Arizona football: Casteel leaves roots, takes pay cut to fix UA defense

2012-01-14T00:00:00Z 2012-01-14T10:11:57Z Arizona football: Casteel leaves roots, takes pay cut to fix UA defenseRyan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The metal sign welcoming visitors to tiny Paden City, W.Va., touts it as "Home Town of Jeff Casteel, WVU defensive coordinator."

It might be time for an update.

The Arizona Wildcats introduced Casteel as their defensive coordinator Friday, capping a months-long hiring process that many felt would never end - or, they feared, wouldn't end well.

Casteel is a native West Virginian, after all, and - after 11 years with the beloved Mountaineers - could have likely stayed at WVU forever.

Instead, Casteel is moving West to rejoin new UA head coach Rich Rodriguez in a conference, and an area, that he's admittedly unfamiliar with.

"I thought the opportunity to leave West Virginia, it was the right time to do it and to embark on another challenge," Casteel said Friday. "That's what I look at the University of Arizona and this league, as another challenge. We're looking forward to it."

Arizona's new defensive coordinator won't even break the bank. Casteel will make $425,000 annually at the UA, less than he was set to make at West Virginia in 2012. Casteel was paid $400,000 at the school over the past season, when the Mountaineers defeated Clemson in the Orange Bowl. He was due for a $50,000 raise in 2012, 2013 and 2014 as part of a multi-year deal.

The UA went "a little over" its hiring budget of $2 million for assistants, athletic director Greg Byrne said, but the extra money was approved by department administrators. All assistant coaches will work on year-to-year contracts, per UA policy.

Casteel, master of the 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense, will be asked to turn around an Arizona unit that was among the worst in the country last year. The Wildcats surrendered 460.5 yards per game, placing them 110th out of 120 teams nationally in total defense. Opponents scored an average of 35.42 points per game.

"I didn't tell him that," Rodriguez said with a sly grin. "Now the secret's out."

The Star talked to Casteel on Friday about his new job, Arizona's unique defense and his reunion with Rodriguez. Here's what he said:

On leaving West Virginia after 11 years: "It was tough, there was no doubt, because of my family and its where I've been the majority of my life. It's about change, and you need to branch out a little bit. I think this is the right opportunity to do it."

On why he'd come to Arizona after turning down Michigan in 2008: "That's a good question. I just think that things had changed a little bit, and I think that this was the right time to move away from West Virginia and move on to this challenge."

On selling the move to his family: "They were OK. They're anxious to get out. If I could work my phone a little better, I'd send them some pictures. They're anxious to come out."

On the origins of the 3-3-5 "odd stack" defense: "It started with Rich wanting to use it, and we weren't familiar with it at all. We went down and visited Wake Forest, which had gotten it from Charlie Strong at South Carolina, who had gotten it from Joe Lee Dunn at Mississippi State. It was a good fit for us because we had more second-level guys at WVU at that time. It was going to be a better fit for us and a niche in recruiting that we could take advantage of."

On how the defense has evolved: "A lot. The more you do it, you learn more about it, and the kids dictate what you're going to do. The players are going to dictate what you do. Our job is to try to highlight their strengths and put them in a position to make plays. What we do here at Arizona may be different from what we did at WVU."

On misconceptions about the 3-3-5 defense: "We can really get into some multiple looks. As long as you have personnel. It's based on speed and being physical and basic football. You've got to be a physical football team, and that's where we start."

On how the UA hire went down: "I've been talking to Rich for, what, 20 years? With this, I wanted to make sure I could concentrate on the Orange Bowl. I thought that was important for the players at WVU, and important for the coaches. Once we got through that (WVU beat Clemson 70-33) is when I started focusing on this opportunity."

On finally deciding: "It was a tough decision, and I really didn't start to focus on the job here until after the Orange Bowl. We got back to Morgantown last Thursday, I sat down with my family over the weekend and that's when we decided what we were going to do."

How much pull was there to stay home and with players? "I think anytime you leave a program - and whether you're there a year, and I was there 11 years - it's tough with the kids, the players, because of what they do. You get close with them. But I talked to them, and it's always about change; those things happen in life.

On whether he wants to eventually be a head coach: "Sure. I think everybody in this profession would like to try that. I'm going to work at being the defensive coordinator at Arizona, and that'll be my job (first)."

Stoops: 'chance to win every time'

Calling it "one of the best situations in all of college football," former Arizona Wildcats coach Mike Stoops was introduced Friday as Oklahoma's co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach.

Stoops returns to the position he held when the UA hired him to replace John Mackovic in late 2003. He'll work under his brother Bob, the Sooners' longtime head coach.

"You've got a chance to win every time you step on the field at Oklahoma," Mike Stoops said in a news release.

Stoops was fired Oct. 10 with Arizona mired in a 1-5 start. During his tenure at the UA, the Wildcats snapped a decade-long bowl-less streak and played in the postseason three consecutive times. Big losses to Nebraska (in the 2009 Holiday Bowl) and Oklahoma State (in the 2010 Alamo Bowl) placed more pressure on Stoops to break through. The Wildcats ultimately fell short of Stoops' top goal: To play in the program's first-ever Rose Bowl.

Stoops said he will return to Oklahoma, where he worked from 1999 to 2003, as a different man.

"You grow and mature as a person and I believe my experience at Arizona has helped me become a better coach," he said. "We had to fight through a lot to accomplish several good things, and I grew a lot through that process."

Stoops and co-coordinator Brent Venables will handle the defense. Stoops replaces secondary coach Willie Martinez, who resigned.

Bob Stoops said the Sooners are "very fortunate" to have landed the former UA coach. Mike Stoops interviewed for positions at Ohio State and South Carolina, and was also reportedly considered for openings at Iowa and Nebraska.

"People across the country recognize his tremendous knowledge of the game and great energy," Bob Stoops said. "He will have a very positive impact on our program."

Ryan Finley

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