Arizona Football

History Suggests Marcel Yates Entering Fourth Year as Defensive Coordinator Bodes Well for Arizona Wildcats

Marcel Yates is entering a phase in his career at Arizona that is rare for defensive coordinators with the Wildcats.

His fourth year will surpass the average span of a defensive coordinator at the school — 3.5 years — since Arizona joined what was the Pac-10 in 1978. That bodes well for Kevin Sumlin and his operation. Since 1978, Yates is the sixth of 12 defensive coordinators at Arizona to enter a fourth year at that position. Four of the previous five were successful.

Is it any coincidence some of Arizona’s best defenses and top defenders have played under coordinators with the longest tenures?

The best defense in school history was the Desert Swarm, specifically from 1992 to 1995, and the defensive coordinator at the time was Larry MacDuff, who has the longest tenure at that position at Arizona.

He coached 10 years (1987 to 1996) as Dick Tomey’s defensive coordinator with the architect of the Desert Swarm — Rich Ellerson — the defensive line coach from 1992 to 1995. Ellerson later became the defensive coordinator from 1997 to 2000, a four-year span that is longer than the norm at the school.

Some of the best defensive players in Arizona history were groomed during this time, including College Football Hall of Famers Chuck Cecil, Rob Waldrop and Tedy Bruschi. A long list of others applies, including Dana Wells (1987 Pac-10 Morris Trophy winner), Jim Thorpe Award winners Darryll Lewis and Chris McAlister. and two-time All-Pac-10 picks Chris Singleton, Brandon Sanders and Sean Harris.

MacDuff is the longest-serving defensive coordinator at Arizona — 10 with Tomey and two with John Mackovic. He returned to Arizona in 2001 to coach under Mackovic after a four-year stint as the special teams coordinator with the New York Giants. Without Ellerson and others on Arizona’s staff he was accustomed to working with under Tomey, his stay was short-lived in Mackovic’s sinking ship of a program. He departed after two years to become the special teams coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers in 2003.

Two defensive coordinators lasted six years with Arizona and both were successful — Moe Ankney under Larry Smith from 1980 to 1985 and Mark Stoops under his brother Mike Stoops from 2004 to 2009.

Ankney coached the best player in Arizona history — Ricky Hunley — and groomed the likes of Randy Robbins, Byron Evans, Cecil, Al Gross, LaMonte Hunley, David Wood and Allen Durden.

Mark Stoops’ mark on the program included coaching Jim Thorpe Award winner Antoine Cason. He inherited a unit under Mackovic that was 109th in the nation in total defense and 107th in scoring defense in 2003, the year before he arrived.  By the end of his term at Arizona, the Wildcats ranked in the nation’s top 25 in total defense his final two seasons and ranked as high as 33rd in scoring defense.  

Ellerson and Jeff Casteel (under Rich Rodriguez from 2012-2015) had four-year tenures as defensive coordinators. Although Casteel coached Scooby Wright III, one of the most decorated players in school history, his 3-5 defensive alignment did not entirely work, and he is the only defensive coordinator to be fired by an Arizona coach in the Pac-10/12 era.

What will Yates’ fate be with the Wildcats? Last year, Arizona ranked No. 92 in total defense and No. 98 in scoring defense. Those rankings slightly improved under Yates from 2017 (No. 119 in total defense and No. 109 in scoring defense) and 2016 (No. 115 in total defense and No. 117 in scoring defense).

Some defenders might be destined for greatness such as Colin Schooler, Scottie Young Jr. and Jalen Harris. The defense’s development with eight returning starters is one of the most intriguing aspects of the team to watch in 2019.

ARIZONA COORDINATORS PAC-10/12 YEARS (1978-present) graphic
TONY MASON (1977-79)
Offensive Coordinator
Mike Gottfried (1977)
Tony Yelovich (1978-79)
Defensive Coordinator
Bob Valesente (1977-79)
LARRY SMITH (1980-86)
Offensive Coordinator
Steve Axman (1980-84)
Chris Allen(1985)
Chuck Stobart (1986)
Defensive Coordinator
Moe Ankney (1980-85)
Chris Allen (1986)
DICK TOMEY (1987-2000)
Offensive Coordinator
Ben Griffith (1987-88)
Rip Scherer (1989-90)
Pat Hill (1990-91)
Duane Akina (1992-95)
Homer Smith (1996)
Dino Babers (1997-2000)
Defensive Coordinator
Larry MacDuff (1987-96)
Rich Ellerson (1997-2000)
JOHN MACKOVIC (2001-2003)
Offensive Coordinator
John Mackovic (2001-03)
Mike Deal (2003)
Defensive Coordinator
Larry MacDuff (2001-02)
Mike Hankwitz (2003)
MIKE STOOPS (2004-2011)
Offensive Coordinator
Mike Canales (2004-06)
Sonny Dykes (2007-09)
Bill Bendenbaugh (2009-10)
Seth Littrell (2009-11)
Defensive Coordinator
Mark Stoops (2004-09)
Greg Brown (2010)
Tim Kish (2010-11)
RICH RODRIGUEZ (2012-2017)
Offensive Coordinator
Rod Smith/Calvin Magee (2012-17)
Defensive Coordinator
Jeff Casteel (2012-15)
Marcel Yates (2016-17)
KEVIN SUMLIN (2018-present)
Offensive Coordinator
Noel Mazzone (2018-present)
Defensive Coordinator
Marcel Yates (2018-present)

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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.

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