When Cal announced the hiring of special teams coach Charlie Ragle last week, Golden Bears coach Justin Wilcox said Arizona’s special teams have been “consistently among the best in the nation.”
Well, probably not, but that’s the spin of the football hiring/firing cycle. Ragle appeared to be a useful coach and recruiter during his five Arizona seasons, but Rich Rodriguez essentially dictated policy and scheme of the UA’s special teams. Ragle’s true value was as a recruiter.
RichRod was vacationing off the coast of Florida last week, surely a welcome break after a choppy recruiting session. Now, before spring drills begin Saturday, RichRod will have to spend time toward replacing Ragle and receivers coach Tony Dews, who returned to his home turf of West Virginia earlier last week.
That’s not unusual at under-stress college football programs. Arizona State coach Todd Graham still has openings for a defensive line coach, receivers coach and offensive line coach.
After Arizona finished in last place for the first time in Pac-10 history, 2002 – after most of the squad met with president Peter Likins to discuss coach John Mackovic’s treatment of them — five UA coaches bailed out: Charlie Camp, Larry Mac Duff, Scott Pelluer, Rob Ianello and Rick Dykes. Some were pushed; some beat the posse out of town.
Mackovic delayed the start of spring camp until March 29 until he could hire five coaches; he had difficulty finding capable replacements.
He hired offensive coordinator Mike Deal, who was coaching the Scottish Claymores. Deal brought his son-in-law, Jeff Hecklinski, 26, to be the quarterbacks coach. The new receivers coach, Mike Borich, who had been released by BYU, worked for Mackovic for three months and then left the program. Mackovic was fired in late September.
Similarly, RichRod won’t have any leverage in hiring new coaches. A year ago, he could’ve hired Eastern Washington’s emerging coaching talent, Nicholas Edwards, who recently joined Ragle as the receivers coach on the new staff at Cal. But now it’s considered a risk to coach at Arizona.
ASU’s Graham said his program benefited greatly from hiring former Paradise Valley High coach Donnie Yantis, who knows the Phoenix-area prep football landscape. That was Ragle’s role at Arizona after he left Scottsdale Chaparral High School.
The one Phoenix-area prep coaching plum who would seem qualified to replace Ragle is Jason Mohns, who has won four consecutive state titles at Scottsdale Saguaro. But Mohns is an ASU grad and his father, Greg Mohns, coached for the Sun Devils. Mohns turned down a chance to join Rick Neuheisel’s staff at UCLA a few years ago.
Arizona’s remaining staff has three men who could coach for anybody: running backs coach Calvin Magee, offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and QBs coach Rod Smith.
From 2012-14, when Smith produced winning first-year starting QBs Matt Scott, B.J. Denker and Anu Solomon, his coaching ranked with any in school history. After that, injuries scuttled Arizona’s quarterbacking and, in turn, its place among Pac-12 contenders.
Now RichRod is trying to put all the pieces back together again.