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Rich Rodriguez looked out his office window toward the Catalina Mountains on a picture-perfect day and the Arizona football coach acknowledged he’s comfortable in Tucson.
“I felt at home since the day we got here,” Rodriguez said recently after his fourth spring practices concluded.
How could he not now, he said. Rodriguez says he has great support from the administration. The fans and city have embraced him, as have former Arizona players. His team has won consistently and, of course, there’s the weather.
He sells it all to each recruit.
“I think people are happier here (in Tucson and southwest) and I think it’s because of the weather. There’s sunshine every day,” Rodriguez said. “I think that puts you in a better mood. I really do think that.”
Rodriguez was in a good mood most of the spring.
“I am comfortable. A lot has to do with the staff, who I work with. My wife (Rita) and kids (Raquel and Rhett) are comfortable and that’s good,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez signed a contract extension last summer that puts him at Arizona until 2019 and raises his base salary to an eventual $1.9 million plus incentives.
He plans to stay at Arizona because of all the aforementioned factors. But that doesn’t prevent rumors of other schools looking into going after him. This past winter, Florida was rumored to be interested. There have been others (Louisville the year before) and likely will be more.
His success at Arizona — three consecutive bowl appearances, a 26-14 record and resurgence in a once-stagnant program — helped regain his coaching credentials after Michigan dismissed him after three years.
Steve Rivera and Anthony Gimino released a book late last year about the pertinent stories behind what has made Arizona basketball what it is today. It is a must-read for any college basketball fan. Please contact Rivera by e-mail to inquire about buying a copy.
RICH (WITH WINS) RODRIGUEZ
Rich Rodriguez is 26-14 through his first three seasons as Arizona’s head coach. He needs only five wins in the upcoming season to match the best four-year start for a head coach in the program’s history. He already has equaled Miles Casteel and Dick Tomey with his 26 wins for the second-best start with the season yet to start. The following table lists how coaches who lasted at least four years as the head coach fared (AllSportsTucson.com graphic):
|G.A. "Tex" Oliver||1933-36||24-9-4|
|J.F. "Pop" McKale||1914-17||9-8|
“I think all that is flattering because you’d rather (leave) that way than the other way,” he said, smiling. “(But) because I had been there and done that in some respects when we moved from West Virginia to Michigan, I’m probably smarter about my future. Everybody says you have to be careful because the grass isn’t always greener and you have to look at that. I’m almost 52 years old and I’m not going to do this forever like Bobby Bowden (former Florida State coach) and Joe Paterno (late coach of Penn State) … maybe 60, eight to 10 more years, that’s it.
“If my wife and family are happy and my kids are doing well in school and in their extracurricular activities, and the staff is happy (that’s important).” ….
Rodriguez anticipates a productive summer. After what he considers the most successful spring in his four years leading the program, Rodriguez anticipates an even better summer.
“Every team has been really good, but I almost sense that this team has a certain competitiveness about them,” Rodriguez said, “and maybe it has to do with a greater love for football. I’d be shocked and disappointed if this isn’t our best summer as a team in summer workouts.
ARIZONA HOOPS RETURNING PRODUCTION
Status APG RPG PPG Gone 10.3 23.1 48.9 Back 3.6 13.7 27.6 Returning 26.1% 37.1% 36.1%
“You won’t know until August when practice starts. But if this is not the best June or July, I’d be shocked.”
With many of the players knowing his system and the demands of the coaching staff, Rodriguez sees the program continuing its upward arc. The Wildcats have posted 26 wins in three seasons — finishing at 10-4 last year after a pair of losses in the Pac-12 Championship and Fiesta Bowl.
Rodriguez jokingly recalled his first spring session, in 2012, when all he did was “yell about tempo.”
But it was then that the foundation for success was set for a program that has enjoyed its best three-year run of results since Jim Young led the Wildcats to 26 wins from 1973-75.
“It’s that, and the attitude of the guys,” Rodriguez said of the recent success. “You’ve got guys who want to be in the weight room, not in there just because they have to be in there. They are in there because they want to be better players.” …
Hoops will have a drop-off but not a significant one. With the departure of four starters from its lineup, Arizona will have to find a way to replace 75 percent of its scoring next season.
Head coach Sean Miller admitted “I don’t have a lot of answers” when discussing his roster earlier this month, but he won’t be without talented options in filling out his rotation. The Wildcats, he said, have “a lot of young, talented, fresh faces and a lot of guys who were here last year … who will have a bigger role. We have to get them ready.”
Gone are Stanley Johnson, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Brandon Ashley (all early departures who declared for the NBA) and point guard/team leader T.J. McConnell (exhausted his eligibility), as well as reserve forward Matt Korcheck.
The departures didn’t catch Miller by surprise, but he did get a pleasant bonus with the return of center Kaleb Tarczewski for his senior season.
The roster turnover makes it seem unlikely Arizona can come close to matching the 33-5 and 34-4 record of the past two seasons, but Miller has stacked his roster with perennial top-five recruiting classes, so a significant drop-off would be even more unlikely. In addition to four highly touted freshmen, the Wildcats will have former Boston College transfer Ryan Anderson and former junior-college player-of-the-year Kadeem Allen coming off redshirt seasons, plus graduate transfer Mark Tollefsen from San Francisco.
The look and feel of the team will be different, however, with a wealthy of perimeter players fighting for playing time but fewer options on the interior. The backcourt should be capable of playing at more of an up-tempo pace.
Steve Rivera is a longtime Tucson sports journalist was the Arizona basketball beat reporter for the Tucson Citizen for almost 20 years. He presently is a writer for FoxSportsArizona.com. He also is a guest analyst on KCUB (1290-AM) and editor-in-chief of Tucson-based Tail Winds magazine.
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