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 Rivals.com 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.