When a football coach gets fired, it can impact hundreds of people — assistant coaches, other staff members and their families.
No one is in a more peculiar state of limbo than Arizona Wildcats offensive line coach Garin Justice.
Arizona announced the hiring of Justice on Dec. 19. He signed his contract the following day.
Less than two weeks later, the UA fired Rich Rodriguez — the man who hired Justice, who played tackle for RichRod at West Virginia.
Justice remains under contract, and he’s currently living in Tucson while his family — wife Casie and daughter Juliet — are back in Florida. Justice spent the past two seasons as the offensive line coach at Florida Atlantic.
Justice flew from Boca Raton to San Francisco to attend an Arizona team meeting and a practice before the season-ending Foster Farms Bowl. He went back to Florida to retrieve his family, returning to the Bay Area for the game on Dec. 27 in Santa Clara.
Justice declined a formal interview request Thursday but relayed the following message about his unique set of circumstances:
“My focus is on trying to keep my current position as the offensive line coach at Arizona. You are certainly right that this situation is less than ideal, but if you get the chance to know me, you will see that I like to turn lemons into lemonade in all situations. We’re hoping this turns to lemonade real quick.”
Justice is set to make $255,000 in 2018. The Star obtained a copy of Justice’s contract via a public-records request. His appointment was subject to final approval by UA president Robert C. Robbins.
Justice made $100,000 at FAU in 2017, per USA Today’s annual survey of NCAA coaches’ salaries.
Justice’s deal with Arizona runs for one year – typical for assistant coaches below the coordinator level — from Dec. 22, 2017, to Dec. 22, 2018. He would forfeit a commensurate portion of his salary if he took another job before Dec. 22.
“In the event you accept employment elsewhere before the end day of any current contract year,” the agreement states, “your appointment with the University of Arizona will terminate on the start date of your new employment and the University of Arizona will not pay you or provide benefits beyond that date.”
Justice’s contract includes up to $12,000 in moving expenses … which he might never use.
As one rumored candidate definitively dropped out of the race to be the next Wildcats football coach, a new name emerged. Or didn’t. More on that in a bit.
First, you can scratch former Oregon coach Mark Helfrich off the list of possibilities for the UA.
Helfrich is set to join the Chicago Bears as their offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.
Helfrich led the Ducks to a runner-up finish in the first College Football Playoff in 2014-15 but couldn’t follow up his success or build upon the foundation predecessor Chip Kelly had laid. Helfrich purportedly is friends with Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke, who also used to work for Oregon (although their time there did not overlap).
Meanwhile, WildcatAuthority.com reported late Wednesday that Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford was a candidate for the UA job. Sanford just completed an underwhelming first season at Western Kentucky (6-7) but checks many boxes (35 years old, experience on the West Coast at Stanford and Boise State, strong recruiter).
Thursday morning, WKU athletic director Todd Stewart told reporters that Sanford is staying. The Star spoke to a WKU source who spoke with Sanford. The source said he’d be “blindsided” if Sanford left.
That doesn’t mean Sanford never was a serious candidate for the Arizona job. But if he was, he now appears to be out of the running.
Heeke was not seen at the UA basketball game at McKale Center on Thursday night. Robbins sat courtside next to football players Khalil Tate and Colin Schooler.