Cody Creason was in class when Jim Michalczik texted him the news. At first, Creason — the Arizona Wildcats’ redshirt sophomore offensive tackle — couldn’t believe what he was reading.
“I thought they were pulling a prank,” Creason said.
The rest of Arizona’s offensive line was at a position meeting at the time. Creason, who had a class, was the only one absent.
That’s how he learned that Michalczik, the offensive line coach, was leaving for Oregon State. The Beavers introduced Michalczik on Thursday as the team’s new offensive line coach, run game coordinator and associate head coach.
Michalczik’s departure, coupled with the expected graduation of many of the team’s top linemen, means everything will be different next season. The Wildcats will be in full reboot mode on the offensive line.
Together, the line has been through a lot. Starting center Zach Hemmila died before the 2016 season, and the Wildcats struggled through a 3-9 campaign. Through all of that, Michalczik was a father figure to the linemen.
“He’s been such a big influence on my life, on a lot of the guys’ lives,” said senior Jacob Alsadek. “I’ve gone to him with more personal problems than I’ve gone to my parents. He’s just a good, solid dude. I’m happy for him.”
Added Creason: “It’s definitely sad seeing him go. He meant a lot to me. Once you get to college, you leave your parents, and he’s that guy we leaned on.”
Nathan Eldridge, who along with Creason is the only returning offensive lineman with significant playing experience, pulled Michalczik aside after the meeting. The two had an emotional talk.
“He said we have a good group of guys,” Eldridge said, “so aim for the stars.”
The current group will play one last time, when Arizona (7-5) takes on Purdue (6-6) in the Dec. 27 Foster Farms Bowl. After that, the players will scatter.
Alsadek, guard Christian Boettcher and tackles Layth Friekh and Gerhard de Beer will leave the program. Friekh, the starting left tackle, is appealing to the NCAA for another year of eligibility. His return is still considered a longshot.
That leaves Eldridge, who has started 24 games at center in two years, and Creason, a co-starter with De Beer at right tackle who’s played in 24 games the last two years with seven starts.
“I think our future is great,” said Eldridge, who was named a second-team All-Pac-12 selection by The Associated Press on Thursday. “We have a really good offensive line, a lot of young guys that can play and it’s crazy because there’s only two of us that have experience but at the same time that’s like, we can mold it how we want to, make sure that our chemistry is good so that we have this whole offseason to work on it.”
Who will coach the unit is anyone’s guess.
Glenn Parker, a former UA and NFL lineman and Pac-12 Networks analyst, has taken over Michalczik’s day-to-day duties. The UA was granted a waiver so Parker could participate in on-field coaching. He also will receive help from offensive graduate assistant Kyle Quinn. Both are considered candidates for the full-time position. Quinn was Arizona’s starting center in 2012, Rodriguez’s first year with the Wildcats.
“I’m considering everybody,” Rodriguez said.
The line won’t be devoid of talent so much as experience. Guard Michael Eletise lost his starting job to Boettcher, but is expected to emerge next season. The Wildcats also added Michigan State transfer Thiyo Lukusa, a 6-foot-5-inch, 330-pound lineman who sat out the season due to transfer rules.
Some other players expected to compete for playing time include tackle Bryson Cain, who missed this season due to injury; Josh McCauley, a walk-on who rose up the depth chart this year and program veterans Levi Walton and Alex Kosinski, who will be upperclassmen next season.
The Wildcats have three offensive linemen in their 2018 recruiting class. One of them, Steven Bailey, is a junior college transfer.
“That’s going to be the one position next year that we don’t really know about, right?” Alsadek said. “I mean, a lot of young guys, a lot of guys that just came in … I think they’re fine, they’re just not going to have a lot of experience. They have the guys, they just need to develop them.”
•Redshirt junior Trevor Wood, who played defensive end because of injuries against Arizona State, continues to practice there and had an interception Thursday. Wood has been a tight end for most of his UA career. He played both positions as a freshman. He gives the line size at 6-6, 265.
•Freshman Kylan Wilborn, who started at end against ASU, is back to his usual DE-LB “Stud” spot. The hope is that starting end Justin Belknap (knee) will be back for the Foster Farms Bowl after missing the final 1ƒ games.
Linebacker Colin Schooler on being named Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year: “It just shows how well we did as a team. There’s so many moving parts on a defense, you can’t really give all credit to one player. I’m just happy that my defense and I got that award.”
•Arizona expects to hear back from the NCAA within a week or so regarding the appeals by tackle Layth Friekh and receiver Shawn Poindexter to gain an additional year of eligibility.
•Rodriguez on Willie Taggart leaving Oregon for Florida State after just one season: “I think you’re surprised anytime anybody leaves after a year. But also, you’ve gotta understand, he’s from Florida. That’s a top-five job. … But Oregon is a special place too with their facilities and what Phil Knight has done for them. They’ll get a good coach.”
•Rodriguez deemed it “ironic” that several players de-committed from Arizona and signed with Oregon, only to lose their coach less than a year later.
•Arizona began implementing its game plan for Purdue. Rodriguez is impressed with the Boilermakers’ defense, in particular its size up front. Purdue’s D-line includes 325-pound sophomore Lorenzo Neal, son of the former NFL player of the same name.
•Punting has been a major problem for Arizona lately. That unit has been working on the most basic fundamentals of snapping and catching the ball. Jake Glatting is likely to punt in the Foster Farms Bowl. Matt Aragon also is getting reps there.