Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez speaks to reporters during the Pac-12 NCAA college football media day, Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press

ESPN released a "Fan Happiness Index" on Tuesday, which ranks the happiness of all the FBS football program's fan bases in the country based on a methodology created by ESPN.

It wasn't favorable for Arizona.

The Wildcats ranked 116th in the country, second only to No. 122 Kansas in Power Five conferences, and well behind No. 84 Oregon State, the 11th-place Pac-12 team.

ESPN used six categories to determine this list: program power, rivalry dominance, coaching stability, recruiting trend, revenue growth and Twitter buzz. You can find explanations of each category on the list's landing page by clicking "methodology". 

What does this mean for Arizona exactly? To tie it back to recruiting, let's focus on two of the categories here — coaching stability and recruiting trend. 

Namely, how is UA coach Rich Rodriguez's position on the proverbial hot seat impacting Arizona's recruiting?

In this fan happiness poll, Arizona was dinged the hardest in the coaching stability category, which ESPN described as "how close a coach is to being fired", putting UA in the 5th percentile of that category and saying "Rich Rodriguez is clearly cramping Arizona fans' style. With just three wins last year, he might not have much time left in Tucson."

It's no secret that Arizona struggled to fill Arizona Stadium on a consistent basis last year, and an empty stadium certainly wouldn't help the program's image as the Wildcats start hosting recruits on visits. 

More concerning, though, as it relates to reeling in recruits, is the idea that Rodriguez is coaching for his job in 2017. 

The "recruiting trend" category is described as "difference in percentage of five-, four- and three-star recruits in current class vs. expectation," for which Arizona is in the 82nd percentile, which isn't bad on the surface, but is when you consider this — Arizona has secured zero four-star recruits in its 11-person 2018 class so far and might not reel in any. The current class consists of 10 three-star recruits and one two-star. As detailed in my ongoing look at Arizona's targets for 2018, the Wildcats aren't after many four-star recruits, either. 

What does that mean? Well, relative to recruiting rankings, the expectations for Arizona's 2018 class — at least according to ESPN's model — clearly aren't very high. 

Going back to the idea of Rodriguez on the hot seat — whether or not it's impacted who Arizona has or has not secured commitments from, it's certainly at least on the minds of recruits. 

Amphitheater offensive lineman David Watson committed to Arizona over the summer and after committing he told the Star: "To me I think of it as: right now I'm married to Arizona and I'm not going to go cheating on them with someone else. That's how I look it. I made up my mind - I want to be a Wildcat."

Two months later, Watson's changed his tune a bit, though he still insists he's fully committed to Arizona. Watson speaks frequently with UA offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and wants to play for him. The possibility of a coaching change still lingers. Plus, San Diego State offered Watson a scholarship recently, and has been aggressive in recruiting him. 

"I keep my doors open because you never know what’s going to happen with the coaching staff, but I make sure that they know that I am committed to Arizona," said Watson, a three-star recruit. "I would like to keep my doors open just in case, God forbid, something happens to my coaches."

Arizona lost out on four-star Salpointe Catholic offensive lineman Matteo Mele when he committed to Washington in June, but the Wildcats really lost out on him much earlier than that, when big-time offers from schools like UW, Oregon, Oklahoma and UCLA started coming in. Mele's grandfather, Bill Lueck, was an All-Conference offensive lineman at Arizona who played in the NFL. 

With that family connection, Mele admitted that he always dreamed of playing at Arizona, but once those offers started coming in, he realized he wanted to go somewhere new.

The Star asked him if the states of Washington (coming off a College Football Playoff bid) and Arizona (fresh off a 3-9 campaign) swayed him in either direction.

"I mean, I think it has a little bit to say, maybe, about the coach," Mele said. "But college football can change so quick. You can be in the top of the rankings one year and the bottom the next, so I wouldn’t say necessarily what they did last year was at all the deciding factor."

It's the first part of that quote that's notable — "it has a little bit to say, maybe, about the coach."

Whether or not Rodriguez is actually on the hot seat is, of course, up to athletic director Dave Heeke, who didn't hire Rodriguez as football coach. That was Greg Byrne who is now at Alabama. But if there's even a perception Rodriguez is on the hot seat, things could get dicey for Arizona's 2018 class pretty quickly if the Wildcats don't get off to a good start. 

UA safeties coach Jahmile Addae — who recruits Las Vegas, Florida and some of Texas — admitted that after a 3-9 season, the losing is something the coaches need to address on the recruiting trail. Addae said he tries to preach more about the future of the program than the past, though he acknowledges a 3-9 season, obviously, isn't ideal. 

"They (parents and recruits) know exactly what happened" last season, Addae said. "But we don’t like to harp on the negative. Obviously that’s a bad taste we want to get out of our mouths, but that’s not our body of work. I’ve been here 4-5 years and if I’m not mistaken, that was probably the winningest stretch in a good amount of time.

"Again, not that you want to go back and say ‘hey, look at what we did.' It is a 'what have you done for us lately' type of situation. But at the end of the day, we know that’s not our identity."


Note: I'll have the third part in my look at Arizona's 2018 recruiting board online on Tuesday morning. Part one covered the skill positions, part two the offensive and defensive lines and part three will look at the rest of the defense. 

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