Rich Rodriguez introduced at Arizona

Does Rich Rodriguez’s past leave you smiling?
Photo by Rob Schumacher/The Arizona Republic

The University of Arizona has its new head football coach in Richard A. Rodriguez. Is Rich Rod the long awaited answer for the Zona Cats?

The response from the national media has been positive but the majority of the fan base was surprised. You’re not going to hire everybody’s first choice in any coaching search but many thought the same reasons that made former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach an unlikely candidate would also eliminate Rodriguez from serious consideration.

Those reasons? Stuff like getting fired, a lawsuit, player discontent, and those pesky NCAA violations.

The violations took place during both of Rodriguez’s high-profile jobs and can’t be ignored. You can read about what happened at West Virginia here and here. The Michigan summary is here and the full NCAA report is here.

Are they not that bad? There was nothing involving money to players or academic fraud. Can you live with them? Greg Byrne decided he could and the Rich Rod era is under way.

Now the bottom line is – as with any coaching hire – can he win football games at Arizona?

I look at it the same way I considered Leach. If Rodriguez was still at West Virginia he would be in the “tremendous hire but no chance he comes to Arizona” group. Alabama found out the same thing at the time.

When you look at the Michigan fiasco you certainly see the culture clash and can understand why generations of Wolverine fans would revolt after witnessing losing seasons for the first time in decades. But this wasn’t a John Mackovic situation where a guy followed up each season with a new low. Michigan’s record went from 3-9 to 5-7 to 7-6 in Rodriguez’s three years and his players (including the mesmerizing Denard Robinson) are 9-2 in Brady Hoke‘s first season.

If you’re going to gamble with a baggage-bearing coach you have to turn him loose (within the rules of course). Let Rodriguez hire his staff even if that means all the current coaches go elsewhere. If he wants to run a 3-3-5 defense – or a 2-2-7, or even a 1-10 – give him the budget to hire a coordinator who can run that defense. If he needs to cycle through the roster to get his type of players in place, give him the time to do so.

The big advantage to hiring an experienced head coach is he has a clear plan. For Rodriguez it’s not a matter of finding his way as the general of a program. Now it’s a matter of finding the officers and troops who can do what he wants and how he wants it. And then we wait and see (and hope) what he wants to do ends up being what he can do and that it works in the Pac-12.

I just happen to be in Michigan right now and the Wolverine fans have enjoyed giving me grief since the news broke. We’ll see who’s grieving the next time I pay a visit.

* * *

Quick, who has the third-best overall record among bowl eligible Pac-12 teams?

Surprise, surprise, it’s Utah at 7-4. Washington and ASU have lost a combined six straight while the Utes have won four in a row. As a result the adjusted Pac-12 bowl bubble looks like this:

Pac-12 bowl bubble

What is IUTLCG? I had to create a new tier for UCLA and ASU because, while they’re bowl eligible now, either one could make the Pac-12 Championship Game with a 6-6 record and if they lost that they’d be 6-7 and not qualified for a bowl. In other words they could lose their way out of a bowl by winning the division. Therefore, the Bruins and Devils are currently In Unless They Lose Championship Game.

Transitioning to the hot seat, the big plus in Arizona hiring Rodriguez this week is the Cats got their man before any other Pac-12 job opened up. So UA fans are less concerned about which other coaches stay or go unless they really like the mediocre job a coach is doing for a rival school.

Team Remaining Wins Record Upset?
ASU Cal 7-5 at Ore
UCLA none 6-6 Done.
Cal none 6-6 at ASU
WSU none 4-8 Done.
OSU none 3-9 Done.

I think Mike Riley and Paul Wulff will be back for OSU and WSU. Cal put up a good fight against Stanford and unless the Bears get annihilated by ASU I believe Jeff Tedford will at least get a shot in the bowl game.

The two coaches in the most trouble are Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson and UCLA’s Rick Neuheisel. I don’t think they both can survive at this point. I expect whoever doesn’t win the Pac-12 South will be fired after this weekend. The “winner” of the South may still get canned.

So if you like to see ASU and UCLA stumbling around root for both schools to get a win to end the regular season.

* * *

Nick Foles put up a monster game against ASU putting him within striking distance of most of the Pac-12 records we’ve been tracking. Of course, he can’t break any records if he doesn’t play but here’s where he stands and what exactly he needs in the final game to hit each mark:

Pac-12 Records Who, When What Nick Foles, 2011 Needs
Total Offense Cody Pickett, Wash, 2002 4,273 4,228 (pace) 398
Total Offense per Game Ryan Leaf, WSU, 1997 325.7 352.4 34
Passing Yards Cody Pickett, Wash, 2002 4,458 4,344 (pace) 476
Passing Yards per Game Cody Pickett, Wash, 2002 342.9 362.0 134
Completions Willie Tuitama, Ariz, 2007 327 354
Completion Percentage Rich Campbell, Cal, 1980 70.7 68.5 a lot
Completion %, Career Matt Leinart, USC, 2002-05 64.8 66.5 not much

Bonus stat: Foles needs 341 passing yards to get to 10,000 for his Arizona career.

Another 10,000 reasons to buy a cheap ticket and say goodbye in person on Saturday.

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Scott Terrell hopes his violations aren’t that bad. Consider sanctions on Twitter and Facebook.