Pac-12: Greg Byrne

Pac-12, nation now fret Haden's next hire

September, 30, 2013
There is something undeniably reprehensible about dancing on the grave of a fallen coach. The celebration of a person's perceived failure at his life's work is unseemly. We all know big-time college coaches are big boys who are paid well. We all know that now-terminated USC coach Lane Kiffin brought on much of the ill will he received by how he conducted himself.

Still, the nationwide cackling over Kiffin getting fired in the early morning hours Sunday doesn't represent a high moment in our sports culture.

This grab for measured compassion is made here, however, because of a cold and unfortunate reality that will seem like another potshot at Kiffin. Outside of the Kiffin household, the folks most unhappy about his getting pink-slipped are coaches, administrators and fans of the other 11 Pac-12 teams. And probably some fans of other national powers who have moved on from chortling about Kiffin's fate to asking the most important question.

[+] EnlargeKiffin
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsPac-12 teams knew what they were getting with Lane Kiffin on the USC sideline. Now the sleeping giant has the potential to wake up.
What if USC now hires its Nick Saban? Or, to localize it: Pete Carroll, take two?

Because the right coach at USC competes for national titles on a regular basis. The tradition is there. The facilities, once below standard, are vastly improved. The rich recruiting territory is there. And the ability to ante up big checks for an A-list coach and his staff is there.

Further, the next coach won't be freighted with the ready-made and mostly legitimate excuse Kiffin made when things went wrong on the field: NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions that made the USC roster thinner than those of their opponents. Those end after the 2014 recruiting class and season. The next coach can make the program whole in 2015, his second season.

USC, with 85 scholarships and the right coach, will immediately challenge Oregon and Stanford atop the Pac-12, and Alabama, LSU and Ohio State, etc., for national supremacy.

That's why the other Pac-12 schools are mourning Kiffin's departure. While he was tough to compete with on the recruiting trail -- his clear strength -- other schools were hoping that Kiffin would become the Trojans' "Meander Coach." That's the sort of coach rival teams want to stay atop a college football superpower, such as USC.

A Meander Coach is a coach who does just enough to hang on for several years but falls short of program standards. While not a complete disaster, he allows a program to slip a few notches in the conference and national pecking order. Good examples of this would be Bob Davie at Notre Dame, Ray Goff at Georgia and Earle Bruce at Ohio State.

A Meander 2013 season for USC under Kiffin would have been 9-4 in a 13-game schedule. Kiffin probably would have coached the Trojans in 2014 with that record, particularly if it included a win over Notre Dame or UCLA. But athletic director Pat Haden had seen enough through a 3-2 start, capped by a humiliating 62-41 loss at Arizona State on Saturday, to understand that barely good enough was not even going to happen. So he made his move.

Now the hope around the Pac-12 and the nation is that Haden gets his coaching pick wrong. Haden, a former USC and NFL quarterback and Rhodes scholar, is extremely bright and knowledgeable about football, but the odds are pretty good he will get it wrong. After all, to get from John McKay and John Robinson to Carroll, USC had to go through Ted Tollner, Larry Smith and Paul Hackett. Just as Alabama had to go through Mike DuBose, Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula to get to Saban. Notre Dame and Tennessee also can teach lessons about superpowers struggling to find the right guy.

Former AD Mike Garrett's hiring of Carroll? Complete luck. It was a desperation move after Garrett was turned down by Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti and Mike Riley. The Carroll hiring also was widely panned when it was announced. He was seen as a slightly goofy chatterbox and washed-out NFL coach. Perceptions changed, but only because the wrong hire turned out to be right.

One benefit Haden has bought himself with a midseason termination is time. While plenty of other teams are going to fire their head coaches, Haden is the first in the ring. While it's certain he already has a short list of favorite candidates that probably is not unlike the lists every publication has written up since Kiffin was fired, he also can sit back a few weeks and get a measure of who's interested. There will be plenty of back-channel feelers from agents of NFL head coaches and assistant coaches as well as college head coaches and assistant coaches.

A successful precedent for Haden to consider is Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne's handling of the transition from Mike Stoops to Rich Rodriguez. Just like Haden, Byrne fired Stoops midseason after an embarrassing loss before a bye week and installed a veteran coach, Tim Kish, as his interim head coach. He then conducted a stealth coaching search over the next six weeks, breaking the news of his hiring of Rodriguez on Twitter.

Byrne gave himself a head start with the hiring process. He got his first choice hired before the season ended and gave his new coach a head start with recruiting. He also accelerated the getting-to-know-you phase compared to all the other teams looking for a new head coach in December. Byrne even received a boost from Kish's version of the Wildcats, who won three of their final six games, including a win over archrival Arizona State.

Other Pac-12 coaches are now fretting the same thing happening with the Trojans: What if USC suddenly starts playing inspired football under interim coach Ed Orgeron? It's entirely possible the Trojans will be a better team going forward, meaning the Sun Devils are grateful Haden didn't take action after the Trojans lost at home to Washington State on Sept. 7.

As for Haden's coaching search, it will be a bit more high-profile than Byrne's. The Trojans are a national team. So in the next few weeks there will be a cacophony of public denials. They will be meaningless. Saban repeatedly said without ambiguity that he wasn't leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. Until he did. And who knew that Bret Bielema was so eager to bolt Wisconsin for Arkansas?

The two biggest problems the USC coaching search encountered after Carroll bolted for the Seattle Seahawks that led to the Kiffin hiring are gone: (1) upcoming NCAA sanctions, and (2) no one wanting to be the guy-after-the-guy.

So know that just about everybody is in play. Until they're not.

The Pac-12 and the college football nation didn't feel too good about Kiffin in 2011, when he led the Trojans to a 10-2 record and won at Oregon and Notre Dame. But in the past 18 games, they embraced his USC tenure. They wanted him inside Heritage Hall as long as possible.

Now there is worrisome uncertainty among 11 other Pac-12 teams, not to mention folks like SEC commissioner Mike Slive and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany. If Haden hires the right guy, the Trojan colossus will dust itself off and rise with a cocky grin. Rose Bowls and national championships will shortly follow.

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
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.

Arizona's Carey involved 'incident'

January, 7, 2013
Becoming an All-American running back means you're newsworthy, even if reports are vague and lack details.

So we have reports that Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey had a protection order issued against him stemming from an incident before Christmas,

Carey was issued the protection order after allegedly being involved in an incident Dec. 23. According to local reports, Carey has not been arrested for this or any other incident.

Then there's this from the Tucson Citizen:
KVOA also reported that Carey filed a harassment injunction that same day against Dana Rambow, the mother of his former girlfriend, Missy Rambow. On-line records confirm that filing, as well as an order of protection against Missy Rambow. Which filings came first on Dec. 26 is not clear.

The hearings on the harassment injunction and the protection order against Missy Rambow were scheduled for Monday morning.

It would appear that we have a he-said, she-said conflict, though the courts and not the police are where this is being battled out.

Arizona released statements from both coach Rich Rodriguez and athletic director Greg Byrne:
Rich Rodriguez statement regarding Ka’Deem Carey:

“I’ve spoken with Ka’Deem and am aware of the case. We take these matters very seriously and will support the authorities however we can. Once more specific information is available, we will act accordingly."

Greg Byrne statement regarding Ka’Deem Carey:

"The university and department of athletics are fully aware of the situation. This is now a matter for the local authorities and we will fully cooperate and assist them as needed. At this point we will have no further comment."

The question now is whether this is just a tempest of court filings due to emotions, or there will be a second chapter to this as details become available.

Arizona adds Hawaii to future schedule

July, 10, 2012
Arizona announced Tuesday a home-and-home series with Hawaii for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.

The teams will play Aug. 31, 2019 in Honolulu and Sept. 5, 2020 in Tucson.

Arizona and Hawaii have met four times with the Wildcats winning each contest, most recently in 1998 when former Wildcat head coach Dick Tomey, who also spent time at the helm of the Warrior program, led 24th-ranked Arizona to a 27-6 victory at Aloha Stadium.

Hawaii hired Norm Chow as its head coach this offseason. Chow, obviously, has plenty of Pac-12 connections.

“We are pleased to announce this series with the University of Hawaii. It will give our fans a great opportunity to follow our football team to Hawaii and it will be another attractive game at Arizona Stadium,” Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said in a statement.

Four new coaches highlight Pac-12 spring

February, 23, 2012
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.

Rating the Pac-12 coaching hires

January, 18, 2012
Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel rated the coaching hires across the country this week, and he's clearly split on how the Pac-12 did.

He likes Mike Leach to Washington State — a lot — and Rich Rodriguez to Arizona. He's not so impressed with Todd Graham to Arizona State and Jim Mora to UCLA.

Here are his Pac-12 grades and takes.
Washington State (Mike Leach, former Texas Tech head coach): A+

AD Bill Moos looked past the controversy surrounding Leach's bizarre 2009 ouster in Lubbock and focused more on his 84-43 record and 10 straight bowl trips. The quirky offensive mind is a perfect fit in remote Pullman and already has the quarterbacks (rising senior Jeff Tuel and sophomore Connor Halliday) he needs to lead the dormant Cougars to their first postseason berth in nine years.

Arizona (Rich Rodriguez, former Michigan head coach): A-

AD Greg Byrne knew exactly who he wanted, pouncing early (Nov. 21) in naming Mike Stoops' replacement. While Rodriguez's three-year tenure in Ann Arbor did not end well, the pressure is much lower in tradition-starved Tucson. He's reunited the majority of his staff from West Virginia, where he led the Mountaineers to two BCS bowls. Arizona is still waiting on its first.

UCLA (Jim L. Mora, former Seattle Seahawks head coach): D

After striking out with Chris Petersen, Al Golden and Sumlin, AD Dan Guerrero turned to an unemployed NFL lifer. Mora has assembled a nice staff and will likely make initial waves in recruiting, but history does not bode well for NFL-bred coaches. UCLA hopes Mora will become its Pete Carroll, but odds are much higher he emulates Bill Callahan, Charlie Weis, Chan Gailey, Mike Sherman ...

Arizona State (Todd Graham, Pittsburgh head coach): D

Forget the unseemly way he exited Pitt. Why exactly Graham is a hot commodity to begin with? It's certainly not due to his one 6-6 Big East season. He had three 10-win seasons at Tulsa, but much of the credit belongs to respected offensive coordinators Gus Malzahn and Chad Morris. His one season without either, he went 5-7. But perhaps his fourth dream job in six years will be the one.

These divergent grades shouldn't be surprising. Just about everyone — yes, there is always some contrarian wackiness — believes Washington State and Arizona made great hires. And both Mora and Graham have baggage.

A lot of rating a coaching hire is about process: Did the AD get his or her first choice? Washington State and Arizona appeared to do just that and UCLA and Arizona State didn't. The lesson, taught over and over and over again, is that ADs always need to have a solid list of coaching candidates and Plan Bs in their desk drawer, and they need to move proactively and aggressively from the moment they decide to fire their coach — even taking steps in advance of the pending termination.

And, most important, the fewer people involved in the process, the better. The best search committees are made up of one person — see ADs Greg Byrne at Arizona and Bill Moos at Washington State.

Mandel also looks at "Ten impact coordinators/assistants," and two from the Pac-12 make the list, as well as a former conference head coach and QB.
Jeff Casteel, Arizona (defense): Defense was the bane of Rodriguez's existence at Michigan. It was critical he reunite with his highly effective former West Virginia coordinator.

Mike Stoops, Oklahoma (defense): Bob's brother returns to Norman, where he produced some of the nation's most dominant units from 1999-2003. The Sooners needed him.

Tosh Lupoi, Washington (defensive line): Steve Sarkisian sent shock waves through the Pac-12 by luring away Cal's ace recruiter, considered the best on the West Coast.

Jonathan Smith, Boise State (quarterbacks): Petersen tabbed the former Oregon State standout and Montana offensive coordinator to help mold Kellen Moore's successor.

ASU, UCLA trudge on without coaches

December, 8, 2011
Things got nutty yesterday with the Arizona State coaching search as the Sun Devils left SMU coach June Jones at the altar.

When you toss in UCLA, it appears we have two Pac-12 coaching searches that are picking up a sense of urgency -- amid apparently feckless navel gazing -- as the fan bases show signs of justifiable frustration.

Before we go on, here's some perspective: Both fan bases should save their outrage. Hey, it's the season to be joyful! The endgame, not the process, ultimately matters. Save your ultimate reaction -- positive or negative -- for after your new coach introduces himself for the first time.

Of course, premature reaction is part of why Arizona State is here, uncomfortably in the news over process not results. There was a considerable amount of spin coming out of the Jones debacle Wednesday, but what is clear is that Jones wanted the job, thought he had the job but Arizona State backed away extremely late in the process, with money -- Jones' hefty buyout at SMU -- and negative booster and fan reaction certainly playing significant roles.

It seems there's a lot of push-pull within the Sun Devils coaching search. Lots of voices speaking but not one clearly above all others.

It's time to pause for a lesson, one that I've learned from watching scores of coaching searches.

No. 1: Search firms are useless. They are a waste of money. And they often have agendas.

No. 2: A search committee should be comprised of one person making the decision. Typically, that's a strong athletic director.

Collaboration is overrated. A one-person search committee arrives at a coaching search already with a good idea of what it is looking for. It talks to other smart people -- in some cases lots of them -- but only in order to get information that informs its conception of what it wants in a coach.

Let me give you two examples, apologies if Sun Devils fans who won't like hearing this: Arizona's Greg Byrne and Washington State's Bill Moos.

Byrne made a decisive decision to fire Mike Stoops on Oct. 9, but he already had a plan and a list of coaches he liked. He then talked to a lot of folks. He made a couple of runs at people. He got his man, Rich Rodriguez, at a discount. Now everybody is telling him how smart he is, which I gather he's enjoying.

Moos had a plan before he needed it. He visited Mike Leach in Key West before he was certain he was going to fire Paul Wulff. And, a day after firing Wulff, which did indeed feel like a sad day for the Cougars, he transformed the spirits of a fan base with a great hire. Optimism in Pullman is just short of those Jason Gesser years.

Folks: Search committee of one. End of story.

The key thing for every school, of course, is having someone who can successfully execute as a search committee of one.

Byrne tells why he hired Rodriguez

November, 22, 2011
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."

Lunch links: Lots on Rich Rod to Arizona

November, 22, 2011
I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart's affections, and the truth of imagination.

It's official: Rich Rodriguez to Arizona

November, 21, 2011

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
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
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.'

Stoops: The day after

October, 11, 2011
The ideal scenario for Arizona after firing Mike Stoops on Monday is finding a coach who's a perfect fit -- bright, charming, good recruiter -- and leads the program to its first Rose Bowl and then decides to stick around instead of climbing up the coaching ladder.

Won't be easy. The program hasn't done it before.

But AD Greg Byrne is smart and well-connected. His last football hire was Dan Mullen at Mississippi State in 2008, which worked out well (though not as well this season as some expected). And Byrne did a nice job sweet-talking hoops coach Sean Miller when it seemed certain he was headed to Maryland.

And, on the other side of things, Stoops ideally will regroup, reflect and get another shot at leading a program, having learned hard, valuable lessons with the Wildcats.

Feel free to root for a happy ending for both parties.

Here's some reaction from a variety of sources.

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

October, 10, 2011
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.