The Arizona Wildcats have hired a new secondary coach. And, unlike last time, they didn't have to travel the country or break the bank to get him.
Graduate assistant Ryan Walters was promoted by Mike Stoops on Monday, giving the UA a full coaching staff with three weeks left before the start of spring drills. Walters replaces Duane Akina, who returned to the University of Texas last month after just four weeks on the job.
At 25, Walters is the second-youngest assistant coach in the new Pac-12 Conference. Utah quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson is 24.
"Obviously, I'm more than excited about getting this job and opportunity and the fact Coach Stoops has the confidence to hire me," Walters said. "I have a lot to prove, and this is a great situation for that. We have a great group of players in the secondary, a good mix of veterans and young talent.
"I'll be working tirelessly to get the job done the way it's supposed to be done."
Walters inherits a group of defensive backs that is expected to be the Wildcats' strength in 2011. Cornerbacks Trevin Wade and Robert Golden should both start as upperclassmen, with former Palo Verde High School star Adam Hall penciled in at one of the two safety spots. Underclassmen Shaquille Richardson, Jonathan McKnight and Marquis Flowers provide valuable depth for a UA team that went 7-6 a year ago.
Stoops said Walters "is the best fit at this time for our team."
"He brings a youthful enthusiasm to the staff and a solid knowledge of our system," he said. "We're able to continue preparations for spring ball immediately."
Walters is just three years removed from a stellar college career. Walters started 33 games for Colorado from 2005 to 2008; as a senior, he was named team MVP by his teammates. Walters joined the UA staff as a graduate assistant last August, and spent the 2010 season working under co-defensive coordinator Greg Brown, his college position coach. Brown returned to Colorado in December to become the Buffaloes defensive coordinator.
Stoops hired Akina, a one-time assistant under Dick Tomey at the UA, to replace Brown. But Akina lasted just a month in Tucson before returning to the Longhorns and his old job.
Walters, a native of Los Angeles, is the Wildcats' fourth secondary coach since the start of the 2009 season.
• Former UA quarterback Kris Heavner has been promoted to offensive graduate assistant. He replaced Matt Rice, who spent the last three years in that role.
• ESPN has picked up the Wildcats' Oct. 20 game against UCLA. The game will be shown nationally as part of the network's Thursday night football package.