Arizona’s administration and its athletic director Dave Heeke are faced with the task of finding the fifth head football coach to lead the program since the turn of the century after the school went 21 years with the two most successful coaches in its history — Larry Smith and Dick Tomey.
The recipe of success has not been hiring former coaches fired at programs of higher level of stature — John Mackovic (Texas), Rich Rodriguez (Michigan) and Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M).
The records of these coaches at Arizona before they were fired:
- Mackovic: 10-18 (2001-03).
- Rodriguez: 43-35 (2012-17).
- Sumlin: 9-20 (2018-20).
Rodriguez coached Arizona to the Pac-12 South championship in his third season at which time he was 26-14 overall and 15-12 in the Pac-12. After that, from 2015 through 2017, his record dropped to 17-21 and 9-15.
He was 2-4 against ASU in his tenure. Sumlin was 0-3. Mackovic was 1-1 and fired before having a third opportunity. Combined, they were 3-8 against the Sun Devils. That does not sit well with Arizona fans.
Mike Stoops, who coached Arizona from 2004 to 2011, is unlike Mackovic, Rodriguez and Sumlin in that he was an assistant under his brother at Oklahoma — Bob Stoops — when he was hired to clean up the mess left behind by Mackovic.
Stoops performed admirably in the first five years making Arizona relevant again in 2008 and 2009 coaching the Wildcats to eight wins in each of those seasons.
But then his top assistants exited to coach elsewhere in 2010 and 2011 and he increasingly was criticized for his ornery demeanor on the sidelines. Between 2010 and 2011, Arizona collapsed in a 1-10 stretch with the only win over FCS school NAU. Former Arizona AD Greg Byrne thought the program needed a change in direction and fired Stoops, who also had a losing record against ASU at 3-4.
To wit: Mackovic, Stoops, Rodriguez and Sumlin were 6-12 against ASU whereas Smith and Tomey were 13-7-1 against the Sun Devils.
To be accepted by Arizona fans, a coach must beat ASU regularly, establish a consistent winner without dramatic declines and be presentable and respected in the community. A coach must be as one with the city and not viewed as an outsider.
Who will work tirelessly to put butts in the stands?
As former Arizona tight end Glenn Howell said on 1290-AM last night: “The new coach must go to the Boys & Girls Club events and things like that.”
The new hire must also want to endure as Arizona’s coach — pick the program up when it goes through a lull, produce monumental wins and bring players with outstanding character here. Now, if only the athletic department would allow much more media access to the athletes to tell their stories that would be a great help to generate public interest, but that’s another topic.
Over the last 50 years, the only coaches who left on their own accord were Jim Young in 1977, returning to his midwest roots to be head coach at Purdue and Larry Smith in 1987 to USC after Arizona could not offer him more than a one-year contract. It took Lute Olson’s value after he was hired in 1983 to change that Arizona statute.
Tomey, whose career was on the upswing at Hawaii when he was hired to replace Smith in 1986, officially resigned after the 2000 season but he essentially was forced out after losing his last five games that season and some Arizona administrators and fans lost patience.
Dave Strack hired Young and Smith, both up-and-coming coaches at the time. Young was one of Bo Schembechler’s top assistants at Michigan when he was hired in 1973 and Smith returned to Arizona after taking the head coaching job at Tulane. Smith was the associate head coach and defensive coordinator under Young from 1973 to 1975.
So who does Arizona turn to next? Knowing the history of Arizona hires — what works and what does not — who fits into the Wildcats’ puzzle the best? Here is a poll in which you can vote if you had a spot on the selection committee:
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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.