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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

New Pac-12 coaches breathe excitement into Media Day

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – A few miles north of Hollywood Blvd., inside Universal Studios’ Gibson Ampitheatre, Pac-12 coaches and players gave several variations of the typical preseason “we’re going to try our best” speech, perhaps none more entertaining than four first time Pac-12 head coaches.

A third of the Pac-12’s programs experienced a coaching regime change in the 2012 offseason. Of the four coaches, only Jim Mora’s UCLA squad was selected by the media to finish higher than fourth in their respective divisions.

Mike Leach, the eccentric former Texas Tech coach was fired following a suspension stemming from his treatment of a player with a concussion in 2009. Leach takes over a Washington State program that was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North and has not had a winning season since 2004.

“Expectations? Nobody expects more of us than we do out of ourselves,” Leach said. If you do well, everybody is excited.”

Leach will bring his pass-happy spread offense to Pullman, Wash., as well as his success as a head coach that makes a conscious effort to graduate his players. While at Texas Tech, Leach had the highest graduation rate of any public institution and any team in the top 25 in college football.

“Academics you can compete in, too,” Leach said. “You spend a lot of your time working with your players to be competitive people. The difference between being at a university for four or five years and leaving with a degree or without a degree, that degree is not that huge. You’re there anyway.”

UCLA took on a business-like persona this offseason, hiring NFL lifer Jim Mora as their head man through the 2017 season. Mora will attempt to turn around the Bruins, who have not played in the Rose Bowl in 13 years and have not been ranked since the 2007 season, both school records.

Adding insult to injury, UCLA has beaten crosstown rival USC just once since 1999.

“My concern is UCLA and this team, being the best football team that we can be,” Mora said. “ I think it’s a big mistake as a coach — and I understand the fans and the media’s perspective because it is a unique and lively rivalry, but I think as a coach and as a football team, what’s important is you keep your focus on the game you’re getting ready to play.”

Both Pac-12 schools from the state of Arizona hired new coaches this offseason, Todd Graham at Arizona State and Rich Rodriguez moves to Tucson, Ariz. to coach the Wildcats. Rodriguez aims to take the Wildcats to the school’s first-ever Rose Bowl with a familiar offense to senior quarterback Matt Scott, who ran a similar system in high school.

“Matt can run, he can throw, obviously, and he is a very competitive guy,” Rodriguez said. “Will we run him as much as other guys in the past, I don’t know. I hope we don’t have to. We will do what it takes to win ballgames and I know Matt is willing to do that. We’ve got to let Matt be Matt and run our system.”

Upon beginning winter and spring workouts, Rodriguez, whose Wildcats were chosen by media members to finish fourth in the Pac-12 South, noted that his players were not in the physical shape his players were in and according to junior linebacker Jake Fischer, “the difference between the first spring practice and now is astronomical.”

For Graham, who is taking on a third head coaching job in as many years, the philosophy thus far has been discipline and accountability and it seems to be working already.

“I think last year the little things were the big problem,” senior linebacker Brandon Magee said. “I think with Coach Graham implementing discipline in everything we do and accountability, we will eliminate those mistakes. And we have been one of the worst teams in the nation in terms of getting penalties, and that’s unacceptable and Coach stressed how unacceptable that is.”

Although USC and Oregon were heavily favored to win their respective divisions with USC picked to win the conference, the Sun Devils received three first-place votes from media members.

Despite their unfamiliarity with the conference, four coaches, still wet behind the ears, peddled the integrity of their programs using words like accountability, discipline and excitement. Only time will tell if their prophecies come true.

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