Arizona Football

Reflecting on Arizona coaches as Rodriguez turns 50 today


The Arizona football team begins its 2013 season against Northern Arizona at Arizona Stadium on Aug. 30, which is 98 days away. From now until then, this Web site will count down the days with facts about the Wildcats, their players, coaching staff and opponents. This is not a ranking, only a list of 100 facts and observances related to the 2013 Arizona football team and coach Rich Rodriguez.

On to Day 98 of our countdown. …

Rich Rodriguez turns 50 today, making him only the fifth out of 19 permanent Arizona head coaches since J.F. Pop McKale to reach that mark while coaching in Tucson.

The average starting age of Arizona’s coaches starting with McKale (who coached from 1914-1930) is 38.9 years old. Rodriguez was 48 when he was hired Nov. 21, 2011. McKale was the youngest to be hired in this stretch, only 26 years old. He was 43 when he left his football coaching duties to become athletic director.

The average age when the 18 football coaches (before Rodriguez) departed is only 43.7.

That means the average tenure of the coaches is only 4.8 years.

The Rodriguez era is off to an encouraging start with the Wildcats finishing 8-4 with a bowl victory in his first season last year. Arizona fans are hoping Rodriguez becomes the oldest football coach to leave Arizona.

Dick Tomey has that distinction, coaching the Wildcats until he was 62 in 2000. He lasted 13 years at Arizona, the longest tenure since McKale walked the sidelines. The next longest is Miles Casteel (1939-1948) and Jim LaRue (1959-1966), both of whom coached eight years. Casteel did not coach in 1943 and 1944 because Arizona did not field a team during World War II.

“Start” is starting age and “Finish” is age when they left the program
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Rich Rodriguez is the fifth UA coach to reach age 50 during his tenure in Tucson

Rich Rodriguez is the fifth UA coach to reach age 50 during his tenure in Tucson

Hard to believe but Mike Stoops has the fourth-longest tenure, 7 1/2 years, since the McKale years. Larry Smith, who made Arizona believe it can compete in the Pac-10, left for USC after only seven seasons.

The relatively short duration of Arizona coaches shows that Tucson is not a final destination for some, but mostly that eager administrations and boosters wanted someone else to bring victories and championships to the program.

Only five of the 18 coaches starting with McKale left the program on their own accord. Five have been fired, including the two coaches before Rodriguez — Stoops and John Mackovic. Eight were forced to resign, including Tomey.

Reactions to Tomey’s departure were mixed. He is the winningest coach in Arizona history. He brought the program the Desert Swarm defense and players like Tedy Bruschi, Rob Waldrop and Chris McAlister. His detractors were dismayed about how Arizona lost its competitive edge after a 12-1 season in 1998.

Other coaches who “resigned” left on nasty terms.

Warren Woodson, the second coach to reach 50 years old at Arizona after Casteel, told reporters when he quit in 1957 that coaching the Wildcats was “the most miserable experience of my life.” The season before his resignation, students hanged Woodson in effigy from the top of the student union building.

Darrell Mudra left after only two seasons after his infamous Ultimatium Bowl gaffe in 1968. He gave Sun Bowl officials the ultimatum of inviting the UA instead of awaiting the outcome of the winner between the Wildcats and ASU. The Sun Bowl hastily invited Arizona, which wound up losing to ASU 30-7 in Tucson. The Wildcats then lost to Auburn 34-10 in the Sun Bowl.

Mudra’s ultimatum disgusted UA president Richard Harvill, who pressured Mudra into leaving.

Over the last 40 years, Jim Young (1973-1976) and Smith (1980-1986) are the only coaches who were not fired or forced to resign out of six coaches.

Tony Mason, the third UA coach to be in Tucson at 50 years old, lasted only three years from 1977-1979 before NCAA violations forced his dismissal.

Mackovic, whose ouster was spurred by player revolt to the UA’s administration, was gone before finishing his third season in 2003. Mackovic is the oldest coach to be hired at Arizona. He was 57 when Jim Livengood hired him to replace Tomey.

The average hiring age of the UA’s last six coaches — Mason, Smith, Tomey, Mackovic, Stoops and Rodriguez — is much older than the overall 19 starting with McKale. The last six coaches have an average age of 47.3 when they were hired, 8.4 years older than the 38.9 average of the total 19.

Arizona is hoping that in Rodriguez’s case older is wiser, especially after he experienced success at West Virginia and developed a chip on his shoulder from how he was received at Michigan.

LaMonte Hunley

LaMonte Hunley

Bear Bryant coached Alabama until he was 68. Bobby Bowden was 80 when he left Florida State. Joe Paterno reached 85 at Penn State.

If Rodriguez surpasses Tomey’s age of 62 when he left, that means Rodriguez will have a storied career at Arizona.

Instead of students hanging him in effigy at the student union, they will want a statue of him there.

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The best No. 98 to wear the uniform for Arizona in my opinion: LaMonte Hunley, brother of former UA All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley. LaMonte was a third-team All-American as a senior and finished with 400 career tackles. publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He also writes blogs for Lindy’s College Sports, and Sports Illustrated-sponsored site


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