So Arizona won just 7 games this year. “Surely they can do better.” “Rich Rodriguez just isn’t a good coach.” “The next guy would surely win more games.”
The answer is maybe.
I am a numbers guy. While I fly off the handle watching a football or basketball game like a lot of you, I also like to go back to look at numbers and historical trends. That can be hard in football, because the college game has changed. Teams now play 12 games, there are approximately 250 bowl games, and there are conference championship games.
So instead of comparing apples to pears, I decided to adjust the records for Mike Stoops, Dick Tomey and Larry Smith. I added a 12th game for each coach in years the schedules were limited to 11 (so every year for Smith, every year save for 1999 for Tomey, and the first two years for Stoops). To make it fair, I gave them all FCS teams, and a bonus win. I also gave them all a bowl game for any season where they “won” at least 6 regular season games. I then gave them additional bowl wins based upon their bowl win/loss %. I did not adjust ties, as I could not figure out a good way to do it. Smith and Tomey each had three ties. All three came in Tomey’s first year and logically they would have lost most. For Smith it was not as easy and it is easy to think he might have won 2 of them.
So what did I learn? Using these adjusted numbers, over their first six seasons the coaches would have:
Smith 44 wins; 6 bowls
Tomey 43 wins; 4 bowls
Rodriguez 43 wins; 5 bowls
Stoops 39 wins; 3 bowls
That tells part of the story, but not the whole story. Interestingly enough, Stoops and Smith would last just one more full season each. Smith would have won an adjusted 10 games his final season, while Stoops actually won 7. Tomey would last 8 more seasons, and if college football was structured like it is now, he probably would have gone to 8 more bowl games (though he would finish 6-7 in two of those years.
What does this mean? Not much, so far Rodriguez has performed about as well as Smith and Tomey, but the pressure is now on. Both Tomey and Smith had big 7th years. In reality they won 9 and 10 games (10 and 11 adjusted) and Tomey went on to have great success his final 8 season.
Oddly enough, if we factor in conference records using the North and the South divisions, Tomey and Smith would never have won the South outright. Tomey would have tied for first twice, but lost tiebreakers to UCLA and USC. As for Smith, Arizona, UCLA, and ASU were all two-loss teams in the Pac-12 in 1985, but UCLA was 6-2, while the Arizona schools were somehow just 5-2. (USC and Washington were 5-3). However, UCLA beat UA and ASU and would have won the Pac-12 South. Arizona would have finished second in 1983, 1984 (tied); 1986. Under Tomey Arizona still finishes second in the South in 1998.
However, had there been a North and South in Stoops’ time, Arizona would have won the South in 2009 and likely gotten a rematch with Oregon, who they lost the 44-41 double overtime thriller to.
With Tomey we are going to assume that Arizona scheduled a I-AA (FCS) team every season for the 12th game and won all those games. . Assuming this and a bowl game for every 6+ win season, we would see Arizona go to 5 more bowls. Tomey was 4-3 in bowls, so we will assume he goes 3-2 in these new bowls. We will randomly give him wins in 1988, 1995 and 1999 (seasons they won 6+ games in) and losses in 1996 and 2000 (season where they won just 5 actual games).
The same could be said of Smith. Assuming Arizona scheduled all FCS teams and Arizona beat all those teams. We also assume Arizona goes to a bowl game every time they win six games, then they play in five additional bowl games. Smith missed Bowl games from 1981-1984 despite winning 6-7 games each year. Arizona would also have been bowl eligible in 1980 by going 6-6. While we have to factor in Arizona was on probation in 1983 and 1984, the likelihood is that the NCAA would have gone lighter on them in the modern era. For the sake of this exercise we will assume probation in 1983. As for these additional bowls, Arizona was 1-0-1 under Smith in Bowls. We will assume they go .500 so we will give them wins in 1982 and 1984 and losses in 1980 and 1981.
For what it is worth, Arizona, UCLA, and ASU were all two-loss teams in the Pac-12 in 1985, but UCLA was 6-2, while the Arizona schools were somehow just 5-2. (USC and Washington were 5-3). However, UCLA beat UA and ASU and would have won the Pac-12 South. Arizona would have finished second in 1983, 1984 (tied); 1986