have national title implications.

But that's looking ahead.

The big story this spring in the Pac-12 is newness and rebirth. One-third of the conference's teams hope that newness at the top of their programs will create a rebirth in the Pac-12 standings.

Byrne tells why he hired Rodriguez

November, 22, 2011
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Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said Tuesday he talked to a lot of people about the Wildcats' coaching vacancy, and the name that came up the most -- and, presumably, the best -- was Rich Rodriguez.

Byrne highlighted three people he chatted with during a news conference introducing Rodriguez: former Florida coach Urban Meyer, current Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller and Charlie Ragle, a high school coach in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Ragle, coach at state power Chaparral High, had two players sign at Michigan, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan and defensive end Craig Roh, when Rodriguez was the Wolverines' coach. Ragle later asked if he and his staff could come up and visit and see how the Wolverines did things.

"He said, 'I've never dealt with a major college coach that had devoted so much time and interest in our program,'" Byrne said of the conversation. "Coach Ragle told me that he'd never been more impressed in dealing with a coaching staff."

Byrne then talked to Meyer.

"He said, 'Greg, if you hire Rich Rodriguez, you're getting one of the five greatest minds in college football,'" Byrne said.

Then he talked to Miller on a flight to New York, where he would meet with Rodriguez for a second time.

"He said, 'Greg, I'd think about a couple of things. Who is the most hungry guy out there? And the second thing is who do the coaches in the Pac-12 not want to have show up in Tucson, Ariz.?'" Byrne said. "He said, 'My opinion is it's Rich Rodriguez.'"

Byrne also will get Rodriguez at a discount.

Rodriguez, 48, signed a six-year, $15 million contract with Michigan in 2007, an average of $2.5 million a year. His Arizona contract will pay him an average of $1.91 million over five years. He will make $1.45 million in his first year, $1.5 million in his second, $1.6 million his third, $1.7 million his fourth and $1.8 million his fifth. He also will receive $300,000 annually from Nike and IMG.

Rodriguez surely endeared himself to Arizona fans when he took to the podium and immediately started talking about Rose Bowls and national championships.

"Why not us?" he said. "Why can't we win it all?"

He also tried to allay fears that this was a stepping stone to getting back to a big-money program to prove his critics wrong.

"This is my final coaching stop," he said. "I hope to be able to do this another 12 or 15 years."

How much did he want Wildcats fans to embrace him? Apparently a lot.

Said Rodriguez, "I will not just coach Arizona football. I will live it."

That might sound like the hyperbole of a man desperate to ingratiate himself. And Rodriguez did sound like that at times. But he also knows he's no longer the hot coaching prospect he once was. There are questions about him. He's the rising star who fell.

He admitted that he has reverted back to his attitude from West Virginia, where he had his major success. He's got the chip back on his shoulder.

"I've got something to prove," he said.

Other notable points from Rodriguez.
  • He said that Byrne asked him a lot of questions about the NCAA issues he had at Michigan. "There were issues," he said. "The issues were fixed, cleaned up. And I assure you -- I assured him -- that there would never be one again in the future."
  • He said he'd hire some staff members quickly -- over the next two weeks -- but he wanted the entire staff filled out before Christmas. He said he wanted a mix of guys he's coached with and guys who know the West Coast.
  • He said he would consider coaches on the present staff, but he also said he's not too worried about coaches who lack Pac-12 experience: "The best coaches can recruit anywhere."
  • Rodriguez said he first met with Byrne in Michigan "a couple of weeks ago" and met with him two subsequent times, in New York -- the Wildcats were playing basketball there on Nov. 17 and 18 -- and El Paso, Texas, where Rodriguez was calling the UTEP-Tulsa game on Nov. 19.
  • As for Michigan, Rodriguez was asked what he'd learned from the experience. He didn't really answer: "It's frustrating to watch them because they are doing so well. Those are all of my guys. But I'm proud of them because they are doing so well."
  • He tipped his cap to former coach Mike Stoops: "Mike Stoops did some great things here. There are some good players here ... Mike Stoops is a good football coach."
  • He tipped his cap to interim coach Tim Kish: "I think what he's done in a difficult situation has been absolutely remarkable."
  • He said he spent last spring hanging out with friend and California coach Jeff Tedford: "He might be regretting that now."
  • Expect the Arizona offense to look a lot like Oregon's offense: "We do like to play fast. I think the huddle is the biggest waste of time in football."
  • He hit lots of talking points: the rivalry with Arizona State, the 'Zona Zoo, the Tucson community, how former players are welcome around the program and how much he and his family looked forward to warm weather.

And when he concluded, he said, "Bear down."

It's official: Rich Rodriguez to Arizona

November, 21, 2011
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Tech-savvy Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne made it official not at a news conference but with a Tweet with a photo link: Former Michigan and West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez is the next Wildcats football coach.

There will be a 2 p.m. ET news conference Tuesday.

Here's the news release that followed the Tweets:
University of Arizona athletics director Greg Byrne will introduce Rich Rodriguez as the Wildcats’ head football coach in a news conference at noon (MST) Tuesday in McKale Center.

The event is open to the public, with seating in the west stands. “I encourage our fans to come help welcome our new coach,’’ Byrne said. Free parking will be available in the tailgate area of the McKale lawn.

Rodriguez, 48, becomes Arizona’s 30th head coach, succeeding Tim Kish, who took over for eight-year head coach Mike Stoops on Oct. 9. The Wildcats, 3-8, close the season Saturday with a 2 p.m. game against Louisiana-Lafayette, after winning their rivalry game Saturday at Arizona State, 31-27, for the Territorial Cup.

Rodriguez carries a career college coaching record of 120-84-2 in 18 seasons, marked by Division I records of 60-26 at West Virginia from 2001-2006 and 15-22 at Michigan, where he coached from 2008-10. He began his coaching career at Salem in 1988 and then coached at Glenville State from 1990-96. He has worked as a CBS Sports football analyst this year.

Rodriguez’ West Virginia teams were Big East Champion four seasons -- 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007, appearing in two BCS bowls, the 2005 Sugar Bowl with a victory over Georgia for an 11-1 record and a loss to Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl to finish 10-2. His 2006 club finished 11-2 after a victory over Georgia Tech in the Gator Bowl.

Rodriguez graduated in 1986 from West Virginia, where he was a three-year letterwinner as a defensive back in 1982-84. He added a master’s degree from Salem in 1987. He is a native of Grant Town, W. Va., and graduated from North Marion High School. Rich and his wife, Rita, have two children, Raquel and Rhett.

First take: good hire.

Don't be fooled by what happened at Michigan. That's a mirage. So much didn't fit there, and it's never good when the vibe on both ends is negative practically from the start. Know that Rodriguez will be plenty motivated to fix his coaching legacy. Recall that he was once one of the nation's hottest coaching prospects, one who was offered the Alabama job in 2006.

His no-huddle, spread-option attack also should work well at Arizona, though obviously it won't be much of a novelty in the Pac-12, since his version approximates what Oregon runs.

The timing is also very good. It means he can meet the current players, set expectations, get the lay of the land and quickly start recruiting. Other programs that will be looking for new coaches -- a couple likely in the Pac-12, too -- will be behind.

It will be interesting to see the mix of Rodriguez's staff. Will he mostly hire guys he's worked with? Will he want at least a couple of assistants who know the West Coast? Will he retain anybody from the current staff?

Furthermore, will Rodriguez be able to hit any recruiting home runs? He's playing catch-up, as all new coaches do, but he's got more than two months until national signing day on Feb. 1. There's no reason he can't sway a couple of touted prospects.

Arizona's portion of the Pac-12's new $3 billion TV deal also should help finance a contract that is certain to pay Rodriguez more than $2 million annually, as well as lure top assistants away from other high-paying gigs.

Rodriguez's career in Tucson begins with a Tweet. But how long before it gets roaring?

Kish is doing things his way for Arizona

October, 26, 2011
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Tim Kish's responsibilities at Arizona are: "Interim Head Coach, Defensive Coordinator and Linebackers."

That's a lot of coaching hats. And work. And it's hard not to belabor the pyrrhic reward of "interim." But let's bracket off for a moment the circumstances and the uncertain future for a 57-year-old coaching lifer.

Here Kish is: A head coach for the first time. And he and Stanford's David Shaw give the Pac-12 two undefeated head coaches, something no other conference can boast.

Kish, easygoing and mellow, is almost an exact opposite of the man he replaced, the hyper-intense Mike Stoops. His first goal after taking over, he said, was to make football fun again for the Wildcats, who were mired in a 10-game losing streak against FBS foes when Stoops was fired. The second was accountability. The remainder of the season would only be what Arizona -- players and coaches -- made of it.

[+] EnlargeTim Kish
Chris Morrison/US PresswireIn his debut as head coach at Arizona, Tim Kish's wildcats set a record by scoring 42 points in the first half.
"The pride thing I thought was a given. It really wasn't addressed," he said. "We tried to block out all the noise and the distractions and asked the seniors to take ownership of this team. In the big picture, all we had was each other. That was the message. That's been the mantra going forward."

That mantra worked in Game 1: an impressive and dominant 48-12 whipping of UCLA.

Further, Kish was willing to improvise on the fly.

He gave the offensive coaches complete control of their unit, and they handed over some play-calling responsibility to quarterback Nick Foles. All that did was produce 42 points in the first half, a program record against a conference foe. He handed over the kicking duties -- a position that had been horrible for two years -- to walk-on John Bonano, who didn't miss a kick. And he changed the Wildcats' defensive scheme, adopting the old double-eagle flex the program used during the glory days of the Desert Swarm in the 1990s. UCLA, which entered the game averaging 194.5 yards rushing per game, produced 37 and just 1.5 yards per carry.

Kish said he and assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt, a former Wildcats defensive back and assistant coach during the Desert Swarm era under Dick Tomey, liked the idea of using a defense that was more aggressive and required less thinking.

"It doesn't have all the rules and regulations a lot of standard defenses have," he said. "It gave our guys a little boost."

Of course, a season isn't one game. The Wildcats know that as well as anybody. Further, they head to Washington on Saturday with major personnel issues they didn't have last week: Four players are suspended for their role in a brawl with UCLA just before halftime. All four are from a secondary that already lost two starters to injury. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson and nickelback Jourdon Grandon are suspended for the entire game; cornerback Lyle Brown and strong safety Mark Watley are suspended for the first half.

While Richardson is the only starter, things are still going to be tough against a Huskies passing offense led by quarterback Keith Price and a deep crew of receivers. Price leads the Pac-12 with 22 touchdown passes and ranks sixth in the nation in passing efficiency.

Kish called the suspensions "justified," but they are a major blow to a unit that ranks last in the conference in pass efficiency defense.

"We're not sure how it's all going to fit together on Saturday," he said.

But what if it does fit together? What if Kish leads the Wildcats to a major turnaround after a 1-5 start and, perhaps, a bowl game? Does that put him in position to have the "interim" removed from his title?

Probably not. Kish doesn't have any illusions of where he likely stands in athletic director Greg Byrne's coaching search.

"I knew what my place was when I was hired to take over this position," Kish said. "My patented answer to everybody who asks that question is I am not auditioning for the head coaching job."

If that's the case, then he and the rest of the staff face an uncertain future in December. While a couple of assistants might be retained, if Byrne hires a veteran or "name" head coach, he'll likely have a pretty good idea how he'll fill out his nine-man staff.

In other words: Merry Christmas! You're fired.

And this is undoubtedly a distraction. Kish and his assistants are coaching and recruiting -- work that demands long hours -- but they've also got to prepare their résumés and renew old coaching contacts in anticipation of shortly needing a new job.

"That's always tough. This situation pulls at a lot of heartstrings," Kish said. "That somewhere down the road will need to be addressed. But I've asked them to keep engaged with our players and keep the focus on the game plan."

This isn't Kish's first square dance. He's been a coach 36 years -- 34 in college, two in high school -- and worked at eight different programs before landing at Arizona in 2004 when Stoops hired him as linebackers coach. He's worked for, among others, Jim Young, Gary Barnett and Gerry DiNardo, each of whom had success and failure as head coaches. He's been a good soldier, a players' coach. And he's shown a lot of grace by repeatedly paying tribute to the positive things Stoops accomplished -- which is plenty, by the way -- instead of tweaking him.

But the "grieving" period -- his term -- has ended. Kish has too much to do to spend time looking back.

"It's a scar that lasts, but we needed to put it to rest," he said. "We needed to put that first half of the season to rest as well."

Kish takes over at Arizona

October, 12, 2011
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Tim Kish didn't get much sleep Monday night. Arizona's interim head coach after Mike Stoops' termination found his thinking going in many different directions.

First, he felt bad for Stoops, whom he'd been with for seven-plus seasons. Second, he had a big new responsibility. Third, he was going to have to shoulder that responsibility the next morning.

Kish didn't, however, lose his sense of humor.

"There were a lot of things running through my mind," he said. "Thank God it's not too big so I don't have to worry about it too much."

Of course, we lean on humor during tough times. And these are tough times in Tucson. Kish called Monday "a sad day for our program." But the period of mourning will be brief. There are six games left in the season, and the Wildcats -- honestly -- might be good enough to win most of them. The part of the schedule that crushed Stoops -- three top-10 teams and USC -- is over.

The first thing for Kish: regroup. He needs to convince the players that the season is not a wash, even with a fired coach and a 1-5 record. That won't be an easy sell, though. The players look at game tape.

"We definitely have to address some of our problems and issues," Kish said. "I'd rather not go into those right now but we're all pretty well aware of where we are at right now."

Kish needs to buck up his team and make football fun again. It hasn't been for them of late. But he also needs to make some tough decisions. It's certain that he won't be able to please everyone. Change, which there will be, is rarely easy.

"Hopefully, they are ones the players feel comfortable with, but there may be some who don't feel comfortable with it," Kish said. "We've got some issues. It's across the board."

The good news -- and a major part of the timing for athletic director Greg Byrne pulling the trigger -- is the Wildcats are off this weekend before playing host to UCLA next Thursday. An ESPN audience lowers the possibility that the Wildcats won't show up and fight.

But this week, it's about regrouping. The focus turns inward.

"The focus is going to be on us and no body else," Kish said. "We've got to make determinations where they problems lie and what the solutions might be. That's the starting point for us.'

Mike Stoops is out: Why and what's next?

October, 10, 2011
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Mike StoopsJim Z. Rider/US PresswireMike Stoops was fired after Arizona lost to winless Oregon State -- the Wildcats' fifth loss in a row.
In the Hemingway novel, "The Sun Also Rises," a character is asked how he went bankrupt. He replies, "Two ways ... gradually and then suddenly."

And so we have the firing of Arizona coach Mike Stoops midway through his eighth season Monday.

On Oct. 30 of last year, Arizona won at UCLA and improved to 7-1 overall. The Wildcats, then ranked 13th in the AP poll, were headed to Stanford for a marquee showdown. The program's first-ever Rose Bowl was in play. Stoops was coming off consecutive eight-win seasons. He appeared to be on the cusp of becoming a hot coaching prospect.

But the Wildcats were slammed 42-17. It would be the first of 10 consecutive losses to FBS teams. As the losses piled up, "hot" became the way to describe Stoops' seat instead of his prospects.

Stoops, 49, inherited a program in the absolute dregs in 2004. The Wildcats hadn't posted a winning season since 1998. After a slow start, he led Arizona to three consecutive bowl games.

But the wheels came off badly this season. After opening with a victory over Northern Arizona, the Wildcats were blown out in four consecutive games. The schedule was brutal. The losing streak included two losses each to Oregon, Stanford, Oklahoma State and USC. But it also included one to archrival Arizona State to end the 2010 regular season. Then on Saturday, the Wildcats lost to then 0-4 Oregon State.

When the Wildcats lost to the beleaguered Beavers, the universal reaction was Stoops was in trouble. But few figured it would end so quickly.

Stoops was told Monday afternoon by athletic director Greg Byrne of the decision to fire him. Defensive coordinator Tim Kish will serve as interim coach.

“It just ended," Stoops said. "That’s his decision as the leader of the program. It is what it is.”

Byrne and school president Eugene Sander told reporters at a news conference announcing the decision that the speculation on Stoops' future was becoming a distraction.

Stoops will get a $1.4 million buyout. When I talked to him Monday, he was more gracious than grim. It's possible that the losing and frustration were wearing him down as much as they were fans and administrators.

Stoops, who leaves Tucson with a 41-50 overall record and a 27-38 mark in conference games, was heavily criticized for his animated sideline persona. He was not a guy who tried to hide his frustrations -- at officials, players or other coaches -- during games. When he won, it was tolerated, even amusing. When he lost, it was seen as a significant negative.

And little went right this year, starting in spring practices, when injuries to several key starters -- most notably safety Adam Hall and linebacker Jake Fischer -- started a downward spiral.

Two other issues hounded Stoops: (1) He had the best quarterback in program history in Nick Foles (the Wildcats haven't had a quarterback who even approximates Foles); (2) the defense, Stoops' bailiwick, is terrible.

Don't cry too hard for Stoops, though. He'll land on his feet. He's respected and well-connected as a coach -- his brother is Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and he's good friends with Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. He'll get job offers, most likely in the short term as a defensive coordinator. And he's probably learned plenty of lessons during his first tour as a head coach that might help him get a second chance.

So what next for Arizona?

The first question: How much is Arizona willing to pay? Stoops' $1.4 million annual salary sounds great for most of us, but is fairly middling among marquee coaches. And beyond Stoops' replacement, you have to pay a coaching staff. Salaries for assistant coaches have gone way up, well beyond what Stoops' staff was paid.

Top name you will hear: Boise State's Chris Petersen. Three words: Huge long shot.

Second name: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen. Three words: Huge long shot.

Just because Byrne knows Petersen and Mullen doesn't mean either is eager to bolt to an uncertain situation.

Other names: Former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach and former All-American Ricky Hunley.

All three of those guys would raise enthusiastic eyebrows. Each has plenty to offer.

The Wildcats are off until playing host to UCLA on Oct. 20, a Thursday night game. It will be interesting to see how the players react. Part of the reasoning to dump Stoops now was to make it easier for players to focus.

If the Wildcats were to end their losing streak, that reasoning would make sense.

And, of course, Arizona fans can always start thinking about basketball season.
Scholarships that cover the full cost of attendance is the answer, not pay-for-play, according to a polling of a handful of Pac-12 athletic directors.

[+] EnlargePat Haden
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireUSC athletic director Pat Haden on current scholarship rules: "It is not right to have a student-athlete tell me he or she is going hungry."
USC's Pat Haden felt so strongly about the issue that he has a post on the matter on the school's official website.

"The NCAA formulas used to determine student-athlete stipends are not appropriate," Haden said in the post. "Having interviewed 15 different athletes and broken down their stipend against their bills, they are left with about $5 per day for food. I just do not think that is right."

Haden is not alone. Across town at UCLA, Dan Guerrero feels the same way.

“I would much prefer to see the NCAA pursue the notion of allowing athletic scholarships to cover the full cost of attendance at an institution," he said.

In fact, six conference athletic directors said the same thing. None who were asked for their take -- a number of ADs were on vacation -- said they were against increasing the value of scholarships to cover cost of attendance.

But paying athletes for their services beyond a full-cost scholarship also was panned.

"I am not in favor of any 'stipend' that would exceed that amount," Stanford's Bob Bowlsby said.

Why not? Well, while a few ADs sounded at least lukewarm to a revolutionary idea in which athletes in revenue sports -- football and men's basketball -- could receive a stipend, none said they'd heard of a way to do that and not step afoul of Title IX laws on gender equity.

"I haven't heard of one yet," Arizona's Greg Byrne said. "It would have to be a group effort to see if that's even feasible."

And even if someone produced a revolutionary idea that circumvented Title IX, the notion didn't generate much support.

"I'm not for pay-for-play," Washington's Scott Woodward said. "I think it's a great structure the way it is."

So cost of attendance it is.

"Cost of attendance," in fact, is the new catch phrase. It means covering all reasonable expenses a college athlete might have. That would mean an extra $2,500 to $3,500 per athlete. That doesn't sound like much, but when you multiply it across an entire athletic department with, say, 400 or so scholarship athletes, it gets pretty pricey. Woodward estimated it would cost Washington an extra $1 million a year.

Still, that doesn't sound like too much when automatic qualifying conferences in the BCS are signing billion-dollar TV contracts.

Ah, but that's part of the problem. Non-AQ schools would struggle to pick up the extra tab. Many already are losing money on college sports. If AQ programs started to provide "better" scholarships and non-AQ programs didn't, then it would increase an already sizable competitive advantage.

Colorado's Mike Bohn has been an athletic director in non-AQ conferences -- San Diego State and Idaho -- so he understands why the idea isn't generating much traction outside of AQ conferences.

"I recognize the challenges it would put on those types of institutions," he said. "They would have to evaluate that and make decisions on what's best for themselves."

Bohn also feels like many people don't recognize just how valuable a full ride is -- cost of attendance or not. He points out it pays not only tuition plus room and board, but also health care, tutoring and other academic services and summer school. And the experience of a major college athlete is a fairly privileged one.

"It's important to accurately portray the investment each institution is putting into each student-athlete," he said. "The investment in these men and women goes far beyond the scholarship commitment."

Still, there's plenty of momentum behind the idea of improving scholarships and taking further financial burdens off athletes.

Writes Haden: "In a year from now, our new TV contract is going to kick in with $20 million per year in revenue and it is not right to have a student-athlete tell me he or she is going hungry. It is unconscionable."

Did Arizona talk its way into Alamo Bowl?

December, 27, 2010
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It would seem that bowl invitations should be simple things: A bowl picks the best team available to it.

But, as we all know, they aren't.

This is an interesting story from Patrick Finley of the Arizona Daily Star on the lengths to which Arizona went to beat out Washington for an invitation to the Valero Alamo Bowl.

Recall that (cough, cough) most projections, even at season's end, had the Huskies going to the Alamo Bowl, the Pac-10's No. 2 bowl after the BCS bowl selections, when Arizona finished the season with a four-game losing streak. While the Wildcats whipped the Huskies by 30 on Oct. 23 and owned a better overall record (7-5, vs. 6-6), Washington finished the season with a three-game winning streak and a better Pac-10 record (5-4 vs. 4-5).

Further, Washington hadn't been to a bowl game since 2002 and has long been considered one of the conference's best traveling teams in terms of fan support.

But, wrote Finley, it appears that the Huskies got outflanked by an aggressive campaign from Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne.

The Wildcats flirted; Washington did not.

The comfort level went a long way for the Alamo Bowl.

"It's an arranged marriage for a month," Alamo Bowl vice president Rick Hill said.


In the end, though, Arizona in the Alamo Bowl vs. Oklahoma State and Washington in the Holiday Bowl vs. Nebraska might be better arrangements for everyone.

Arizona played Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl last year, so a rematch was unappealing for all parties. Huskies fans are eager to see their team back in any bowl game, and San Diego if a great winter destination. The financial difference between the two games is negligible (bowl payouts are split among all Pac-10 teams; the conference provides a slightly higher travel allowance for the Alamo Bowl).

Still, it's interesting to see that an aggressive campaign can sway sentiments when it comes to bowl selections.
1. Trey Burton’s six touchdowns (five rushing, one receiving) for Florida against Kentucky set an SEC freshman record and fell one short of the NCAA rookie record scored by Marshall Faulk of San Diego State in 1991 against Pacific. Four years later, the Tigers gave up football. Burton’s outburst should quiet the Gator fans who have hounded offensive coordinator Steve Addazio for the offense’s woes. What ailed Florida is inexperience and a Tebow deficiency. When the former is fixed, the latter won’t matter.

2. Greg Byrne, who made what appears to be a successful hire of Dan Mullen at Mississippi State before leaving to become the athletic director at Arizona, said that college football “is an emotional business…Everyone with a keyboard has the chance to be a self-proclaimed expert. It’s easy to let that sway your feelings and opinion. You need people in the stands. But you try to not ever make an emotional decision. Be rational.” Hiring coaches remains an art, not a science.

3. No conference is happier to see September end than the ACC. The league’s slow start appears to be abating. The league really needs Miami and Clemson to play as they have in their three previous league matchups, all of which went to overtime. The ‘Canes and Tigers gakked their biggest non-conference games at Ohio State and at Auburn, respectively, in September. Not only will the Miami-Clemson winner be the league favorite, but an exciting game would boost the ACC’s beleaguered reputation.
Most of the expansion talk on the West Coast has focused on the Pac-10 luring Colorado away from the Big 12, but there's increasing evidence that the Pac-10 and Big 12 also are interested in a potential partnership.

Big 12 and Pac-10 administrators and athletic directors met Wednesday in Phoenix, and afterwards Pac-10 commissioner Larry Scott used terms like "strategic alliance" and "pooling TV rights" and "joint network."

None of it sounded terribly adversarial.

Both conferences' media contracts expire after the 2011-12 academic year. Both want -- need -- to sign new contracts that help them keep pace with the SEC and Big Ten.

That might take some creativity, though a rebounding economy should help the cause. There are plenty of reasons the conferences could work together, starting with geography: They are the only two BCS conferences entirely located west of the Mississippi River. It would be easier for the Pac-10 to partner with a conference in the Mountain and Central time zones, rather than one that's entirely in the East, such as the ACC.

Moreover, Scott's No. 2, deputy commissioner/chief operating officer Kevin Weiberg, is a former Big 12 commissioner. Not to mention that new Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne is the son of Texas A&M AD Bill Byrne, who used to be athletic director at Oregon.

So there are grounds to build trust during what could be complicated negotiations.

Scott and Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe huddled for several minutes after a long afternoon meeting on Wednesday. It may have been only one of many future negotiations between the two.

  • This comes a bit late for Oklahoma, but the Pac-10 is considering no longer using conference officials for nonconference home games, which would reduce controversy when homer, er, bad calls are made and would fall in line with other BCS conferences. Understand: Nothing is official until a proposal is ratified by the conference during June meetings.
  • As part of a more aggressive marketing effort, the Pac-10 will hold a bi-coastal preseason "media day" in late July. The first day would be in New York, the second at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on July 29. Previously, Pac-10 media day was a one-day event in a LA airport hotel.
  • Football travel squads may enlarge from 64 to 70, which falls in line with what other BCS conferences allow.
  • Scott said that the NCAA's new, controversial "no taunting rule," which is scheduled to be adopted in 2011, was a hot topic. The new rule would make taunting a live-ball foul and the penalty would be assessed at the point of the infraction, which means it could kill a touchdown. "There's some concern about that from our coaches," Scott said. I bet.
  • The Pac-10 coaches and ADs also met with officials from the Alamo Bowl, the conference new No. 2 bowl -- replacing the Holiday Bowl, which is now No. 3 -- as well as BCS executive director Bill Hancock.

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