Editor’s note: This summer, Star columnist Greg Hansen is counting down the top 10 of just about everything related to Tucson sports.
Today’s list: the top 10 UA assistant football coaches who became head coaches:
Being an assistant football coach at Arizona doesn’t always lead to success, fame and riches, but it often leads to a better job.
Twenty-one former UA football assistants have become head coaches at all conceivable levels, from Idaho State and James Madison to Notre Dame and Texas.
Three former UA assistants – Larry Smith, John Mackovic and Bob Weber – became Arizona’s head coach.
The culture has changed. Arizona now pays two assistant coaches more than $500,000 per year; when Ed Cavanaugh was hired away from Kansas State as Arizona’s offensive line coach in 1960, he was paid $6,500. The job came with this caveat: Cavanaugh would be in charge of Arizona’s summer job-placement program for football players.
Over the next eight years, Cavanaugh found UA football players jobs as laborers at San Xavier Rock and Sand Co., and at Zion National Park. He located jobs for players as supervisor of work crews for the State Industrial School for Boys at Fort Grant. And Cavanaugh tapped into a local construction firm to get a crew of UA football players helping to build the 22nd Street overpass in 1966.
"Players who do hard road work, maintenance work, construction work, report in shape," Cavanaugh told the Star in 1964. "A lineman who works on a road gang will have less trouble on opening day than a player who doesn’t work."
College football now requires year-round athletic training and no time for the road gang.
Cavanaugh was fired in 1967 along with head coach Jim LaRue. From there, Cavanaugh coached at Utah State, for the Buffalo Bills and became the head coach at Idaho State from 1968-71 and at Army from 1980-82.
He struggled as a head coach, going 30-41-2. That’s a similar theme for the other 20 ex-Wildcat coaches who became head coaches. Here’s our list of the Top 10, based on their number of head coaching victories: