In the fall of 2003, I went on a wild chase from Tucson to Cincinnati to Boise and finally to Lubbock, Texas, in an attempt to interview the men who wanted to be Arizona's next football coach.
I learned that half of everything you heard was false and that the other half wasn't true.
I learned that UA President Peter Likins wanted to hire New York Giants defensive coordinator Johnnie Lynn, a former UA assistant coach. Alas, Likins' vote carried no weight.
I spent a day with Arizona legend Ricky Hunley, then the defensive line coach for the Cincinnati Bengals. He looked me in the eye one afternoon at P.F. Chang's and said, "They're bluffing; they're just using my name to make them look good."
I got five minutes alone with Boise State coach Dan Hawkins on a snowy night in Provo, Utah. The Broncos had mangled BYU 50-12, and Hawkins could see the "Arizona questions" coming from 100 yards away.
"I'm a Bronco today," he told me. "I'm going to get on the bus and drive six hours back to Boise, and when we get there in the morning I'm going to be a Bronco tomorrow."
He gave me a tap on the shoulder and laughed.
"Did you think I was going to tell you anything else?"
In the end, Likins, Jim Livengood, Jim Click and a few from Livengood's inner circle flew to Los Angeles one Sunday night and interviewed Hunley and USC offensive coordinator Norm Chow.
Chow thought the whole thing was a farce. He, too, suspected that Stoops had been Livengood's choice for weeks. Chow still chafes at what he perceived to be a role as a designated minority candidate.
I met Stoops, then Oklahoma's defensive coordinator, a few minutes after the Sooners whipped Texas Tech 56-25 to finish the regular season 12-0. Stoops had to hustle to the press box for his own radio show - things are different for OU football - but before he left he said, smiling, "hope to see you in a few weeks."
He knew. He was hired at Arizona the following Saturday.
In the fall of 2003, Mike Stoops was almost without question the leading assistant coach in college football. He had name recognition, a Sooner pedigree and, at $650,000 per annum, he was affordable.
He was the Best Man For The Job. Livengood's committee got it right, even if the university president preferred Johnnie Lynn (now the cornerbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles).
In 2003, you, me and the guy sitting in Section 18 could quickly identify Stoops, Hawkins, Hunley and Chow as those any search committee could link to Arizona's vacancy. Stoops, then 41, had the most national appeal. Hunley was the local hero. Chow was the offensive genius Arizona never had. Hawkins was the big name from the little school destined to go somewhere else soon (to Colorado in 2005).
Now it is not like that at all.
The big name from the little school, Boise State's Chris Petersen, has become bigger than half of the Pac-12 programs, including Arizona.
The local hero, Chuck Cecil, living on Titans' paychecks as he sits out the 2011 season after being released by Tennessee, has the misfortune of being too much like the Stoops of 2003: a defensive coach with no head coaching experience and a reputation for sideline histrionics.
Any other name you hear has an asterisk attached.
Mike Bellotti, at 60, might not have enough fuel left in his tank. Mike Leach, fired at Texas Tech, may be viewed as toxic as Mike Price was during Arizona's search of '03. Good ol' Sonny Dykes is only 7-11 at Louisiana Tech. The timing is wrong.
UA director of athletics Greg Byrne is likely to be a Search Committee of One. He said late Monday that he begins this search, as he did while locating Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen in 2009, "with literally 100 names" on his list of possible replacements.
Byrne's 2009 search-and-hire mission required a mere nine days, start to finish. Time was fleeting, but his clandestine approach - "I went underground," he says - allowed him to interview, among others, men who ultimately became the head coaches at Indiana and Louisiana-Lafayette.
As Byrne embarks on Ninja Tour II: The Search For Arizona's Next Football Coach, there are two items you should remember at all times:
One, it is unlikely there will be a leak and any reliable sources. Byrne will inform all candidates that if the news leaks, that man will no longer be a candidate. It is imperative that when the new coach is presented at McKale Center, fans believe he was Byrne's first choice.
Two, there is no timetable and no protocol. When Byrne hired Mullen at Mississippi State, the two met in an Atlanta hotel on a Monday night at 9:30. Byrne hired Mullen at 2:30 a.m.
And remember this: In 1987, the UA pursued Baylor's Grant Teaff , who said no, and then brought in Ohio State's Earle Bruce, North Carolina State's Dick Sheridan and Boston College's Jack Bicknell for visits.
It was the Grand Slam of Rejection.
On the fifth try, Arizona hired Dick Tomey. He was, like Stoops in 2003, The Best Man For The Job - for at least a few years.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org