Rich Rodriguez, Arizona Wildcat

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona Wildcat

November 22, 2011
Rich Rodriguez

Former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez has been hired as the new head coach at Arizona.  The news was announced Monday evening, and he will be introduced by the athletic director on Wednesday.  From the press release on Arizona’s website:

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.

 I want to wish Coach Rodriguez, his family, and the Arizona Wildcats program well in the coming years.  I always felt badly for Rodriguez, his family, his colleagues, and his players when he was at Michigan.  His name was unjustly dragged through the mud by West Virginia before he even started coaching in Ann Arbor, and a lot of Michigan fans, players, alumni, and critics never gave him a chance.  Tuned-in Michigan fans knew this well before the release of John U. Bacon’s book Three and Out in October, but Rodriguez was doomed from the beginning when he began work in Ann Arbor.

This is not to say that Rodriguez didn’t make mistakes of his own.  He did, and those have been well documented.  The biggest mistake he made was failing to win games, and that was a direct result of hiring defensive coaches who were either incompetent or a poor fit with the rest of the staff.  When your football team is allowing 35 points a game in your third season as head coach, then something is wrong.  There was no reason to believe that the defense would have improved in 2011 and, therefore, he needed to go.

Regardless of how Rodriguez fared in Ann Arbor, he runs an offense that can work anywhere in college football.  There will be struggles in Tucson like there were at his last job, because the Wildcats are not a team prepared to play spread option football.  The roster includes purely pro-style quarterbacks, including Pennsylvanian Tom Savage, who was heavily interested in Michigan a few years ago but whose interest was not reciprocated.  Starting quarterback Nick Foles is slow-footed like Ryan Mallett, although Foles is a senior and will be gone by 2012.  The Wildcats have two quarterbacks currently committed for the class of 2012, but both are pro-style kids and I would guess that neither one will end up signing with Arizona in February.

Much like when Rodriguez came to Michigan, he will either be starting a true freshman “athlete” at quarterback (recruited out of Florida, most likely) or a pro-style kid who’s ill suited to the spread option but willing to give it a go.  Furthermore, every receiver on the roster is 6’0″ or taller – although there’s a 5’10” kid named Jarrell Bennett (with dreadlocks, no less) who might be the Martavious Odoms of the Arizona Wildcats; the first highlight on Bennett’s film is of him blocking a cornerback into the ground.

As Rodriguez mentioned in Three and Out, when a coach builds a program, there are several steps: first you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close, and then you win big.  I’ll be rooting for the Wildcats to skip a couple of those steps . . . but if they don’t, I’ll be rooting for Rodriguez to be given enough time to hit that fourth stage.

Good luck, Coach.


  1. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 1:06 PM

    Unlike a lot of guys I know, I'm having a hard time finishing Three and Out as it just makes me sick all over again … even worse.

    But I'm fast coming to the conclusion (especially after this year) that the one absolutely fatal error on Rodriguez part was not getting the money from Martin for a big time DC or maybe sufficient money to seduce Casteel.

    He had Martin by the short hairs, worked him pretty good on his own contract, got Barwis and his offense guys taken care of and then failed to secure sufficient money for the defense.

    Hubris kills.

    Good luck to Rich Rod, I think he's a good coach.

  2. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    A quick note on QBs:
    Arizona does have a dual-threat QB on their roster; Matt Scott. He is apparently redshirting this season, and as a class of 2008 guy, will have one year remaining. Rivals had him as the #5 DQB in the '08 class. As well, he has some starting experience, in '10 and '09.

    My bet is he gets the nod for 2012 as the best shot to give Coach Rod as smooth a transition as possible.

    His career stats:
    114-176 for 1301 yards (7.2ypa) with 6 TDs and 5 INTs
    99 rushes for 579 yards (6.2ypc) and 2 TDs

  3. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 1:27 PM

    DJ Foster seems like a kid he has to get down in Arizona.

  4. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Nov 22, 2011 at 2:06 PM

    @ Roanman

    Not to relaunch this whole discussion again, but money is not remotely a legit excuse for RR's defensive disaster. Shaeffer is at least a decent coach and he would have done fine in the long run given more support from RR and a coherent defensive staff. It was clear to me in both DC searches that RR lacked a network of friends among defensive coaching ranks. Maybe it has something to do with the way he views defense – as an afterthought. Hoke attracted excellent, experienced coordinators to SDSU, despite having a smaller budget and profile than UM.

    I for one will be fascinated to see how RR builds his Arizona staff, and whether he has learned anything from his UM stint. Not sure if Casteel still comfortable at WVU or he is looking for a change of scenery. His defense could be a decent fit for the Pac 10. I am with Magnus in hoping that RR does well there.

  5. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Hiring Rich Rodriguez as head coach was the worst mistake the Michigan football program has ever made in its stoired history. It will and should ruin Bill Martin's legacy.

    His scheme which consists of small but fast guys was never going to consistantly work in the Big Ten. But more than that there are other things that make me absolutely confident that we made a HUGE mistake with his hire:

    1. Recruting. How do you not recruit a kicker in three years? This blows my mind. Unacceptable.

    2. Scheme. Why do you force your defensive coordiantors, however inept they were, to run a 3-3-5? This was never going to work.

    3. Talent development. How do you take a 5-star D-line recruit in Will Campbell and fail to develop him into the beast he can be? I know his technique needed some work but c'mon. RR ended up switching him to an O-linemen … Really?? Terrible.

    4. Tackling. It didn't exist under RR. I know that's more on the D coordinators but I am confident that Brady Hoke would never allow this.

    I don't hate the man, I'm just extrememly glad we have the coaching crew we do now. Look at the difference … RR went 3-9 in his first year. We already have 9 wins in Hoke's first year and could potentially bring that to 11 with a win against OSU and a win in the bowl game.

    With all that said, he may have some success at AU. It's hard to imagine he'll do much worse than Stoops. I have a feeling, however, that my points above will be validated. RR will once again wish he were coaching in the Big East.

  6. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 3:00 PM

    @ Anonymous 9:53 a.m.

    You don't know that recruiting small/fast guys was never going to work in the Big Ten. It worked fairly well in 2010, once he had some sophomores/juniors who could get the job done on offense. Defensively, it's another story…but we all agree on that.

    1. Rodriguez did recruit kickers (Gibbons, Goudis). It just didn't work out for them, at least not while he was here.

    2. The 3-3-5 can work in the Big Ten. It's worked elsewhere, and it could work here just fine. The problem was with the way it was implemented, the personnel, and the way it was called. If Casteel were hired away from WVU, Michigan would have at least been okay on defense.

    3. I agree completely on talent development. I think Rodriguez did a poor job with Will Campbell.

    4. I agree on tackling, too.

    I'm glad Hoke is here, too. I'm almost 100% sure that we would not be 9-2 under Rodriguez right now, because the defense would have let Michigan down once or twice more.

  7. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 3:04 PM

    The smartest thing Rich Rod did at West Virginia was leave Jeff Casteel alone. Let Jeff develop the defense but leave him alone to do it. He meddled too much on that side of the ball at Michigan and had a mis matched staff to do it with (conflicting agendas, etc).

    He is a very smart and innovative guy. I love this new coaching staff for reasons that are more than X and O's but I had no problem with Rich as a coach or a person. I can't forgive him for how bad the defense had gotten but the rest is understandable as transition costs. I think he will do very, very well in Arizona and will get there faster than people think because he will hire a defensive staff and leave them alone.

  8. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 3:49 PM

    Yes, Shaeffer was better than he appeared, and he appeared incompetent for reasons listed above.

    Something else that eventually inclined me against Rodriguez: he was too quick to shift blame to players, to insinuate that things going wrong were not his responsibility. The best, though not only example was the Vince Lombardi remark; another: "some of these kids aren't even scholarship players!" That's excuse-making, and that's refusing to say: I'm the head coach, the buck stops with me.

    That, and I think Rodriguez's game planning and management were mediocre, at best.

  9. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 4:18 PM

    While it may not have been the smartest thing Rodrigez did at WVU leaving Casteel alone was certainly up there near the top.

    I believe that had Rodrigez been able to pry Casteel away from WVU, his record over 3 years would have been somewhere north of 21 and 15 rather than the 15 an 21 we all remember, and he would be in his make or break year/week right now.

    Can't prove it though, one way or the other.

    I don't believe he'd be sitting at 9 and 2 although I'm having a hard time thinking that the Big Ten and/or it's quarterbacking is very good this year which I firmly believe has been a huge help to our D.

  10. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    I checked out the Arizona SB nation blog ( and their writers seem to think they have a QB by the name of Matt Scott who will be able to run Coach Rod's system. Scott will be a RS senior next fall and was a four-star recruit in the class of 2008 out of Corona, CA.

  11. Comments: 21383
    Rob Pollard
    Nov 22, 2011 at 5:18 PM

    I wish him well also. It surprised me a bit to see how unsuccessful Arizona has been over the years – they literally have only two 10+ win seasons in the last 50 years. With that track record, he should get some runway to see if he can get that program off the ground.

    Regarding whether we'd be 9-2 (or 11-0 or 6-5) if RR was still the coach, who knows? I know the offense would be a bit better and its extremely likely the defense would be worse, but that all depends on who he would have brought in to replace Gerg, so that's guessing on top of a double-guess. It's not like RR hadn't had very good defenses before, but the reverse is also true, so I couldn't tell you.

    One thing to note: Schaeffer is not exactly having success this year at Syracuse. Their defense this year is ranked 71st in the country. He did have success last year, but it just goes to show you can't base "He's a great coach!" or "He's a terrible coach!" on a short amount of time at a particular program. We'll see how he does over the next couple of years.

  12. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 5:28 PM

    I think Arizona will be okay offensively next season.

    Unlike Threet, Nick Foles is actually a good quarterback. In 2008, despite rage over square pegs and round holes, Threet and Sheridan were given plenty of opportunities to drop back, survey the field, and miss blitheringly open guys.

    Arizona also gives Rich Rod a chance to build a program from the bottom up, which he demonstrably does well.

    I wish him luck as well.

  13. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 7:20 PM

    Nice post. I wanted RR to get one more year at Michigan (with a new DC, obviously), but I can't argue that his firing was unjustified. I'm glad to see he got another shot. Hopefully he learns from his mistakes, as once he gets those offenses going, they're fun to watch.

  14. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 9:22 PM

    @ Anonymous 10:49 a.m.

    You're right that Rodriguez made excuses and sometimes shifted the blame to not so much his players, but the hand he was dealt. The things he was saying, Michigan fans were thinking. For example, Jonathan Chait wrote a column about how Michigan only had 69 or 70 scholarship players in 2009.

    It was an error in judgment on Rodriguez's part, because he thought people would understand that he was just telling the truth. Unfortunately, the "no excuses" thing is more acceptable coming out of the mouth of a head coach.

  15. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 9:24 PM

    @ MH20 and MGoBlake

    Thanks for pointing out Matt Scott. I perused the roster and could have sworn that each one was listed as a pro-style QB on their recruiting profiles, but I missed Matt Scott. His numbers aren't bad, actually. Maybe he'll be able to pull it off. For Arizona's sake, I hope he can.

  16. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 9:53 PM

    "there are several steps: first you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close, and then you win big."

    Which stage is Hoke on?

  17. Comments: 21383
    Nov 22, 2011 at 10:05 PM

    @ guanxi 4:53 p.m.

    Well, the program was already somewhat built…so I'd say he's on the winning close stage.

  18. Comments: 21383
    Painter Smurf
    Nov 23, 2011 at 4:21 AM

    Not sure if this long, linear program building model is universal. I saw something posted on one of the other sites that showed that if a coach wants to win a NC, his best chances of doing it are in his first 2-3 years in the program (a la Carr, Tressel, Meyer, Saban). The NC analogy may not apply in Arizona's case, but the principle that good coaches do not take 4+ years to build a program is probably relevant. Not sure what the situation is at Arizona, but I don't think they will give RR any more time than UM did to turn things around. If he has an epically bad defense in year 3 there, he will (rightfully) be shown the door. Also, I think you only get to scapegoat a coordinator once. If you have to do it a second time over a short period as RR did with DC's, it's a clear sign that something bigger is amiss.

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