Mickey Baucus accepted a scholarship to Arizona on April 30, 2009. It was the day Mike Stoops’ contract was officially extended through 2013.
Baucus gave his commitment to UA offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who has since coached at West Virginia and now Oklahoma.
Sonny Dykes called the plays. Kindall/Sancet Stadium was a baseball stadium. And the north end zone at Arizona Stadium consisted of a glorified set of high school bleachers topped by a 1990s-era video board.
Seems like yesterday.
Mickey Baucus has been around UA football so long he has grown a full beard, has started 38 consecutive games, has played for three offensive line coaches and understands that when Rich Rodriguez blows off some steam, you’ll survive.
“You ride out the storm,” Baucus was saying at the conclusion of Arizona’s Thursday morning workout. “You’d better have a short memory if you play football. I mean, we come out here and hit people.”
It’s not choir practice.
In the five years since Baucus chose to be a Wildcat, the culture and environment of Arizona football has so fully changed that now it’s good news when the coach raises hell, as RichRod did in a late Wednesday practice.
Stoops boiled over routinely, and it became a bit like crying wolf.
Rodriguez chooses his battles more carefully, more constructively. He’s not one to cross, but he moves on.
“I’m mad about something that happened at practice,” he told reporters (I was not among them) Wednesday night. “That’s it. I’m allowed to be mad. That’s my right.”
By Thursday morning his demeanor matched the sunshine. “You’ve got to work through it,” he said. “I want it to be hard. I want to see who’ll push through it and who’ll fold under pressure.”
Said Baucus: “It’s forgotten.”
One of the first things I learned in the football-writing business came from another old West Virginian, ex-USC and Tampa Bay Bucs coach John McKay.
“The desire to be liked will get a coach fired,” he told me in my rookie year covering the dreadful 0-14 Buccaneers. “You won’t catch any of my players saying, ‘Let’s win one for John McKay.’ ”
In the middle of training camp, with one off-day scheduled between now and the Aug. 29 opener against UNLV, a college football team such as Arizona’s is expected to be in crisis mode.
Nobody knows who will play quarterback or running back, especially the quarterbacks and running backs. There’s a hole in the secondary. A bunch of unproven linebackers are trying to become starters in a league that has eight of the nation’s top quarterbacks.
Sure the coach is testy, who isn’t? But his style of tough-love appears to be more calculated and reasonable than that of his UA predecessor.
Uncertainty creates tension.
Uncertainty? Many people believe Arizona will finish somewhere in the middle of the Pac-12, or somewhere behind ASU, USC and UCLA in the South Division.
Baucus, a left tackle who has a reasonable chance to be a Pac-12 all-star, is part of the reason some think the Wildcats can match or exceed last season’s 8-5 record.
He’s surely one of the reasons Rodriguez can find a reason not to be angry at practice.
“I’m proud of Mickey,” he said Thursday. “He’s played a long time and always been pretty serious about his craft. This is the most serious he’s taken the off-season. He’s healthier than he’s ever been. He’s been really solid in training camp and in the spring.”
When the Pac-12 Networks broadcast a one-hour special on Arizona’s training camp Wednesday, it did not mention Baucus or the offensive line, which is the team’s strength. Not a word.
It interviewed four receivers, three coaches and two defensive players, but not a syllable about Baucus and returning line starters Steven Gurrola, Fabbians Ebbele and Cayman Bundage.
When you start with Arizona in 2014, you’d better start with the offensive line.
“Fabbians, Steve and myself are seniors, and we like to say we’re in our contract year, like the guys in the NFL,” said Baucus. “It motivates you.”
Arizona still lacks quality depth on the offensive line, which can be said of every position on Rodriguez’s third Arizona team except receivers. That’s part of the coaching transition.
It’s also part of the reason Rodriguez isn’t always Mr. Popularity. The burden is considerable.
Big ol’ Mickey Baucus, at 6 feet 8 inches and 293 pounds, is expected to carry a lot of the weight.
“We’ve got more size on the OL this year, and I think we’re stronger and in better shape,” he said. “It has to do with maturity. I’ve come to the understanding that football is a full-time job and not just a hobby any more. It’s not just a game.”
If somebody yells at him, it’s no big deal.