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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Arizona’s offseason a success so far

Arizona’s epic collapse to close out the 2010 season forced head coach Mike Stoops to take a long, hard look at every facet of Arizona football.  

“”We have to reevaluate all aspects of our program: coaching, philosophy, personnel,”” he said after the Wildcats were dominated by Oklahoma State to lose their fifth consecutive game.

Only 20 days have passed since Arizona embarrassed itself in its second straight bowl game, but Stoops is already well on his way to re-tooling the program in all three of those areas.

Stoops always says he replaces great coaches with great coaches, and he did exactly that after losing Greg Brown and Mike Tuiasosopo to Colorado and Bill Bedenbaugh to West Virginia.

He hit the coaching jackpot with his replacements.

Stoops most recently lured in Duane Akina — who coached at Arizona under Dick Tomey at from 1987-2000 — from the University of Texas.

Akina is a heralded defensive mastermind and will help improve an Arizona secondary that proved inconsistent over the course of last season. His resume speaks for itself.

His Longhorns defense ranked sixth in the country and first in the Big 12 in total defense last season. During the course of his 32 years as a collegiate coach, Akina’s churned out six Thorpe Award finalists (three of whom won), given to the nation’s top defensive back, while sending 23 defensive backs to the NFL.

Akina seems to be the perfect coach to rejuvenate a fallen Trevin Wade and develop younger defensive backs like Adam Hall, Marquis Flowers, Shaquille Richardson and Jonathan McKnight.

Stoops brought in the right guy to maximize Arizona’s defensive talent and appeared to have done the same with the Wildcats’ offense. Robert Anae, who served as BYU’s offensive coordinator for the past five seasons, is Arizona’s new offensive line coach and “”run game coordinator,”” according to Stoops.

Anae coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and “”couldn’t be a better fit,”” Stoops said. Stoops wants the Wildcats to move more toward a Texas Tech style of spread offense, and Anae is the perfect guy for the job.

The Wildcats also brought on former Arizona and NFL standout Joe Salave’a to coach the defensive tackles. That coaching trio has Arizona set up for success on and off of the field.

Both Anae and Akina were born in Hawaii, while Salave’a is from American Samoa, which gives Arizona a leg up in landing the heavily sought-after Polynesian recruits.

As Stoops promised, he replaced Brown, Tuiasosopo and Bedenbaugh with even better coaches heading into the 2011 season.

With those changes in coaching comes a much-needed change in philosophy. Stoops always wanted a run-heavy, smashmouth team that could control the clock and pound the football.

But he even admitted that the Wildcats forced the run at times last season, and he’s finally realizing that Arizona’s personnel is set up for a spread offense that moves the chains through the air.

Nick Foles and the Wildcats set a school record for passing yards in a season last year, and that should only improve with Anae’s knowledge and Arizona’s top-notch receivers.

Juron Criner, who opted to return for his senior season, and Texas transfer Dan Buckner lead the deepest and most talented receiving corps Arizona has ever seen.

So it appears that change in philosophy Stoops talked about is also underway.

As far as personnel, the Wildcats still need to rebuild almost their entire offensive line while replacing both of their defensive ends. That will be the biggest challenge heading into next season, but Stoops is an excellent recruiter, and the Wildcats have defensive linemen who could possibly start at defensive end.

So although the Wildcats’ falling out at the end of 2010 leaves a sour taste for Arizona football heading into 2011, the future isn’t as grim as it may seem.

“”I disagree with a lot of what’s been said about where the direction of our football team is headed,”” Stoops said.

It remains to be seen how these changes translate on the field, however. Arizona’s still proven that it can’t win big games.

The Wildcats so often flirt with greatness but fall back toward mediocrity. These changes, however, may be exactly what they need to finally take that leap of faith.

— Mike Schmitz is a marketing junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu

 

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