Thursday, January 12, 2012
Arizona becomes WVU Southwest
By Ted Miller
The first thing someone needs to buy Rich Rodriguez's staff at Arizona? A road map. And maybe some green plants to ease their acclimation to desert life.
With his hiring done, new Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez, left, and his coaching staff can focus on adjusting to life in the Pac-12.
Rodriguez completed his staff hires Wednesday, finally announcing that he'd lured Jeff Casteel away from West Virginia, as well as two other Mountaineers defensive coaches: David Lockwood (defensive backs) and Bill Kirelawich (defensive line). He also hired Spencer Leftwich (tight ends), who was at Pittsburgh this past season.
This is a good -- and proven -- staff. Casteel's 3-3-5 defense seems a perfect fit for the Pac-12, and Rodriguez seems to have gotten all the guys he wanted. If you know the backstory, that didn't happen at Michigan, and more than a few folks will tell you that's a major reason why things didn't work out.
My single critique: It's too bad Rodriguez couldn't find a way to retain Tim Kish, a respected defensive coach who did a good job holding the Wildcats together as interim coach after Mike Stoops was fired.
If Rodriguez had retained Kish, then he would have taken pressure off offensive line coach Robert Anae, Rodriguez's only assistant with any substantial West Coast experience. None of the new coaches even visited Tucson during the interview process, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Going forward, when these new coaches need to know, say, where San Diego is or whether Portland is north or south of Seattle, the only guy who will know the answers without taking out a map is Anae.
We kid, of course. But Rodriguez did take a specific route when hiring his staff: He hired his guys and didn't worry about their regional experience or about preserving much continuity with the previous staff.
Wait that's not completely fair. Casteel did graduate and get a master's degree from California University. That it was in Pennsylvania and not Berkeley, we will overlook.
You can read the staff bios here. You will see a lot of West Virginia, Pittsburgh, Michigan as well as some Louisiana, Indiana and Florida. Oh, there's a smattering of UNLV, UTEP and New Mexico State, but the Pac-12 experience is about zero.
That will, at least in the short term, lead to challenges. Recruiting is about relationships, and those will need to be built up, particularly with West Coast high school coaches. Further, there will be a lack of familiarity in conference play. Stoops told me before his second season that the quality of quarterback play and the top-to-bottom sophistication of conference offenses was a shock to his Big 12 sensibilities. It all felt like rumors and hype, then he started to watch film and game plan.
No offense to the Big East, but Casteel didn't see many Carson Palmers, Aaron Rodgerses, Andrew Lucks or Matt Barkleys during his 11 years at West Virginia. Quarterbacks who can put the ball wherever they want to create myriad challenges for a defense.
Further, there's the culture shock. Kirelawich (pronounced Kerr-LAV-itch) has been at West Virginia since 1979. Bill, let me be the first to say this: It's a dry heat. I've been to Morgantown just once -- a college road trip, one that went quite well I might add -- and from my vague memory it is nothing like Tucson. Nothing.
For example: Morgantown is called "Tree City USA." Tucson is not. Cactus? Tucson has plenty of those. Trees, not so much.
Still, my guess is Rodriguez and his staff feel a sense of adventure and newness. The unfamiliarity might turn out to be invigorating. And the Pac-12 blog is firmly on record that a head coach needs to have complete faith in the members of his staff.
A significant part Rodriguez's backstory at Michigan -- an unquestioned failure -- was of constant undermining by a variety of forces. That won't be part of the story here.
Rodriguez got his men. Now all they have to do is lead Arizona to its first Rose Bowl.