Belmont may be a double-digit seed, but Ian Clark, right, with Kerron Johnson, leads the nation in three-point percentage and scores 18.1 points per game.


Most of the nation's major sports media outlets added Tucson to their rotation this year, intent on reporting the Rich Rodriguez saga, Part III.

Sports Illustrated was here, then, and soon the floodgates burst with Yahoo,, Jim Rome, USA Today and, yes, GameDay's Desmond Howard, who continues to phone for a weekly RichRod-in-the-news chat.

They all chronicled the obligatory themes: Rodriguez is determined to deliver the Wildcats from evil and, although I suspect this is near the bottom of his agenda, shove it up Michigan's nose.

By midnight Saturday, the news cycle will rotate and the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen isn't likely to mention RichRod's nice little comeback in Tucson. The Big Media will spend its travel budget going to Tuscaloosa and Baton Rouge and, for sure, Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Ore.

If they are fortunate, the Wildcats will resurface as a national story in 2014, maybe 2015. Doesn't that seem like forever?

The difference between Rodriguez and his predecessors is that this isn't a tryout or a few more big checks before retirement. If there is one thing that shines through about Rodriguez it's that he isn't in this business to play in the B games.

He is no more intimidated by Chip Kelly and the Oregon Ducks than Lute Olson was of tackling the legend of Pauley Pavilion a generation earlier. RichRod tells his staff, his boss and his football players, that in time, Arizona and Oregon will share a football DNA.

If you can win big in Eugene, you can win big in Tucson.

"He's got that fire in his eyes," says UA quarterback Matt Scott. "He's not a guy who would back off."

You can't see it from the bleachers, you can't get a sense of it from his TV commercials, and even if you've sat through a RichRod Rotary club speech or watched him mingle at a booster club event, his toughness doesn't show.

But that's his behind-the-practice-gates bottom line. Tough guy. Won't settle. Won't be intimidated.

I asked Rodriguez about his father, Vince Rodriguez, and about his upbringing. I was expecting the familiar tale about his father escaping the West Virginia coal mines and raising three boys to be a success: one an attorney, another a middle school principal, the third a football coach.

"My dad is the toughest guy I've ever known," he said. "When he went into the Marines, he hitchhiked all the way to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to get there."

I stumbled for words. The Marines?

"He's got Semper Fi tattooed on his shoulder," RichRod said. "He's very proud of it."

In that regard, he is his father's son. Rather than sit out a year, earning a nice check as a CBS football analyst, waiting to hand-pick a Top 25 job this year or next, RichRod did his own version of a hitchhike to Camp Lejeune by taking on the chronically unfulfilling Arizona job.

At Arizona, Mike Stoops seemed deferential at times, almost intimidated by Pete Carroll and USC. John Mackovic showed up for big games wearing a suit and shiny shoes, and his teams played like they were afraid to get dirty.

At 49, Rodriguez looks like he could still play. He looks a lot like Larry Smith did, athletic and purposeful, aching for a challenge, putting Arizona on the rim of prominence, 1980-86, taking on all the Big Boys, beating teams ranked Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Rodriguez was an A student in high school, graduating No. 2 in his class. He was a Big Fish in a Small Pond at tiny Fairview (W.Va.) High School, which had about 300 students. But when the local school district consolidated five small schools into one big one - 2,000-student North Marion High - Rodriguez flourished.

The bigger the challenge, the bigger his game. He became a first-team All-State football and basketball player at North Marion.

At the conclusion of Rodriguez's high school career, rather than settle for a scholarship at Appalachian State or James Madison, he chose to walk on at West Virginia.

"I wanted to go to the biggest stage that I could afford to go to," he told Michigan reporters in 2008. "I wanted to prove I could belong on it. That's what's always driven me. Whatever's the biggest or best out there, let me see if I could handle that."

On Saturday, RichRod arrives at the biggest stage in Pac-12 football. The Wildcats may not yet belong in a game like that, but Rodriguez gives them their best chance to get there someday soon.

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or