A month after Central Michigan won the 2012 Little Caesar’s Bowl, athletic director Dave Heeke extended coach Dan Enos’ contract through 2015 and gave him a raise.
Enos had gone 13-24 in three seasons.
So it’s not like Heeke is new to the evaluation, speculation and risk necessary to direct a college football operation.
Over the next few weeks, Heeke will make his most important decision so far at Arizona. Will he extend Rich Rodriguez’s contract through 2021, or even 2022?
Or will Heeke be fearless and play the show-me-what-you’ve-got card?
As it stands, RichRod has three years remaining on his contract; most college football coaches in good standing have five-year deals.
RichRod’s future has implications that go beyond the $33 million Heeke is spending to remodel Arizona Stadium and build an indoor football facility.
Arizona has gone 17-20 the last three seasons, average attendance at Arizona Stadium was the lowest since 1997 and with new coaches and facilities at UCLA and ASU, the Pac-12 South isn’t getting any easier.
The Sun Devils fired RichRod contemporary Todd Graham for the high-crime of being “average.” Graham went 31-23 in conference games; RichRod is 24-30 in the same period.
We will soon find out if Heeke has a different definition of average, or if, as with Dan Enos at Central Michigan, he has an uncommon faith that after six years, RichRod is on the cusp of career regeneration.
When Sun Devil athletic director Ray Anderson rattled on about “fan affinity advancement” and other variables related to paying Graham $12 million to go away, he said several things that applied to the situation at Arizona.
“I’ve had four years to evaluate and I think people underestimate our potential,” he said. “I’ve got to think that better leadership will elevate us.”
“You can’t have a year when none of your players are drafted into the NFL.”
Arizona didn’t have a player drafted last year, nor does it have a projected draftee this season. Arizona hasn’t had a first-team All-Pac-12 player since 2014.
Anderson was wildly off target in some of his chatter. For example, he said the Sun Devils should be in the “top three” of the Pac-12 every season.
That ain’t happening. ASU has gone 170-155-3 since it joined the league 40 years ago. Average.
Arizona hasn’t even been average. It is 154-169-5 in the same period. That’s a conference winning percentage of 48 percent. RichRod’s is at 45 percent.
Is that enough to inspire a contract extension?
If Heeke doesn’t extent RichRod’s contract, his buyout would diminish to about $4.5 million next season. In modern Power 5 college football, a $4.5 million payoff is perceived as nickels and dimes.
At Central Michigan, Heeke’s trust in Enos didn’t have a chance to mature. With his new contract, Enos went 6-6 and 7-6 and left town to get a raise and become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.
How’d that work out? The Arkansas staff was fired last week.
RichRod’s critics have plenty of ammunition. After 20 spring practices and 30 training camp workouts, he chose to start Brandon Dawkins over Khalil Tate at quarterback.
It seems inconceivable now.
With Dawkins at QB, Arizona lost close games to Utah and Houston. Much of the goodwill Tate built during his Mr. October performance slipped away with messy season-ending losses to Oregon and ASU.
It put the focus back on RichRod.
What has he done to merit a contract extension?
He finally put Tate at quarterback.
He is a skilled offensive coach and game-planner. The other components of a head coach — recruiting, defense, special teams, community connection — have not been impressive.
RichRod’s aborted attempt to become the head coach at South Carolina two years ago chopped away at his popularity as much as the let’s-start-Dawkins-at-quarterback ploy.
On Tuesday, as UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero introduced Chip Kelly to Bruins fans, Guerrero said: “UCLA is a special place, with broad-based excellence. Winning is obviously a priority.”
Winning should be the same priority at Arizona. It, too, is a special place with broad-based excellence. Do you realize that Arizona was 12-10 against UCLA from 1989-2011?
Do you understand that the Wildcats are 21-18-1 against ASU since entering the conference?
In his years in Tucson. RichRod is 3-9 against ASU and UCLA.
Is that worth a contract extension? Or do you tell him to win now, win big, and only then will we talk about a new contract?