Hansen on Pac-12 media rights


Suppose you are Ryan Walters, whose first full-time job in America's work force is as Arizona's secondary coach. You are only 25, but your ship has come in.

Your starting salary is six-figures. You get a courtesy car. You do not blow five or 10 years at entry-level jobs in the Big Sky Conference or the Western States Football League. Rather, you start in the Pac-12. It is a full-benefits-and-then-some job.

You sit in the same staff room with Frank Scelfo, the esteemed quarterbacks guru who, at 25, was coaching the secondary at Jesuit High School in Louisiana, and who, for the next 10 years, spilled coaching blood at five high schools, not arriving in college football until he was 37, at Tulane.

To Ryan Walters, life is like those T-shirts you can buy at the mall: Life Is Good.

And then, in an evil twist the way only college football can produce an evil twist, devastating injuries eliminate a starting cornerback and a starting safety. There will be no comfy break-in time the way Wazzu has break-in time against Idaho State, UNLV and San Diego State.

You must fill in with freshmen and sophomore defensive backs and - cue the spooky organ music - you open the season against what is possibly the four most dynamic quarterbacks in college football: Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden, Stanford's Andrew Luck, Oregon's Darron Thomas and USC's Matt Barkley.

Those who would catch passes against your unsettled cornerbacks and safties are something off of an NFL personnel director's "must-get" draft chart: OSU's Justin Blackmon, Stanford's Chris Owusu, USC's Robert Woods and about four guys from Oregon who can't be identified because they are running too fast in open space somewhere.

Ryan Walters does not sleep in.

"Your days off are really not days off," he says.

You do not go home at night, kick back and maybe touch up your Facebook page.

"It's always there," he says. It? It is Stanford.

In the X's and O's, the chess game between Stanford and Arizona, the 25-year-old Ryan Walters will be opposed by Cardinal offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who spent 10 years coaching in the NFL, and Cardinal line/running backs coach Mike Bloomgren, who spent four years coaching in the NFL.

At this level, you swim with the sharks even if it's your first dip in the pool.

In his two games as Arizona's secondary coach, Walters watched in chagrin as his DBs allowed NAU's Cary Grossart to complete 16 consecutive passes, and OSU's Weeden to connect on 19 of his first 20 throws.

Can it get any worse?

It can, and there are few who have gone through the stress of an early-season tumble more than Walters. In his somewhat brief life as a college football player and coach, Walters has gone through, and survived, a crucible every bit as imposing as Arizona's OSU-Stanford-Oregon-USC ordeal.

In his first season as a Colorado Buffaloes starting safety, Walters was part of an 0-6 start in which the Buffs were stunned by Montana State, whipped by Colorado State, and then played - sound familiar? - three consecutive Top 25 teams: Arizona State, Georgia and Missouri, losing all three.

Walters' first year as a CU starter ended 2-10, but he persevered and a year later the Buffaloes stunned No. 3 Oklahoma, routed Nebraska 65-51 and played in the Independence Bowl. As a senior he was team captain, MVP, and was presented the "Hang Tough Award" by the coaching staff.

So you figure that even though Walters is 25, the youngest full-time assistant football coach in modern UA history, that he's unlikely to show up for work this week and tell head coach Mike Stoops that the strain is too much to bear.

"Sometimes," Walters says, explaining the difficult start of sophomore cornerback Shaquille Richardson and sophomore safety Marquis Flowers, "you have to go through the fire to be the player you're capable of becoming."

His message is clear: "Don't overhype these guys," Walters says. "We play against Juron Criner and Nick Foles every day in practice. This schedule shouldn't be anything new to them."

Walters tells his young players how the Buffaloes secondary intercepted three passes against vintage Texas Tech teams and shut down the great Michael Crabtree.

"He told us how Colorado stopped (Oklahoma State's) Dez Bryant, holding him to one ball," says UA safety Robert Golden. "I haven't seen coach Walters get rattled. I've seen him displeased, but not rattled. This is just the start. Give us some more time."

Time? The clock is ticking. Ready or not.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com