Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez to replace Mike Stoops as its next head football coach. Rodriguez had his issues at Michigan, but Arizona is not Michigan. This has the potential to be a great move for both parties.
Rodriguez inherits a program with tremendous potential. Arizona has no tradition, but it is a party school with warm weather and easy recruiting access to hotbeds in California and Texas. With a legit football program in place, it’s not a hard sell for recruits. It’s a giant in utero. The Pac 12 is not a conference rife with entrenched powers. The only difference between Arizona and Stanford or Oregon is a few years of recruiting and system development.
For Arizona this is a shrewd hire. Rodriguez is one of the best offensive minds in the sport. His offense revolutionized college football. He took West Virginia to within a hair of a national title. He once rejected an offer from Alabama. He has his weak points, but that proven pedigree of head coach doesn’t come available for Arizona very often.
The Offense: This isn’t Michigan. Arizona already runs a fast-paced spread offense. Rodriguez gets an experienced quarterback in Matt Scott, a dual threat with starting experience, who redshirted for his true senior year to get a crack at the job after Foles left. Zona’s five new offensive line starters this year, become five returing starters in 2012. The issue will be receivers. Arizona loses four of their top five to graduation, most notably Juron Criner.
The Defense: Rodriguez did not convince Jeff Casteel to come with him to Michigan. That killed his tenure. He hired two defensive coordinators, he meddled, he lost patience, he undermined and, ultimately, he was fired for his team’s performance on that side of the ball. Casteel is an elite DC, adept at putting top 20 caliber units on the field without top 20 talent. With the WVU coaching turnover, Casteel might be more willing to leave this time around. If not, his hire will be an interesting one.
The Media: Rodriguez is honest. He is emotional and he can speak off the cuff. Michigan’s intensive media climate was unforgiving. In Morgantown a gaffe goes unnoticed or goes away. At Michigan, it is the lead story on ESPN within the hour, it lingers and it becomes a meme. Hoke, like Carr before him, erects stonewalls around the program, is obsessively boring and uncontroversial and spouts the company line. Rodriguez was not going to be that guy. Arizona is a laidback backwater. It’s not a traditional football school. That environment should be more suitable for him.
The Wild West: Rodriguez has done all his coaching east of the Mississippi. He has no ties in California and Texas, where he must establish beachheads to be successful. At Michigan, he was criticized for chasing pipedreams in Pahokee while Michigan State swallowed up the state’s best recruits. Rodriguez landed two of Michigan’s top ten in 2009 and one in 2010. Hoke’s first class in 2012 has five of the top seven. He will bring his assistants he’s comfortable with and their families, but may want to consider staff members with experience in his key recruiting states.
The NCAA Issues: Michigan admitted major NCAA violations under Rodriguez’ tenure. It’s a scarlet letter that will appear in every AP-style article concerning his past. It’s also nonsense. He wasn’t running a culture gone corrupt at Michigan. The Free Press published a misleading expose ostensibly accusing him of abusing kids, which took kids’ quotes out of context and deliberately made no distinction between countable and non-countable hours. (Breaking: You’re expected to put in more than 20 hours per week to be a successful FBS football player) This led the NCAA to crawl inside Michigan’s football office with a speculum and find a few issues with use of quality control staff and a paperwork breakdown. This isn’t a character indictment. If anything, Rodriguez will be extra vigilant about ensuring his TPS reports are filed with the proper font.
Rodriguez would be a risky hire for some schools. This is Arizona, where any reward is worth the risk. If he gets the talent to run his offense and his defense isn’t an absolute disaster, he is a coach who can finally get the Wildcats to a Rose Bowl.