With the 2012 college football season scheduled for kick-off on August 31st, football enthusiasts can begin to grasp the pageantry emerging from universities’ practice grounds. The PAC-12 conference has once again reloaded with talent, as six teams finished in the Top 25 for the recruiting class of 2012, and eleven teams finished in the Top 50.
Of course, recruiting blue chip athletes can only go so far if the coaching staff is faulty, just ask Longhorn fans. Texas has been able to land in the Top 3 for the past three recruiting classes, but who’s to blame for the lack of winning a national championship, and an unpleasant combined record of 13-12 over the past two seasons? Does Mack Brown ring any bells? At the point where potential becomes reality, Texas has consistently under-performed in recent years despite recruiting supposedly the top talent in the country.
One-third of the entire conference will be starting the year with new leadership beginning their tenures at the start of the new season. With the additions of Mike Leach to Washington State, Jim Mora to UCLA, Todd Graham to Arizona State, and Rich Rodriguez to Arizona, it is a new era in the Pac-12, one of innovative new offensive schemes, a new national network, and fresh blood in the coaching ranks. With the PAC-12 inching closer to the boys of the SEC, head coaches Todd Graham and Rich Rodriguez leading the Arizona schools will have a significant impact regarding the overall progression of the conference.
University of Arizona new head coach Rich Rodriguez has a long college football pedigree that dates back to his playing days in Morgantown, West Virginia in 1981. Rodriguez is most recognized for his invention of the no-huddle spread offense, similar to that of Oregon’s current offensive attack. He has implemented his nifty offensive scheme at every school where he has coached, which leaves Wildcat fans expecting to see points scored fast.
Although Rodriguez enters Tucson with many doubts of succeeding immediately, opponents must remember that it was only six years ago when the Crimson Tide offered a $12 million, six-year contract to Rich Rodriguez. Who would of thought of him being in Tucson trying to rebuild a team and his career following a disastrous 3-year stretch in Michigan, while Alabama has gone on to have some decent success with their coach Nick Saban.
At the time Rodriguez had taken West Virginia to four consecutive New Year’s Day Bowl games, and won three conference championships. His most notable season was in 2005 after West Virginia went undefeated, but was snubbed by the BCS computers, instead selecting USC vs. Texas to play in Pasadena for the national championship.
After declining the offer to coach in Tuscaloosa, Rodriguez reportedly expressed to the fans that he planned to stay as long as he could. “Obviously I’m very excited to stay here and I plan on being here a long time,” Rodriguez said later at a news conference. Very soon after West Virginia offered him an extension to his contract, extending to 2014. The following years the Mountaineers won the Gator Bowl finishing the season at 11-2, and in 2007 earned a trip to the Fiesta Bowl after a 10-2 year.
Weeks before the Fiesta Bowl, Rodriguez duped Morgantown fans as he accepted an offer to coach the Michigan Wolverines. Describing it as an offer that could not be ignored. During his term with the Wolverines, his career collapsed after an appalling 15-22 record, struggling to change from a hundred years of traditional power football to a spread system that had been used to torch Michigan the year prior twice by Appalachian State and Oregon in the Big House. The traditional powerhouse was not used to losing consistently, and the players had a difficult time adjusting to a new style of Michigan football so drastically different from the school’s identity thus leaving the university no choice but to fire Rich Rodriguez.
Of course a 15-22 showing at any university is pitiful and will not please any booster clubs or the fan base, but Rodriguez’s tenure in Anne Arbor should not discredit his ability to coach. Ironically, a year after Rodriguez was fired by the Wolverines, new head coach Brady Hoke was able to lead Rodriguez’s players to a BCS appearance and defeat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
An awkward interview between new coach Brady Hoke and recently fired Rich Rodriguez.
Rodriguez stated after seeing his previous team win the Sugar Bowl, “Golly, we went through three years of stuff just to get it to this point, and we don’t get to see the finished product, but it happened. And now I’m trying to do everything I can, and I’m sure the rest of the coaches along with me, to learn from that experience and hopefully, if I’m fortunate to get back into it, to pick it back up and build the best program in the country.” This time Rodriguez will likely have five years to prove himself with a team dwindling in the conference.
In contrast, just north of Tucson, a familiar name for Rodriguez will take the reigns of the Arizona State Sun Devils. Coach Todd Graham will be expected to reinforce the lack of discipline that has haunted the team in recent seasons under journeyman coach Dennis Erickson. Like Rodriguez, Graham is on the hot seat after leaving the University of Pittsburgh on short notice. Allegedly, when Graham accepted the offer to coach the Panthers, he expressed his excitement and plan to stay as long as he could.
Well, that plan changed after one season. Arizona State offered Todd Graham a $2 million yearly salary, and Graham packed his bags and informed his team via text message, “Coaching there has always been a dream of ours and we have family there. The timing of the circumstances have prohibited from telling you this directly. I now am on my way to Tempe to continue those discussions. God Bless. Coach Graham.”
Coach Graham has taken heat from the media all off-season, but Arizona State fans should appreciate why the Sun Devils Athletic Department sought after the guy. Graham has an overall college record of (49-29), if that is not impressive, consider that Graham had accomplished the record by leading Rice University, Tulsa and Pitt–all middle of the pack football teams. He is also most noted for his ability to recruit athletes at any university, with a strong pipeline in Texas.
Graham, just a year younger than Rodriguez, runs an offensive set that was inspired by the offensive guru in Tucson. In fact, the two coaches went head-on against each other in a 1993 NAIA Championship game, in which Todd Graham (defensive coordinator) was captivated by Rodriguez’s offensive scheme. Shortly after, Rodriguez hired Graham to coach the linebacker’s unit at West Virginia, eventually leading to his hire as co-defensive coordinator for the Mountaineers.
Graham is no stranger to Rodriguez’s system, as the two coached as foes and side-by-side for over a decade to this point. With both coaches on the hot seat during their first seasons, both will now compete directly in the state of Arizona, not only for the Territorial Cup but for the in-state recruiting prospects as well.
Both schools in the state of Arizona have been teetering with success on a yearly basis, on the cusp of achieving great things in the conference, but falling short down the stretch. In 2010, Stoops and the Wildcats got off to a hot start beginning their season at 7-1, only to lose their last five games. Last year Erickson and the Sun Devils also got off to a great start, starting the season at 5-1 only to end their season at 6-7, with a huge loss against Boise State in the MAACO Bowl.
Stoops and Erickson were unable to finish a season strong in the last few years, and were notorious for their inability to recruit in-state athletes. Graham and Rodriguez have preached to the fans that their first priorities include recruiting in-state prospects and dominating in the long-established territorial rivalry game.
With the new additions of Graham and Rodriguez, the Pac-12 south can expect to be hectic with constant week-to-week battles over the upcoming seasons. Rodriguez getting a second chance, and Graham finally receiving his “dream job,” excitement will be looming in the southwest, with the hope that at least both Arizona schools can present a more consistent challenge to the conference opponents. The Pac-12 south will have new reasons to cheer the Arizona schools once these coaches get on their way, and it will not be surprising if the Trojans’ assumed divisional auto-championship each year does not come to fruition, with the Arizona schools competing effectively for the conference title in the coming years.