Opinion by Greg Hansen: As year careens downhill, expect some heads to roll

2007-10-21T00:00:00Z Opinion by Greg Hansen: As year careens downhill, expect some heads to rollOpinion by Greg Hansen Arizona Daily Star
October 21, 2007 12:00 am  • 

For an unusually long time Saturday night, UA athletic director Jim Livengood remained in his football team's dressing room underneath Arizona Stadium.

He waited while offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes talked to reporters. "The season is never beyond salvaging,'' Dykes said, who half-smiled, making it difficult to believe him.

Livengood waited while Dykes buried his head on his wife Kate's shoulder and began to cry.

The athletic director was still waiting when a tearful Nicole Stoops, wife of head coach Mike Stoops, stood at the back of a makeshift tent while her husband talked silently to the TV cameras and tape recorders.

"I don't know,'' Stoops said, trying but failing to answer questions about his team's dreadful 21-20 loss to Stanford. "I've seen it all.''

And Livengood waited while place-kicker Jason Bondzio, sobbing, still hurt from the miss of a potential game-deciding field goal, showered, dressed and walked slowly back to McKale Center, his eyes searching the ground.

When Livengood finally exited the dressing room, he hugged an acquaintance and held on. This was not the social butterfly Smilin' Jim Livengood, who preaches "Have a Great Wildcat Day'' to anyone, anytime, all the time.

This was a sober, solemn athletic director who now knows, more than any fan, that his football team is likely to finish 2-10 and the only thing left to play for is to save jobs. Mike Stoops' job and, certainly, his own job.

As Livengood began his walk to McKale, he met linebacker Spencer Larsen, Arizona's best football player, a 23-year-old senior who played the game of his life Saturday, 14 tackles, and had nothing to show for it but a sheet of statistics.

"I feel sorry for everybody,'' said Larsen, the team's go-to guy for perspective. "I feel really sorry for coach Stoops. I hurt for him and I feel for all my coaches.''

As Larsen and Livengood exchanged a brief hug, the athletic director attempted a brief smile.

"Next week, huh?'' the athletic director said.

In the sense of a losing football program, now rolling deep into its ninth straight nonwinning year, "next week'' has become the UA's anthem. Next week is rarely better than the week before that or the week before that.

In a season of great anticipation, the Wildcats have lost at home to a pair of gimmies, Stanford and New Mexico, and "next week'' now feels the way it did when John Mackovic was coaching and Arizona finished 2-10 in 2003.

Next week, whether it be at Washington or at home against UCLA, is a week to dread. My god, do you realize Oregon and Arizona State remain on the schedule?

Now, inescapably, 2-10 is the projected finish to Arizona's 2007 schedule. And who can survive that?

Stoops? Probably not.

Livengood? You wouldn't think UA president Robert Shelton would permit Livengood to hire yet another football coach.

Star cornerback Antoine Cason, who is now almost sure to complete his college career without playing on a winning team, or in a bowl game, said no one is pounding nails into a figurative UA football coffin.

"I'm not dead," he said, and then, when asked if this is the worst he has gone through in his UA career, added "I don't know about that, but it's bad.''

Stanford is not a good football team. It was possibly America's worst top-division college football team a year ago and it hasn't had time to punch up a new roster and correct its many shortcomings.

The Cardinal was so bad last year that an Arizona team starting a No. 2 quarterback and playing the meat of the game with its No. 3 guy, won in a rout and held Stanford to 52 total yards.

And you're telling me that one year later Stanford beats a veteran UA team in Tucson?

Larsen's take was the same as many of those who watched the talent-challenged Cardinal at Arizona Stadium: "I really felt this was a team that by no means had the right to beat us tonight,'' he said.

And then he added a senior's special touch of proportion.

"I feel exactly how the seniors before me felt, starting with Lance Briggs (in 2002), and the group after that, and the group after that, and the group after that.''

So there it is. Groundhog Day at Arizona Stadium.

On paper, the Wildcats have four games remaining and are likely to be double-figure underdogs in each. In each of Stoops' first three seasons, Arizona rallied in November to shock a heavyweight — ASU in 2004, UCLA in 2005 and Cal last year.

To make any difference now, the Wildcats would need to win two of those games, maybe three.

And a cow will fly over the moon.

Before leaving the stadium Saturday, Stoops was asked how the loss measured on a scale of disappointment. He half-shrugged and said "We had a chance to get a win, and those opportunities don't come along too frequently around here.''

How sad. How true.

Related links:

UA weak; it's bleak

Greg Hansen: As year careens downhill, expect some heads to roll

Cardinal takes big step

Inside the game

Ryan Finley's UA football report card

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