Arizona’s football program has employed 28 full-time coaches since the program started in 1899, with six (21.4 percent) of them reaching a sixth season like Rich Rodriguez has this year.
Four of the last five coaches — Larry Smith, Dick Tomey, Mike Stoops and Rodriguez — are among those six. Only John Mackovic did not last that long, hired in 2001 and fired in 2003, since Smith’s hire in 1980.
Rodriguez has experienced the most success in terms of bowl appearances in the first five years of a tenure at Arizona.
The number of bowl games reached by their sixth year: Smith one (1985 Sun Bowl), Tomey two (1989 Copper Bowl and 1990 Aloha Bowl) and Rodriguez four (2012 New Mexico Bowl, 2013 AdvoCare V100 Bowl, 2014 Fiesta Bowl and 2015 New Mexico Bowl).
Stoops reached his first bowl in his sixth year, the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl, the pinnacle of his career at Arizona with the 31-21 win over BYU.
Stoops, who had to revive the program from the depths of where Mackovic took it, is the only coach who has reached a sixth year that finished with a losing career record, 41-50 from 2003 to 2011.
How long do coaches last after they reach their sixth season at Arizona?
Of the five previous coaches who made it to at least six years, they stayed at Arizona an average of five years after that point.[table “” not found /]
J.F. “Pop” McKale lasted 10 years after that mark and Tomey eight years.
Miles Casteel and Jim LaRue were around for two more years after reaching year No. 6 and Smith left for USC after the following season, capped with school’s first bowl win in the 1986 Aloha Bowl against North Carolina.
In Smith’s sixth season — 1985 — he coached Arizona to its first bowl game (the Sun Bowl against Georgia) in six years.
Where will Rodriguez fall? If he extends to match or exceed the longevity McKale and Tomey, something magical may have happened with the program from now until then.
If he joins Casteel, LaRue and Smith as early departures, something negative will have happened with the program.
Casteel and LaRue were fired and Smith’s exit to USC left many in Tucson miffed that he would leave for a conference rival.
Rodriguez’s 36 victories entering his sixth season are the most of any Arizona coach at that point, yet many fans believe this is a make-or-break season for him to keep his job.
Tomey, Arizona’s career leader with 95 wins from 1987 to 2000, had a record of 30-24-3 entering his sixth season in 1992. Worthy of mention: the Desert Swarm was born in Tomey’s sixth season — which was 25 years ago — after Arizona started that season 1-1-1 including a disparaging tie at Oregon State.
Tomey was under the same kind of scrutiny Rodriguez finds himself now.
The Desert Swarm engulfed No. 1 Washington in 1992 after nearly upsetting No. 1 Miami on the road the week after that Oregon State debacle.
In the next season, Tomey’s seventh at Arizona, the Wildcats went to the Fiesta Bowl, where it beat Miami 29-0 and finished with the most wins in school history — 10 — at that point.
To recap: Stoops experienced his first successful rise in his sixth season and Smith and Tomey took Arizona’s program to lofty heights in their sixth and seventh seasons.
Will Rodriguez keep in line with that history? Will he be given that chance?
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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.