Greg Hansen: Rookie recruiting slump goes on

2012-01-30T00:01:00Z 2013-07-19T21:24:44Z Greg Hansen: Rookie recruiting slump goes onGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 30, 2012 12:01 am  • 

Rich Rodriguez dressed in all-whites Saturday afternoon: white golf shirt, white slacks, white shoes, white belt. He was almost angelic. Isn't that the status of any college football coach who has yet to lose a game?

RichRod took the McKale Center "White Out" seriously; he's obviously a team player, sharp enough to benefit from the Zona Zoo's buzz on the winter's final recruiting weekend.

He sat with the Zoo for the third time this season, careful not to be too far from Ohio prep safety recruit Bam Bradley, and didn't stray far from Florida prep receiver J.T. Washington and Maryland prep cornerback Brandon Banks.

First-year football coaches at Arizona don't historically recruit well. Rodriguez has learned that by now, perhaps painfully. But Mr. White Out is not likely to shrink from public view and carry a glum expression like his predecessor, Mike Stoops.

When Old Tappan, N.J., prep quarterback Devin Fuller chose UCLA over Arizona on Sunday - apparently unafraid that the Bruins have a franchise-QB-in-waiting in redshirt freshman Brett Hundley - RichRod got his first tangible view of the pecking order in Pac-12 recruiting.

It is now up to Rodriguez to change what previous UA coaches could not.

In 1987, given a month to recruit, Dick Tomey scrambled to sign an otherwise unwanted option quarterback from Jacksonville, Fla., Ronald Veal, and was first in line to get SMU starting quarterback Bobby Watters, who became a free agent when the NCAA abolished football at SMU.

Watters broke his thumb in Game 3 of Tomey's rookie season and, ready or not, Veal became a starting quarterback.

Arizona football coaches have learned to live with less.

In 2001, new coach John Mackovic used his reputation as a quarterbacks guru at Illinois and Texas and in the NFL to flirt with the nation's No. 2 QB recruit, Minnesota prep Joe Mauer. Sound familiar?

Mauer visited the UA and legitimately considered becoming Mackovic's first Arizona quarterback. Alas, Mauer signed with Florida State and then bypassed football altogether to become a baseball All-Star.

Mackovic's first class included Oregon quarterback Nic Costa, who ultimately became a backup at Portland State.

Mackovic's 2001 recruiting class was such a colossal failure that it contributed to his firing in midseason 2003.

Of the 18 players he signed in '01, eight did not play a down.

Mackovic's marquee recruit was San Diego lineman Brad Brittain, who had academic issues and transferred to a junior college, later returning to Arizona to be part of Stoops' first recruiting class.

The need at Arizona is such that sometimes the Wildcats recycle their football recruits.

In 2004, Stoops signed 29 players but could not get a quarterback he considered Pac-10-worthy. Unfortunately, the majority of Stoops' 2004 class was not Pac-10-worthy. Of that group, 12 didn't play a down for Arizona, and only five - All-America cornerback Antoine Cason, defensive lineman Yaniv Barnett, kicker Jason Bondzio, guard Joe Longacre and linebacker Ronnie Palmer - became multiyear starters.

In retrospect, you wonder how Arizona ever got someone as good as Cason, a four-year starter, first-round NFL draft pick and winner of the 2007 Jim Thorpe Award winner.

Part of it is that Cason had an Arizona connection: His family attended the same church in Southern California as the mother of the UA assistant coach who recruited him, Charlie Williams.

Sometimes to recruit successfully, UA football coaches need divine intervention.

To be fair, Stoops had some great misfortune in his first UA recruiting class. His only blue-chip recruit, Texas defensive lineman McCollins Umeh, collapsed on the practice field and died in June 2004. His big name defensive recruit, transfer Byron Smith, had off-field difficulties and later left the team because of medical issues.

Tomey fiddled with the option offense for six seasons before he was able to find a quarterback who could win conventionally. His first big-name QB, Sacramento prep Sean Hutson, soon left the team for disciplinary reasons. Tomey then found ex-Penn State QB Dan White, who became the offensive soul of the Desert Swarm years.

Mackovic inherited Jason Johnson, who was superb, given his otherwise dreadful supporting cast.

And Stoops inherited Kris Heavner and Richard Kovalcheck, each of whom left school and transferred.

It wasn't until his third year on the job that Stoops was able to recruit Willie Tuitama, and then Nick Foles and Matt Scott, which, in retrospect, became the greatest six years of quarterbacking in UA history.

Now comes Rich Rodriguez, a coach in angel's clothing, hopeful the football gods will someday grant him a quarterback who can lift the Wildcats to the football heavens.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at ghansen@azstarnet.com or 573-4362.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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