Arizona Football

Gimino: The state of Arizona Wildcats football

(Photo by Emily Gauci/Arizona Athletics)

(Photo by Emily Gauci/Arizona Athletics)

Arizona lost the coin toss Saturday at Washington State. If it had won, it should have elected not to play.

You saw it. It was bad. It was historically bad. It was the New England Patriots vs. Johns Hopkins.

What’s there to say?

As I arrived to McKale Center for a basketball exhibition Sunday afternoon, I expected to see a torch-and-pitchfork crowd outside the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. A still-spiraling football season — is a 69-7 loss to the Cougars truly bottom? — brings out all sorts of frustration, plenty of it earned and deserved.

If you have lost faith in Rich Rodriguez to lead the program and turn things back around, I’m not here to talk you out of it.

But let’s take a look at what’s what as Arizona heads into its final three games, starting Saturday night against 16th-ranked Colorado:

1. This is not Mackovic, Part II

The John Mackovic era was three horrible seasons. This is one ghastly year. Two seasons ago, Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats were winning the Pac-12 South.

The Mackovic era was toxic. This isn’t. It’s truly impossible to gauge the level to which this group still cares, is still engaged. It’s not 100 percent, but it ain’t zero. And, to set the bar ridiculously low, it’s not as if players are staging a revolt and complaining to the school president.

2. Let’s not complicate things

Arizona is in this situation because of bad recruiting.

Arizona has one way out of this situation: Good recruiting.

Analysis over.

3. Here’s what happened to the talent level

I see it as a three-part problem.

–Rodriguez had too many coaches on staff who weren’t active enough in recruiting.

–Rodriguez brought his East Coast staff with him to Arizona and didn’t have the needed deep ties in Southern California, which will always be UA’s primary recruiting hub.

“A good recruiter, you can put him anywhere and he can recruit, but it helps to have long-standing ties in areas that we need to do well in, which is Southern California,” Rodriguez said a couple of weeks ago.

–Rodriguez “settled” for too many recruits. That’s not me saying it, it’s Rodriguez.

“You always make a few mistakes in recruiting,” Rodriguez said. “But we probably weren’t aggressive enough in trying to get certain guys. We’re going to get told ‘no’ a lot, we know that, but we still have to be aggressive in getting some of the top talent.

“The mindset of some of the new guys (coaches) is to be that aggressive, try to get some of that top talent.”

Who doesn’t love a good walk-on story, or an OKG like Scooby Wright, or even a local under-the-radar kid like Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles? Every successful Arizona team has had multiple of those kind of players. But when you don’t surround them with guys with clear NFL talent, you get a season like 2016.

Rodriguez took steps to fix all this in the offseason. The all-new defensive coaching staff is younger, solidly entrenched in L.A., and can connect with kids in a social-media, video-game-playing world.

That’s why this is more like Year 1 than Year 5.

4. Don’t use to the “this should never happen” line

Sure. You’re right. Rodriguez shouldn’t be 2-7 overall and 0-6 in the Pac-12 in his fifth season.

Notre Dame shouldn’t be 3-6 in Brian Kelly’s seventh season. Michigan State shouldn’t be 0-6 in the Big Ten in Mark Dantonio’s 10th season a year after making the College Football Playoff. UCLA should not be 1-5 in the Pac-12 in Jim Mora’s fifth season.

Texas should never miss a bowl.

Oregon should most definitely never, ever, be 1-5 in the Pac-12.

All these things should never happen. Yet, they happen. It’s football. Not everyone can get the results they think they deserve. Unless you’re Alabama under Nick Saban or Ohio State under Urban Meyer, you’re not riding rainbows to the top of the polls every season.

Duke was playing for the ACC title just three years ago. Now, the Blue Devils are winless in league play. Georgia Tech played in the ACC championship game in 2014 … and then won a scant three games a year later.

This is the upside-down world in which Arizona football has ALWAYS lived. You get to ride a rainbow every now and then, but mostly you’re riding a rollercoaster.

5. My bottom line

I think Rodriguez is a good coach who has made some bad decisions. We talked about those above.

Arizona lacks depth, top-end talent and health. Rodriguez controls two of those.

If he hadn’t made staff moves after last season — including hiring a “director of recruiting” in Chris Singletary to pair with “player personnel” stalwart Matt Dudek — then I wouldn’t be particularly bullish about his potential to reset and re-launch the program.

Perhaps you think he hasn’t done enough. Maybe you don’t think he’s the right guy.

In any case, he’s not on the hot seat right now. Next season might be a different story. That’s fair. It’s a results-oriented business. RichRod knows that.

A dramatic one-year turnaround might seem far-fetched, although I’ve seen it happen (Arizona from 1991 to 1992). More likely, assuming reasonable health, getting back to a bowl game in 2017 and pointing toward bigger things in 2018 seems realistic.

It took at least a couple of years to dig this hole; it will take a couple to get out.

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