Greg Hansen: Rodriguez still remaking Stoops' roster

2013-08-19T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Rodriguez still remaking Stoops' rosterGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
August 19, 2013 12:00 am  • 

From the stylish Sands Club, the fifth-story view of Arizona Stadium is almost irresistible. For the first time in 80 years, the track surrounding the old stadium is gone. It is now a football-only theater, with a space-age scoreboard and million-dollar turf.

Arizona's football program has a new-car smell and new direction, as if the whole operation is unspoiled.

Yet, in a touch of preseason irony, just as Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez arrived for his Sunday morning media session, the Pac-12 Networks broadcast the 2009 Arizona-Oregon game. It was a climactic ordeal that provided a much different view and left an entirely different sensation of Arizona Stadium.

"As we head to overtime tied at 31," ABC's Brent Musburger was saying, "the Battle for the Rose Bowl goes on in Tucson."

The Ducks would win 44-41. Less than two years later, the school fired Mike Stoops and started over.

On Sunday, before someone could ask RichRod about a roster that includes about 35 Stoops holdovers, the core of Arizona's 2013 team, he made a correction.

"They're not Mike Stoops' guys," Rodriguez said. "They're my guys."

That's the reality; the bricks and mortar are still settling.

The transition from Stoops-to-RichRod is such that defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel on Sunday said "it may very well be that guys who started for us last year may be backups two weeks from now.''

Somewhere in the process, as Arizona went from the doorstep of the Rose Bowl to a 10th-place team, the Wildcats essentially lost a recruiting class.

Bit by bit, as Stoops' coaching staff splintered, losing heavyweight recruiters such as Sonny Dykes, Bill Bedenbaugh and Mike Tuiasosopo, Arizona failed to maintain the quality of personnel it deployed in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

It's not any more complicated than that.

"What happens in a coaching change, is that you lose some assistant coaches and you lose in recruiting; it might affect you for two years," said Rodriguez. "You probably have at least one lost recruiting year.

"We have a smaller senior class. We've got to play some younger guys. That's a little bit of where we're at."

It's not that Stoops didn't recruit well. He left Matt Scott, Ka'Deem Carey and the bulk of an offense that set a school record in points scored last season.

This appears to be the caught-in-transition-year at Arizona.

"There were a lot of gaps when we got here," said Matt Dudek, the UA's director of on-campus recruiting and player personnel. "This happens everywhere and not just with coach Stoops. If your staff busts, you can look at the roster, as we did, and say, 'Holy cow, where did all the quarterbacks and linebackers go?'"

When Arizona opens against NAU next week, it's conceivable that Stoops-recruited athletes in the main rotation of about 40 offensive and defensive players will outnumber those signed by Rodriguez about 4 to 1.

By next year it should be closer to 2 to 1, or less. That's life in college football. It takes so much time to overhaul a roster.

"I've tried to learn how to be more patient," said Rodriguez. "But it's still hard for me to do."

Few coaches in the Pac-12, have been as resourceful as Rodriguez. He has acquired blue-chip transfers such as Notre Dame receiver DaVonte' Neal, Texas quarterback Connor Brewer, USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins and Texas receiver Cayleb Jones.

It's similar to the way Dick Tomey worked college football's transfer market at the outset of his Arizona days, getting SMU quarterback Bobby Watters, Colorado tackle Vincent Smith and Alabama defensive lineman Anthony Smith.

Ohio State and Oregon may not pursue transfers, but Arizona must. It can be a significant equalizer.

"We're always looking for the next guy," said Dudek, "When a highly-talented guy is available, after you're sure they're a good fit and that they're leaving a school for the right reason, we want to get in on that situation as quickly as possible. If you wait a couple of days, you won't get them."

Working with purpose, Rodriguez and Dudek completed the process of acquiring Neal and Jones in two days each. They were among the nation's most highly-rated receivers in the high school class of 2012.

Can you imagine what it'll be like for Arizona to put both of those receivers on the field in 2014? They'll play alongside injured receiver Austin Hill, who caught 81 passes a year ago.

Rodriguez has been influenced somewhat by former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron and the 2008 book "Meat Market" by Bruce Feldman, in which the Ole Miss coach refused to be bowed by his school's lack of reputation and tradition.

Orgeron pursued the best, and wasn't afraid to make a recruiting decision six months before letter-of-intent day. The same is now true of Arizona, which is believed to have about 20 early commitments in the Class of 2014.

"We're still really, really thin at certain positions, and we're filling those gaps with freshmen," said Rodriguez. "But the expectations don't change. Our job is to put them out there and win football games."

Meanwhile, the Battle for the Rose Bowl continues at Arizona Stadium.

Contact columnist Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com. On Twitter: @ghansen711

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