Fired by the mighty Hook ’em Horns, Texas coach John Mackovic was then hired by Arizona. Outcome? Terminated after a player mutiny and, in general, for applying a chill to the desert.
Fired by Go Blue, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez was soon hired by Arizona. Outcome? Terminated after he was sued for $7.5 million for alleged wrongful behavior and, in general, demonstrating the tact of a schoolyard bully.
Einstein is wrongly credited with saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” but by any name it would be football insanity for Arizona to recycle yet another Big Name head coach who has been canned by, say, LSU, UCLA, Texas A&M, Tennessee or any school.
Arizona’s experience as a bounce-back outlet for college football coaches blew up in its grill. Why not hire a winner?
An assistant coach at a Pac-12 South precinct told me Wednesday that Arizona probably has a stronger profile outside of Arizona than it does in Tucson.
“Arizona has a chance to be pretty good next year,” he said. “They’ve got just about the whole defense back, and obviously the quarterback has a lot of potential. You’re not stepping into a building process there. They shouldn’t settle.”
But who gets to step into the most promising situation for a new UA football coach since Jim Young in 1973?
Use your imagination.
No longer is there a dog-eared book on hiring college football coaches and athletic directors, and especially not in the Pac-12.
USC’s athletic department is operated by a former NFL superstar — later a politician — who had no experience on the business side of college sports. Arizona State similarly hired an AD from the NFL, who in turn hired a football coach from an ESPN studio who used to coach pro football a long time ago.
Colorado hired an AD whose qualifications included time in the front office of the PGA Tour and in Major League Baseball, and more recently Oregon State packaged a first-time head coach, one of the school’s quarterbacking legends, with one of its old head coaches, a Beaver of the first rank, in something of a mentoring program.
That’s why, for better or worse, colleges like Arizona pay search firms six figures to point them to an available football coach, and if that’s in Troy, Alabama, and the coach of the Troy Trojans doesn’t know the difference between Wildcats and Sun Devils, well, welcome to 2018.
It used to be so simple. College football was a regional game tied to family connections.
Cal brought back its old Rose Bowl quarterback, Joe Kapp, to be the Bears’ head coach. Stanford hired John Elway’s father, Jack, to coach the Cardinal. USC and UCLA hired from within – John Robinson and Terry Donahue.
Washington State hired an old quarterback from Wyoming, Jim Walden, which qualified as a national coaching search of the day.
Arizona was no different.
In 1980, torn by a slush-fund scandal and accompanied by an NCAA investigation that would make Arizona ineligible for bowl games and TV appearances for two years, UA athletic director Dave Strack went by the book.
After Strack fired football coach Tony Mason in April 1980, he interviewed Idaho coach Jerry Davitch, a former Arizona lineman and Salpointe Catholic coach, and Army assistant Eddie Wilson, who to that point had been the most successful quarterback in school history.
There wasn’t much intrigue.
Strack’s final interview of 1980 closed the book. Tulane’s Larry Smith, who had been Arizona’s defensive coordinator during an unprecedented three-year run in the mid-’70s in which the Wildcats had gone 25-7, agreed to help dig Arizona out of a colossal mess.
Unbowed by the circumstances, a bottom feeder in the new Pac-10 with what appeared to be a dismal future, Smith spoke boldly.
“We plan to line up and knock USC off the line,” he said during his introductory news conference.
A year later, Arizona stunned No. 1 USC and thus began seven years of relevance, the overthrow of ASU as a Territorial Cup bully, and several strong chases at the Rose Bowl.
Smith was family. He recruited Arizona first.
In 1982, I accompanied Smith and defensive coordinator Moe Ankney on a recruiting trip to Phoenix in which they signed future Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Byron Evans of South Mountain High School and Washington High School linebacker Brent Wood, a future two-year starter and brother of UA All-Pac-10 defensive lineman Dave Wood.
That was a day’s work that made an impact for years.
When Arizona signed 16 players during last month’s letter-of-intent period, just one was an Arizona high school senior. A few days ago, UA junior Trevor Wood, son of Dave Wood and nephew of Brent Wood, announced he was bypassing his final year of eligibility to play elsewhere.
If there is a more loyal Wildcat football fan than Dave Wood, I would be stunned. Over the last 25 years, he has stood on the sideline at Arizona Stadium more than any former UA football player I can remember.
And now his son is leaving the team.
A lot of damage has been done to Arizona’s football program, much of it at home. Finding the right coach means finding someone who can make Arizona more presentable in its own backyard.