Rich Rodriguez was so eager, so determined, to rebuild Arizona's football roster that he worked ahead, virtually completing his 23-man recruiting class by mid-summer 2012.
Almost none of those who committed to Arizona were considered elite prospects. And the one early four-star player who pledged to play for the Wildcats, offensive lineman Logan Stott of St. George, Utah, enrolled last month and soon quit the team, although it might be more accurate to say he was encouraged to leave.
With the possible exception of Stott, RichRod's first impressions seem to be good ones. He chuckled at some of those who rate high school players for internet sites, suggesting they might be sitting in a basement, drooling on their pajamas.
"We almost tried to put the brakes on," he said. "But we took a look at them and said, 'These are the guys we really wanted.' "
RichRod's earnestness was evident in the pursuit of Santa Rosa (Calif.) Cardinal Newman High linebacker Phil "Scooby'' Wright, an elite prospect in a position of great need at Arizona.
On Monday, RichRod and UA defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel chartered a private jet, flying to Santa Rosa so they could take Wright to breakfast.
Just to make sure, right?
Two weeks earlier, Casteel had flown commercially to reconfirm with Wright, a few days after Wright's official visit to Arizona. That's how careful this business can be. Wright initially pledged to play for Arizona in June. He then visited Tucson, with his family, in mid-summer.
According to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, RichRod's recruiting approach was so thorough that when Wright arrived at McKale Center on June 18, the entire football staff, 10 coaches, greeted him at the door.
"I was in shock," Scooby told the Press Democrat. "I even met the kicking coach."
Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin is on record saying that Scooby is good enough that he will someday play in the NFL.
RichRod's planning, organization and execution in his first full year as an Arizona recruiter were such that he said "there was the least amount of surprise in any year since I've been a head coach. … As good as our recruiting classes are now, they're going to get better and better."
One caution: It's going to take Arizona at least another year, possibly two, to develop the kind of defensive depth chart that can seriously contend for a Rose Bowl.
But that doesn't mean, until then, the Wildcats can't outscore some Pac-12 contenders and remain bowl eligible.
Gold Medalist relishes new role
Santa Rita grad Sanders will be
Rockies' Rookie team skipper
When Anthony Sanders graduated from Santa Rita High School in 1992, UA football coach Dick Tomey referred to him as "the perfect guy" to play quarterback for Arizona.
Sanders went to training camp with the '92 Wildcats, the launch of the Desert Swarm years, but then accepted a Toronto Blue Jays bonus offer and began a baseball odyssey that is now entering its third decade.
Sanders, 38, last week was named the manager of the Colorado Rockies' Rookie League team in Grand Junction, Colo., capping a dues-paying period in which he spent seven seasons as a hitting coach in the Rockies' organization.
"I told the Rockies when I started that I hoped to manage some day," Sanders said last week. "We go to the big-league camp in Phoenix next week, it's a long year, but I can't wait to get started."
Sanders played for the Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners, spent 14 years in the minors, playing in 1,227 games. He also played professionally in Japan and Mexico. The highlight of his career might have been playing outfield for Team USA, winning the gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
"Being a manager opens up a few more doors for me," he said. "They've shown faith in me, and now I need to restore that faith."
Pima freshman sets record, wows recruiters with jump
Pima College freshman Eddie Wilcox broke a 30-year-old school high-jumping record last week, clearing 7 feet 1/2 inch in his season debut. Thomas Urias jumped 6-10 for the Aztecs in 1983. Wilcox is from Chandler High School, where his previous best was a mere 6-6. He has benefited from the coaching of PCC jumps coach Chad Harrison, a Benson High grad who used to be a standout jumper for the Aztecs himself. How quickly did word spread of the new 7-foot jumper? PCC head coach Greg Wenneborg said he posted the news on Facebook and within 20 minutes received a call from a track coach for the Texas Longhorns. … When he played for the Arizona Wildcats, Kyle Fogg received as much attention for his gentlemanly nature and positive attitude as for his All-Pac-12 season, 2011-12. Last week, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA D-League, Fogg made a point to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame when his team was in Springfield, Mass. Fogg took a photograph of Lute Olson's plaque and circulated it via Twitter. A few later, Fogg scored a season-high 22 points at Fort Wayne, making five three-pointers in 30 minutes. … Prediction: Former UA women's basketball player Brenda Pantoja will become the first female official to referee a Pac-12 men's basketball game. Pantoja called the San Diego-James Madison men's game at the Las Vegas MGM Grand in December, a night in which the Pac-12 staged a "dry run" for the upcoming Pac-12 tournament. Pantoja is already an NBA referee; she worked an Atlanta-Oklahoma City game in November and has since worked three more games.
More short stuff
With talent like Bonstrom on bench, Stanford must be good
Stanford is ranked among the top teams in college softball, and I believe it. The Cardinal is so good that freshman Kayla Bonstrom, who was the Arizona Player of the Year at CDO last year, a state championship winner, can't make the starting lineup, yet. Bonstrom was a pinch hitter in each of Stanford's first two games last week. She finally started, in Game 3, as a designated player, batting seventh in the lineup. Bonstrom is probably the best position player in Tucson prep softball over the last decade. … Tiger Woods is expected to make an official declaration to play in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship by midweek. He is not playing at this week's Northern Trust Open, although fellow Match Play competitors Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Graeme McDowell and Louis Oosthuizen will be making their 2013 debut on American soil in Los Angeles. … The Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame will honor nine Southern Arizona football scholar-athletes at its March 3 banquet at the UA Grand Ballroom. Salpointe's Johnny Peña and Travis Fister; Cienega's Luke Holley and Vaughn Fontana; Sahuarita's Tanner Fanning and Daniel Neal; Ironwood Ridge's Tyler Williams and Jake Mathews; and Sabino's Cody Lloyd all will be presented with $1,000 scholarships. UA athletic director Greg Byrne will be the speaker. Tickets: 327-1121.
Now a coach, ex-Cat Poumele helps Arizona find a kicker
Pulu Poumele was a capable and starting offensive lineman at Arizona from 1990 to 1994, and has since become the head coach at El Camino High School in Oceanside, Calif. Last week he sent his first player to his alma mater: El Camino kicker Jack Flatau agreed to enroll at Arizona, although not on full scholarship. Flatau emerged on the recruiting radar in October when he kicked a 44-yard field goal and had six kickoffs out of the end zone in a game against Fallbrook High School. … Arizona junior quarterback Jesse Scroggins , who is already in school, isn't likely to participate in spring practice. He is scheduled to have toe/foot surgery this month. … My choice as the No. 1 recruit in Arizona's Class of 2013: San Diego Madison High tailback Pierre Cormier, who, on paper, is faster, bigger and more elusive than Ka'Deem Carey. But, of course, Carey has already rushed for 1,929 yards in a season. As RichRod said last week "Production is better than potential." … It's fascinating what it takes to run an NFL coaching staff. Chip Kelly's first staff for the Philadelphia Eagles includes 20 coaches, a strength coordinator and a sports science coordinator. All for 53 players. Kelly's staff is so diverse it includes 38-year-old ex-UA safety David Fipp and 69-year-old ex-UA running backs coach Ted Williams. The estimated payroll for Kelly's staff is a staggering $6 million. … Jeff Popovich helped Sabino High School become Tucson's top football power in the 1990s. He has since played for the Miami Hurricanes and spent three years coaching Miami and seven years as an assistant coach at Florida International University. He was fired by FIU last week, a day after helping the school complete its recruiting class. Can you get any lower, as a head coach, than using your assistant, as Ron Turner did, and then asking him to leave once the hay was in the barn?
My Two Cents
Top McKale Center moments should include sweep, upset
The UA last week announced its list of "Top 5 Moments" to celebrate the 40th anniversary of McKale Center. Among them: Sean Elliott, breaking Lew Alcindor's Pac-12 career scoring record, Feb. 18, 1989. It is the only one I'd include in my top three.
Here's two it missed, possibly 1-2 at the top:
1. On Feb. 23-24, 1973, Arizona swept Utah (101-95) and BYU (100-94). The games drew a combined 24,300 in 24 hours. Until then, playing at Bear Down Gym, Arizona averaged about 2,800 per game.
"It was perhaps the greatest weekend of basketball in UA history," the Star's Chuck Kramer wrote after the compelling Utah-BYU sweep.
From that moment, with Fred Snowden's initial burst of excitement and run-and-gun style, Arizona became a basketball community.
2. On Jan. 23, 1986, Craig McMillan scored at the buzzer on a 94-foot pass from Steve Kerr, beating Oregon State 63-62 in overtime, signaling the change in balance of power in the Pac-10.
The Beavers were the league's ranking heavyweight, with the top coach, Ralph Miller. After that historic basket, Arizona went on to win its first Pac-10 title and Lute Olson took charge.
Let me know if you can top those two.