Arizona Basketball

Friday Fix: Byrne benefited from good timing to lure Rodriguez but also had the guts to hire him





Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, left, introduces Rich Rodriguez as the new football coach on Nov. 22, 2011 (YouTube video, click on picture to access video)

After observing how some athletic directors and universities are handling football coaching changes this season, it exemplifies how timing and an athletic director willing to take a chance is paramount. No question about it, Greg Byrne lucked out that Rich Rodriguez was available. Knowing that candidates would be harder to come by, and a start on recruiting was a must right after the season, Byrne dismissed Mike Stoops six games into last season. Byrne could have done what Auburn and Arkansas did this year and wait until the end of the season to fire Stoops and take a chance at an active successful coach. Byrne jumped at the opportunity to hire Rodriguez last year before Arizona concluded its season against ASU and Louisiana-Lafayette. Byrne prioritized his time from the firing of Stoops to the hiring of Rodriguez to do his homework on potential candidates and pursue the best possible hire.

It helped that Rodriguez was out of football for the line of communication between Byrne and Rodriguez to materialize at a faster rate than what we have seen from Arkansas. Rodriguez had some baggage with his firing after only three years at Michigan and the NCAA probe of the Wolverines with him as coach, but Byrne did not hesitate to pursue him whereas other athletic directors might have steered clear of him. The Razorbacks have known all season that John L. Smith’s days were numbered. They could already have a head coach lined up. Butch Davis, who was cleared of wrongdoing by the NCAA at North Carolina, is available. Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long obviously is not impressed with Davis like Byrne was with Rodriguez. Long first pursued, of all coaches, Les Miles, who is becoming an institution at LSU. The other pool of coaches out of work are not as impressive as Rodriguez — Dan Hawkins, Rick Neuheisel, Tommy Bowden and Ron Zook. … What goes around comes around with timing and the hire of a head coach. Arizona missed out on the chance to hire Mike Montgomery, available after his firing from Goldn State, when Lute Olson decided to try to coach in 2007-08 and 2008-09. The Wildcats made good, however, with the hiring of Sean Miller, who is on track to get the Wildcats back to the Final Four. …

Arizona was 17-40 in the five years after it forced Dick Tomey to resign (YouTube still)

A study published last month in Social Science Quarterly (SSQ) compared the performance of major college teams that replaced their coach with teams with similar records that kept their head coach. SSQ used data from 1997 to 2010. The results are shocking. Tracked over a five-year period following the coaching changes, teams with the worst records subsequently performed about the same as other struggling teams that did not replace their coach. Mediocre teams — those that were about .500 in the year before a coaching change — performed worse than similar teams that did not replace their coach. … The SSQ editors write: “Despite the fanfare that often accompanies the hiring of a new coach, our research demonstrates that at least with respect to on-field performance, coach replacement can be expected to be, at best, a break-even antidote. These findings, coupled with the significant costs universities typically incur by choosing to replace a head football coach, suggest that universities should be cautious in their decision to discharge their coach for performance reasons.” … This is especially true in the case of Arizona forcing Dick Tomey to resign in 2000. The Wildcats were 17-40 in the five years after Tomey left with John Mackovic and Stoops coaching. Will the SSQ study be true for Arizona after Stoops’ dismissal? Rodriguez is off to a good start with a 7-5 record with a bowl game pending. The Wildcats finished 4-8 last season (they played the last six games under interim coach Tim Kish). Five other FBS teams went 4-8 last season — Boston College, Miami of Ohio, Rice, Louisiana-Monroe and Washington State. Boston College stuck with coach Frank Spaziani, who was fired recently after the Eagles finished 2-10. Miami’s Don Treadwell finished 4-8 again this season in his second season as head coach. Rice coach David Bailiff improved to 6-6 this season in his sixth year. Louisiana-Monroe’s Todd Berry is 7-4 in his third season. Washington State also dismissed coach Paul Wulff last season and Mike Leach finished 3-9 in his first season. So after the first season following Stoops’ firing, the Wildcats’ winning percentage is .583. The coaches (Spaziani, Treadwell, Bailiff and Berry) who remained at their schools following a 4-8 season last year are 19-28 (winning percentage of .404). Byrne and Rodriguez lead with four seasons to go. …

Incoming Arizona quarterback recruit Jarrett Anu Solomon speaks to Sports Illustrated in this video after the publication named him the national high school player of the week (Video is to the right)

Incoming Arizona quarterback recruit Jarrett “Anu” Solomon of Las Vegas Bishop Gorman was selected the Sports Illustrated High School Player of the Week. Solomon, who will start his fourth consecutive state championship game tomorrow against Liberty, has started all 60 games of his career since he was a freshman. He will likely be the starter for Arizona next season, keeping that starting streak alive. Solomon, 6-1 and 200, has completed 146 of his 214 pass attempts for 2,614 yards. He has thrown an astounding 32 touchdown passes compared to only four interceptions. He has also rushed for 184 yards on 43 carries, an average of 4.3 yards a carry. … In the well-produced SI video, Solomon and Gorman coach Tony Sanchez talk about his decision to play for Arizona. Solomon also explains the meaning behind his middle name “Anu” — “The birth of life”. During his birth, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck and he could not immediately breath until doctors freed him. Solomon chose Arizona over ASU, Washington, UCLA and Utah. “The reason why I picked Arizona is they have a great coach — Rich Rodriguez,” Solomon said in the video. “It’s a great school and it has a great education. It has a great Business system. I want to major in Business if football doesn’t work.” Sanchez said: “I think the University of Arizona liked Jarrett for a number of reasons. Obviously, the incredible arm strength. He’s an incredible athlete. But I really think they like the person that he was too after they got to know him and meet his family. They really felt comfortable with the intangibles … his character, his work ethic … all those little things. I think he’ll do a great job there.” …

Jarrett Anu Solomon’s stats this season (Source: MaxPreps)

Neuheisel, an analyst for the Pac-12 Networks and SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation, predicted today that the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-12 will each have 16 teams in the near future “because none of those conferences have lost any teams. … They will continue to grow into super conferences.” If that is the case, which four teams join the Pac-12? Teams in Texas perhaps and possibly San Diego State is my best guess when factoring TV markets. … Former Arizona hoops player Kenny Lofton became the first former UA athlete to appear on a Hall of Fame ballot on Nov. 28. BaseballTucson.com, a site worth visiting, makes a case for Lofton making it to the Hall. He had a career .299 average accumulating 2,428 hits, 1,528 runs, and 622 stolen bases. He is ranked 15th all-time in stolen bases and led the American League five times in that category. Lofton won four Gold Glove awards and played in six All-Star games. He reached the playoffs in 11 of his 17 big league seasons, including two World Series appearances with the Cleveland Indians in 1995 and the San Francisco Giants in 2002. … I agree with the assessment of Baseball Tucson’s Andrew Cockrum that Trevor Hoffman, who will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2015, will be the first former Wildcat to be inducted. Lofton will get his opportunity in the years to come. …

Former Arizona point guard Nic Wise is currently rehabbing a bum knee and is expected to return to Italy to play professionally next month. In the meantime, Wise is working in real estate and is a member of World Ventures, a travel club that grants members access to discounted vacations. … Wise’s predecessor, Mustafa Shakur, continues to plug along in Italy after he almost landed a spot NBA a couple of years ago. In his most recent game on Nov. 25, Shakur scored 26 points with six assists to lead his team Sidigas AV to an 81-71 win over Enel Brindisi. If you have the time, you can watch the game in its entirety on YouTube. Shakur wears No. 22 for the team in white. Former Arizona high-profile commit Ndudi Ebi and UCLA player Nikola Dragovic are a couple of Shakur’s teammates.

Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner

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