When he woke up a couple of Sundays ago after a 37-point loss to rival Arizona State, Rich Rodriguez didn’t make for the best company.
“I was miserable,” the coach said.
The man hates losing.
But with time comes perspective. So when Rodriguez hit the road recruiting last week and was forced to put the blowout loss to the Sun Devils out of his mind, he was able to start thinking about what his team accomplished in his second season in Tucson.
Despite the departure of quarterback Matt Scott and the preseason loss of receiver Austin Hill to a knee injury, Rodriguez and the Wildcats managed to get to seven wins and qualify for a bowl game in back-to-back seasons.
No, the UA’s non-conference portion of its schedule wasn’t the most grueling, but Arizona managed to get bowl eligible despite the 29th toughest schedule in the country, according to gberatings.com.
Now, Rodriguez and the Wildcats will try to equal last year’s win total when they travel to the AdvoCare V100 Bowl in Shreveport, La., on Dec. 31.
“This could be a huge win for us,” Rodriguez said. “We had a lot of guys that were question marks coming into the season about the role they would play and the impact they would have. A lot of guys started for the first time and played really well and some had outstanding seasons.
“There are a lot of things to build off of, but there’s a lot of unfinished business too.”
Rodriguez’s long-term goal with the Wildcats is no secret. He’s made it clear since he was hired he wants to take the UA to its first Rose Bowl.
Yes, Shreveport is quite a ways away from Pasadena, Calif., but Rodriguez is confident his program is heading in the right direction.
“The foundation that we wanted to build to have a program of championships is there,” said Rodriguez, who guided a team to a bowl game in his first two seasons at a school for the first time in his career. “We have to do our job as coaches and players to take it to the next level.”
Whether Ka’Deem Carey is one of those players to help take the program to the next level next season remains to be seen. The running back said he still hasn’t come up with a timetable for his decision on whether to declare for the NFL draft.
Either way, Carey said he’s proud of being part of the group that’s laying the foundation for Rodriguez.
“It’s just showing what (Rodriguez) can do to a program and what a great coach he is,” Carey said of the UA earning a second-straight bowl bid. “It shows how our senior class can bear down and understand what he’s teaching us even though they’re not his guys.”
Hitting the road recruiting
Rodriguez and his staff will be back out on the recruiting trail this week after meeting with close to 40 prospects in person last week.
With one of the later bowl games on the postseason schedule, Rodriguez can spend a few more days on the road. Last year, he had to cut his recruiting short with the Wildcats playing on the first day of the bowl season.
This year’s bowl season starts Dec. 21.
“If we were playing on the 21st, I’d only go out there three days this week instead of four or five,” Rodriguez said. “But with the way it is, we’ll be able to get plenty of work in.”
A recruiting dead period begins Dec. 16 and runs through Jan. 15, making this week the final one the UA staff can be on the road.
Today, Rodriguez will check in on five-star cornerback recruit Jalen Tabor of Washington D.C., and his high school teammate Jonathan Haden, who has already committed to the UA.
Tabor is considering Arizona, Maryland, Alabama and Florida and visited Tucson during the regular season. He’s expected to make his decision either later this month or in early January. The cornerback, ranked as the fifth best prospect at his position in the country by the Scout.com recruiting service, is planning to graduate this month and enroll at a school in time for the spring semester.
Rodriguez also will check in on junior college commits Jerod Cody, Patrick Glover and Antonio Smothers, along with high school offensive tackle Levi Walton, who committed to the UA in October.
Rodriguez on new coaches
When Lane Kiffin was fired as USC’s head coach earlier this season, Rodriguez became the second longest tenured coach in the Pac-12 South, despite only being at the UA for a little more than two years.
Rodriguez has already seen his fair share of coaches come and go in the league. Sunday night when he met with reporters, the coach shared his opinion of former Washington coach Steve Sarkisian being hired at USC and former Boise State boss Chris Petersen filling Sarkisian’s shoes in Seattle. Petersen was officially introduced as Washington’s coach Monday.
USC and Washington will visit Arizona Stadium in 2014.
“Sark has done a really good job and he’s a Southern California guy, so he’ll do a great job there,” Rodriguez said. “And obviously Chris Petersen has been one of the top coaches for several years in the country. I wish he didn’t go. I wish he stayed in Boise.”