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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Sports’ Year in Review: Byrne makes his mark

Annie Marum
Annie Marum/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Athletic Director Greg Bryne announced his new hire for the 2012 football season, Rich Rodriquiz at the official press conference and McKale center Tuesday Nov. 22.

Stoops out, RichRod in

After being hired in 2004, Mike Stoops brought Arizona’s football program back into relevancy and to the brink of being a conference contender. The Wildcats went to three straight bowl games and were one game away from their first-ever Rose Bowl in 2009.

But then things took a turn for the worst. After a 1-5 start to the 2011 season, athletic director Greg Byrne decided it was time for a change. Stoops was out after seven-plus years on the job, and the second-year AD needed to make a big-name hire to salvage the fan and booster support that Stoops’ programs had built.
He did just that on Nov. 21 when he hired former Michigan and West Virginia head man Rich Rodriguez as Arizona’s football coach. The spread offense guru helped develop the now-famous read-option offense and was the head of a perennial conference championship contender while at West Virginia.

The 48-year-old head coach’s system is a much better fit in the Pac-12 than it was in the Big Ten and should give fans enough excitement to fill Arizona Stadium, and the energy around the program should only grow once the North End Zone project is completed in the next few years.

Hoops squad returns to elite with Elite Eight run

Two tumultuous years preceded the hiring of men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller, but after a 16-15 finish in his first season, Arizona’s return to the top of the college basketball world came sooner than expected under its new head coach.

Behind soon-to-be No. 2 NBA Draft pick Derrick Williams, the Wildcats made their way through the NCAA tournament to the Elite Eight. Though they lost to eventual champion UConn, the Wildcats defeated Memphis and Texas in Tulsa, Okla, during the second and third rounds behind thrilling, down-to-the-wire plays by Williams. First it was his block on Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon. Then Williams scored on a go-ahead, and-one bucket against Texas with seconds remaining to set up a date with the Duke Blue Devils.

Facing a Duke team in Anaheim, Calif., that won the NCAA title in 2010 and came into the 2011 tournament as a No. 1 seed, there was magic for the Wildcats.

Williams scored 25 first-half points en route to 32 total before the Wildcats blew the doors open in the second half, winning 93-77 in front of a Wildcat-heavy crowd in the Honda Center.

The win was viewed as redemption for Duke’s 2001 NCAA Championship victory against Arizona, but in the Elite Eight game against UConn, the Wildcats missed two shots on the final play that would have catapulted them into the Final Four.

Miller retained after Maryland temptation

After Arizona’s Elite Eight run a season ago, Tucson seemed primed to support another national power at McKale Center year after year. Head coach Sean Miller put a temporary halt on those plans when he met with Maryland in early May and, according to incorrect reports, took the Terrapins’ head coaching job.

But Miller was ultimately lured back to Tucson by athletic director Greg Byrne, thanks in part to a two-year contract extension that gave the coach an extra $100,000 per year and included other perks like an increase in chartered flight time and academic incentives.

Had Miller decided to leave Arizona, the Wildcats would have been searching for their fifth head coach in six seasons following the end of the Lute Olson era.

Instead, Miller, now under contract through 2016, has turned into one of the best recruiters in the country. ranked Arizona’s 2011 class No. 4 in the nation and its 2012 class No. 1.

The 43-year-old head coach has helped Arizona become one of the highest revenue-generating basketball programs in America. The Wildcats brought in $19.3 million in revenue in his first season in 2010, good for the fourth most in the country.

Runner, jumper win individual titles

2011 was a big one for both the Arizona track and field and cross-country teams, and it was all thanks to individual performances by distance runner Lawi Lalang and high jumper Brigetta Barrett.

Freshman Lalang, in his first formal cross-country race, won the 2011 NCAA Championship and went undefeated on the season.

Lalang finished his first season named the USTFCCCA Male West Regional Athlete of the Year, USTFCCCA Men’s Athlete of the Year, Pac-12 Newcomer of the Year, Pac-12 Male Runner of the Year, First-Team All Conference honors, won the Pac-12 individual championship and an individual NCAA championship.

In addition, Lalang set three course records and missed the national championship record in Terra Haute, Ind., by only three seconds. Lalang’s average winning margin is currently 22.5 seconds after running the final 5,000 meters of the national championship race virtually alone.

Barrett had a season to remember as well. She was the 2011 USA Outdoor high jump champion, the NCAA Indoor and NCAA Outdoor champion, and Pac-10 Outdoor winner.

She also won a gold medal at the World University Games in China with a 6-foot, 5-inch leap in August, placing her among the best high-jumpers in the world.

Busch leaves swim program for Team USA

After pioneering the success of Arizona’s swim program for 22 years, former head coach Frank Busch left the Wildcats to lead USA Swimming as the national team director in May.

Taking over for Busch is Eric Hansen, the former Wisconsin coach and Arizona swimmer, but the departure marked the end of an era.

“When you think of Arizona swimming, first name that comes to mind is Frank Busch, in spite of all the great Olympians we’ve had here over the years,” Byrne told the Daily Wildcat in September.

Busch led the Arizona men’s and women’s 2008 national championships, and won the NCAA Coach of the Year six times and the Pac-10 Coach of the Year 11 times during his tenure. He also produced 34 Olympians and 10 medal wins from those swimmers through the UA and his club team, the Tucson Ford Dealers Aquatics.

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