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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Is Arizona football head coach Rich Rod on track?

A+disgruntled+Rich+Rodriguez+speaks+into+his+headset+during+the+last+few+minutes+of+Arizonas+38-30+loss+to+USC+at+Los+Angeles+Memorial+Coliseum+on+Nov.+7%2C+2015.+This+season%2C+the+Cats+visit+UCLA+Oct.+1.
Rebecca Noble

A disgruntled Rich Rodriguez speaks into his headset during the last few minutes of Arizona’s 38-30 loss to USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Nov. 7, 2015. This season, the ‘Cats visit UCLA Oct. 1.

When Rich Rodriguez took over the Arizona football program, it was considered a great hire. There wasn’t much to lose and both sides had everything to gain. Rodriguez was coming from television but had a very tumultuous couple of years highlighted by not being a “Michigan man” when coaching the Wolverines from 2008 to 2010.

Despite that, Rodriguez was viewed around college football as an offensive mastermind and one of the key innovators of the spread offense. His success at Arizona can be viewed in several different ways, but there is no doubt that the Wildcats are in a better place now than five years ago, but is that enough?

Upon taking over the Arizona football program, Rodriguez made several statements referring to the atmosphere at Arizona and the mentality required to play for UA.

“We need all the support we can get. … I want to win the Rose Bowl, be in the top 10 every year,” Rodriguez said during his introductory news conference on Nov. 22, 2011. “It doesn’t happen without tremendous support.”

The support he has received within the Tucson community has been average at best. Attendance in Arizona Stadium averaged 51,393 last season, but that figure is largely skewed. Games against Washington State and Oregon State, as well as the home finale versus Utah, were nowhere near capacity, which is of concern to an athletic program that desperately needs to renovate certain areas of its stadium.

Losing that revenue is difficult and other measures tend to be taken to recoup that money. ZonaZoo tickets for students increased and the department started its football marketing campaign earlier than ever this year.

Past the lack of support, though, Rodriguez has other things to worry about.

To this point, Rodriguez has elevated the program to a point where a 6-6 season is viewed as a disappointment. Last season, the Wildcats were hit hard with the injury bug and limped to 7-6 with yet another New Mexico Bowl victory, the second in Rodriguez’ tenure. Hardly a top-10 finish, though, and certainly not what he hoped for when accepting the position.

“We’ve got to take more steps to improve and it starts with recruiting, and I think that is taking place,” Rodriguez said. “Then, obviously, it has to translate to the play on the field. There are always things we need to get better at, including myself, and we’re committed to doing that.”

Recruiting—something Arizona fans foam at the mouth for in terms of basketball—has not met expectations when it comes to football. Rodriguez made changes to his staff and brought in Marcel Yates and Donte Williams when defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel was relieved of his duties.

Yates, the former defensive coordinator for Boise State; and Williams, the former recruiting coordinator and secondary coach for San Jose State, have made waves on the recruiting trail. Both coaches have a significant footprint in California and it is paying dividends so far.

The Wildcats rank No. 19 overall and No. 2 in the Pac-12 Conference on the recruiting trail, according to 247sports.com.

“Certainly, when you hire coaches that are used to recruiting the areas we’re recruiting, that helps,” Rodriguez said. “They have ties and they have a youthful energy in recruiting; they connect well. The coordinators have to be great recruiters and teachers. I think my staff has both.”

The results, from a national championship perspective, are nowhere near where they need to be. Aside from 2014 and flirting with a possible College Football Playoff berth, the Wildcats have been irrelevant. That could be changing for multiple reasons, not the least of which being an influx of talent that may already be here.

“I see the program getting better each year,” senior wide receiver Trey Griffey said. “The freshman class, wow. They are really talented, they are real nice, they pick up plays easily and are eager to learn.”

Arizona fans hope Griffey is right. Though there is a lot to be desired infrastructure-wise, the results on the field ultimately dictate progress monetarily; they go hand in hand.

The ultimate judgement to say whether Rodriguez is a successful coach is unfortunately one of the last things on the list from the fans’ perspective.

It is an important factor for parents of recruits, and one Rodriguez was criticized for at Michigan. He is far removed from those sentiments when asking the players about the atmosphere.

“We are a family. [Rodriguez] always preaches that,” said senior wide receiver Samajie Grant. “These coaches here, I would play for them if I could start my whole life over. Other schools teach their players ‘football, football, football,’ where our coaches teach us about more than that.”

The Rose Bowl and national championship are two items on a long checklist of goals that coach Rodriguez would like to attain. He hasn’t come close to meeting those expectations but does have the program moving in the right direction. The last four years have been more successful than any four-year run in UA football history.

They have reached a bowl game for four straight seasons for the first time in program history. With that, though, is the underlying reality that the clock is ticking for Rodriguez to reach higher peaks before the avalanche hits him. Soon, the fans will demand more. They should; most coaches don’t get five years to prove their system works.

In order for the program to reach new heights, you have to look back to the words that Rodriguez uttered in reference to whether Tucson can bring a national championship in football. “Why not us, why not now?” Rodriguez questioned at his introductory news conference.

For Rodriguez, his success may be as limited as the support he receives. Athletics bleeds into the university and captures the attention of students and the community, especially during football and basketball season. The community needs to support the program, but Rich Rodriguez needs to provide them a reason to on the field.

The average results on the field have resulted in average results in the stands and there may not be an easy solution to either problem. Rodriguez is not satisfied—most coaches aren’t—but he also knows it hasn’t quite been about what is on the field, and Tucson needs to own that.


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