Rich Rodriguez was so popular at West Virginia, friends and foes said, that he could have run for governor - and won.
While wearing the maize and blue at Michigan, Rodriguez and his assistant coaches had their pick of the state's best high school players.
The UA's new coach will soon learn that the state of Arizona is different. Not only will Rodriguez have to compete with rival Arizona State for a dozen or so elite in-state recruits each year, he'll have to persuade 17- and 18-year-old kids that the UA is worth staying home for.
Rodriguez and his staff will spend the next few months blanketing the state and selling the program. Arizona took a major step toward that goal Monday, hiring offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, wide receivers coach Tony Dews and secondary coach Tony Gibson away from Pittsburgh.
"We have a strategy to at least get our presence out there in the first few months," Rodriguez said. "If there are players in the state who are good enough to help us win championships and get their degrees, and they're good guys, then we should know about it, and we should be recruiting them."
Expect Arizona's new coaching staff to follow these four keys:
• Show up. All three of Arizona's new assistants are accomplished recruiters. Dews also knows the West. While at Michigan, he recruited two Scottsdale Chaparral High School stars, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and defensive end Craig Roh, to Ann Arbor. Both are now starters.
Chaparral coach Charlie Ragle said Dews is the ultimate "people-person" - an excellent communicator who was comfortable talking to prospective players and their parents. Dews recruited both Lewan and Roh to Michigan with a family pitch: Lewan's father played football in the Big Ten Conference at Minnesota, and Roh's father played basketball at Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich.
"For any good recruiter - and I don't care if you're coming from Michigan or you're coming from Florida - it's about relationships," Ragle said. "People do more for you when you can build relationships. That's one of the things Tony did well when he came out. When you can do that as a coach, (high school coaches) tend to work harder and do more for you."
Cienega coach Nemer Hassey said Arizona's staff would be wise to build relationships with every high school coach in Tucson.
"Not every team has the talent to send a kid to the Pac-12, but someday they may. It's important to build those relationships regardless," he said. "Back in the day, Dick Tomey used to just come see me - and I didn't have anybody for him. Build those relationships, and you'll know who the best players are."
Ironwood Ridge coach Matt Johnson agreed.
"Every single high school kid wants to play college football, and now every other player has a (game) film out," Johnson said. "So, as coaches, we'll just talk to each other: 'Which of our guys do you like? Here's your guys that I like.' We'll talk about college recruiting. We scratch each other's backs. That's how you find the talent that's hidden."
• Be realistic. While Rodriguez wants to "blanket" the state, he must be smart about it.
Arizona produces just 30 or so Division I and I-AA football players a year, and only a dozen are considered worthy of BCS-caliber programs.
The Wildcats' new staff must quickly identify which programs, and which players, can contribute. By landing just six of the state's best players each year, the UA could keep local fans and alumni happy while reducing its reliance on California- and Texas-born talent.
• Multitask. Each of Arizona's assistants will be assigned primary and secondary recruiting areas. The program will continue to recruit California, Texas and Arizona heavily but will also branch out into far-flung states.
Rodriguez said he will recruit Florida "a little bit, but not as much" as he did when he was coaching at West Virginia and Michigan. Rodriguez's staff at Michigan lured quarterback Denard Robinson from Deerfield Beach, Fla.
Arizona has had good luck recruiting Illinois and Louisiana lately. Expect the Wildcats' new coaches to continue to mine those areas.
"If they've got ties in Illinois, in Pennsylvania or somewhere where they're close with (high school) coaches, why give that up?" Rodriguez said. "I'm talking to players who are a long way from here and interested in visiting, and they're very, very good players."
• Sell Arizona. The Wildcats are coming off a 4-8 season, but make no mistake: They have a good buzz. If nothing else, Arizona's one up on its in-state rival when it comes to recruiting.
While Arizona State struggles to find a replacement for Dennis Erickson, Wildcats coaches are actively pursuing many of the state's best undecided players.
And Arizona did upset ASU in last month's Territorial Cup game. Ragle, the coach at Chaparral, said winning the rivalry game is "paramount."
"He who laughs last laughs best," he said. "That's a huge deal when it comes to recruiting in-state kids."
Still up for grabs
Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez can make a big in-state splash by landing one or more of the following undecided players. The Scout.com recruiting service lists the following five as talented - and available:
Position/Name Height Weight High School College choices
OT Andrus Peat 6-7 305 Tempe Corona del Sol 16 schools
ATH Davonte Neal 5-9 175 Scottsdale Chaparral 16 schools
RB D.J. Foster 6-0 185 Scottsdale Saguaro 16 schools
DE Kisima Jagne 6-5 230 Chandler 9 schools
WR Javon Williams 6-4 175 Chandler 12 schools