Arizona and Arizona State don't like each other, but they share one commonality. They both like their current football coaches. That's good for everyone, both inside and outside the battle for the heart and soul of the Southwestern desert. It means their bitter battle -- the Territorial Cup -- might be on the cusp of something that makes a rivalry truly great: national relevance.
It should inspire grins that both schools announced contract extensions and raises for their football coaches on Wednesday. Neither, apparently, wanted to yield the news cycle to the other.
Arizona State gave Todd Graham a one-year extension and a $300,000 raise, his $2.7 million salary now ranking in the top half of the Pac-12. The contract will run through June 30, 2019.
Meanwhile, Arizona is giving Rich Rodriguez less but is being more creative. Rodriguez's base salary will get a boost of $220,000 to $2 million annually, but the university also is considering a significant retention bonus based on a $17.68 million stock offering from a booster.
From the Arizona Daily Star:
The proposal, which will be voted on by the Arizona Board of Regents next week, offers [athletic director Greg] Byrne 20 percent share of the stock, while [basketball coach Sean] Miller and Rodriguez will get 35 percent each if they meet the retention criteria: Each needs to stay at UA at least four years and cannot leave voluntarily before eight years in order to receive it.
Under the stock’s current value, Byrne would receive a bonus of $3.536 million while Miller and Rodriguez would each earn $6.2 million if they met the retention criteria. At the end of eight years, the three could keep the stock or sell it.
But let's not get bogged down in the numbers, other than to at least note that Graham and Rodriguez should pick up the tab the next time they take you to dinner.
Graham is 18-9 after two seasons. He led the Sun Devils to the South Division title last fall and a final national ranking. He's recruiting well. But it's just as notable that a program long known for lacking focus and discipline -- both on and off the field -- has become among the best at both within the conference. Academics and citizenship are up. Penalty flags and arrests are down.
Graham has his critics. He's probably not ever going to win everyone over. But he's doing it right in Tempe.
Rodriguez, with a lot less talent, has nearly matched Graham, going 16-10 with a pair of bowl victories. He, however, is 0-2 head-to-head in the rivalry, something that makes Wildcats fans a bit grumpy.
Rodriguez is widely considered within the business to be one among a small handful of true offensive innovators. While some dwell on his failed tenure at Michigan -- a hopeless mismatch that was aggravated by a dysfunctional athletic department and a sabotaging Lloyd Carr -- Rodriguez's track record speaks for itself. He's one of the 10 or 15 best coaches in the nation.
Both schools have good coaches who fit, and administrators and boosters know it. They want them to stick around. Both programs seem headed for consistent spots in the Top 25. While the South Division is rugged, particularly with a rising UCLA and USC emerging from NCAA sanctions, both should be in the thick of the divisional race most seasons.
When both teams are good, a rivalry is better. That appears to be where these two are headed. That means more national relevance and, therefore, more national attention. That is good for both schools, at least as long as one or the other doesn't establish a strong pattern of dominance.
Finally, this Pac-12 blogger truly enjoys that every time he's in Tucson or Tempe he's rapturously surfeited with snipes and gripes about the other program. We expect this joy only to increase as this pair moves up in the national pecking order, thereby marinating traditional bitterness with meaningful stakes to wrestle away from each other.