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Ask any head coach: They will tell you to give them at least five seasons. They will be at a desirable place with their system in tow and talent in place. Wins are to be expected, bowl appearances a given.
Rich Rodriguez was only afforded three seasons at Michigan before his firing in 2010, prompting him to tell the media several times he was not given enough time.
He told ESPN in a 2014 interview: “We still thought, with all the BS that was going on, all the things that were happening — it looked like some people were trying to sabotage their own program that were working for the university — all that stuff we went through, we still thought we’d be OK by the time we went to Year 4 or 5, that we were going to have a chance to compete for championships. But guess what? We didn’t get to Year 4, we didn’t get to Year 5. That was the most frustrating part about it.”
Rodriguez is at Year 5 with Arizona.
In the last 60 years, Arizona’s head football coaches have reached five seasons in their tenure five times. Rodriguez makes it six. The combined record of the five previous coaches in their fifth year: A pedestrian 28-27.
It is no wonder that Rodriguez can get by with a six-win season this year. This is not Michigan in more ways than one. No overzealous alumni. No fishbowl.
Arizona’s followers have reasons to believe Rodriguez’s fifth year on the job is a rebuilding project, especially on defense. Rodriguez has a new defensive coordinator in Marcel Yates who has a different coaching philosophy than his predecessor, Jeff Casteel.
The combination of new schemes and unproven personnel — especially with Scooby Wright III off to the NFL — is making the fans brace for a probable .500 record.
Dick Tomey is the longest tenured coach in Arizona history (14 years from 1987 to 2000) since J.F. “Pop” McKale roamed the sidelines from 1914 to 1930. Tomey’s record in his fifth season in 1991: 4-7.
Arizona lost five of its last seven games that season, including a 37-14 defeat at ASU that put an end to “The Streak”. Ironically enough, ASU fired its head coach, Larry Marmie, a few days after that game. Cedric Dempsey stuck with Tomey, who had the misfortune of losing 15 starters to injuries that season for one or more games.
The following season the Desert Swarm defense was born reviving Tomey’s career at Arizona for another eight more seasons. If Dempsey had a quick-trigger finger? Imagine the Desert Swarm era never happening?
The best seasons of those Arizona coaches in their fifth year were Larry Smith with a 7-4 record in 1984 and Mike Stoops at 8-5 in 2008. Smith’s 1984 team completed a two-year NCAA probation by winning its last three games that season. Stoops reached the zenith of his tenure at Arizona with a victory over BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl to conclude the 2008 season.
Arizona fans were excited about the prospects of both Smith and Stoops following those seasons. Neither lasted more than three seasons in Tucson thereafter. Smith bolted for greener pastures at USC after the 1986 season. Stoops was fired during the 2011 season after starting 1-5.
Other than Tomey and McKale, longevity is a foreign word for Arizona’s football coaches.
Will Rodriguez’s fifth season contribute to what will be a sustained career in Tucson? Or will it be a crossroads toward something else?
Tomey traveled nine years beyond his fifth season and is now the most victorious head coach in Arizona history with a 95-64-4 record. The others who have reached at least five seasons in the last 60 years — Warren Woodson, Jim LaRue, Smith and Stoops — lasted only a combined eight seasons after the five-year mark.
From Woodson to Rodriguez in those 60 years, Arizona has hired 12 coaches overall, an average of one every … yes … five years.
Arizona fans should enjoy Rodriguez while they can, win or lose this season. Counting on him to coach Arizona until he retires may be asking for too much considering the history of the program. It’s always a case of wait and see and hope for the best with Arizona. Can Rodriguez make his career in Tucson and the Wildcats’ fortunes a sure thing?
ARIZONA COACHES TENURED AT LEAST FIVE YEARS IN LAST 60 YEARS
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.