Jim Young went 8-3, 9-2 and 9-2 at Arizona and the phone rang and rang and rang. First it was Iowa. Then Tulane, Washington, Texas Tech, Illinois and Purdue.
Young might’ve taken the Iowa job, but he had only been on the job two years and told the Hawkeyes he had work to do.
He almost surely would’ve bitten on the Washington job, late in 1975, but Arizona athletic director Dave Strack wouldn’t give the Huskies permission to talk to his coach until after the ASU game.
By then Washington hired Don James.
Young finally left Tucson, with four years in the books, after Purdue offered him a 40 percent raise.
Today you do not need to clear your phone call with Greg Byrne or any other athletic director. It’s business, not football. If you want Rich Rodriguez to coach your football team, you get his agent on the phone and toss around a few decimal points.
No one in this town would say that Louisville is a football operation superior to that at Arizona. No one would say it’s a “destination job,” as Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich said Sunday.
But if Jurich calls, you answer. It’s flattering. It’s financial leverage. And it never hurts to hear the locals express their love and gratitude.
The Cardinals have an athletic department budget of $96.2 million, towering over Arizona’s modest $66.3 million. They paid their former coach, Charlie Strong $3.7 million this season. Arizona paid Rodriguez $2.25 million.
Money blurs the difference between Louisville and Arizona. Money talks so loudly that Texas hired Strong away from Louisville, even though the Longhorns have to pay Strong’s $5 million buyout.
Louisville can pay its next football coach as much as it takes. Market value? What’s that?
The Cardinals don’t have any more football tradition than Arizona, and probably less. Their last five head coaches have been Ron Cooper, John Smith, Bobby Petrino, Steve Kragthorpe and Strong.
Fan support? Louisville drew 46,427 at its final home game this season on a day it was 9-1 and had possibly the nation’s most-coveted NFL prospect, Teddy Bridgewater, at quarterback.
Unless you are the offensive coordinator at Clemson, or the head coach at Tulsa, you don’t go to Louisville for the football. You go for the money.
If RichRod’s first two Arizona seasons are an accurate gauge, schools with much more football clout than Louisville will look his way.
This will happen even though RichRod several times said “this is my last job” when he arrived in Tucson. Those declarations have a shelf life of about six weeks, fading into the fabric after the new coach makes the rounds at every Rotary, Kiwanis and Glee club in town.
The great unknown is whether RichRod, at 50, and his family are willing to undergo another energy-sapping, life-altering program transplant so soon, or if they prefer to play their cards, gambling that something better will pop up in 2015 or 2017.
No one asked him to stay at Arizona forever. Rather, his charge was to get Arizona back on the tracks and maybe flirt with a Rose Bowl before changing addresses. Five years? Sure. Ten? That’s too much to expect.
Larry Smith pieced together six consecutive winning seasons at Arizona in the ’80s. As soon as USC fired its coach, Ted Tollner, everyone on the football planet knew that Smith was soon going to relocate to Los Angeles.
In those long-ago days, minus social media, Smith survived the rumor mill with a minimum of awkwardness. He coached Arizona in the 1986 Aloha Bowl, adamant that he was going to finish the job.
One night, at a Honolulu hospitality suite, Smith’s wife, Cheryl, was greeted by a group of Arizona fans pleading to know the truth.
“Fight On,” she said, laughing, unable to fake it any longer.
A year later, Smith was coaching USC in the Rose Bowl game. No football coach on earth would’ve done anything else.
If Rich Rodriguez hopes to get a shot at the Big Game, it’s unlikely he’d get that shot at Louisville. What he can get there is a bigger paycheck for himself and for his assistant coaches. And what’s wrong with that?
The last Arizona football coach in a position of such prominence, Dick Tomey, was an object of Oklahoma’s 1995 search to replace coach Gary Gibbs.
But Tomey told the Sooners they had the wrong man; he recommended they call UA defensive coordinator Larry Mac Duff.
Arizona gave Tomey and his coaches a nice raise. A few years later, the Wildcats went 12-1.
In college football, the grass isn’t often greener in Tucson, but sometimes it’s green enough.