Rich Rod Rides Into The Wild West

Arizona Athletic Director Greg Byrne this week announced that the Wildcats have found their replacement for former football coach Mike Stoops, who was fired after losing to Oregon St. (and a lot of other teams).

Rich Rodriguez brings his approach to the spread offense, and its one of the better ones, to the Pac-12. It worked wonderfully in West Virginia, to the point of winning Big East Championships and going to BCS Bowls. It didn't do so well at Michigan, and in the Big 10, where Rodriguez was ousted after 3 years.

The Arizona Desert Swarm has full coverage of a hire that is both popular and prudent with Wildcat faithful.

It could be a great hire, and its one I think makes a lot of sense in Arizona. The elite available football coaching candidates aren't coming to Tucson, at least to stay, at this time, especially with some VERY attractive, and better funded, openings elsewhere. But Rodriguez, who not so long ago was one of those elite coaching candidates, was happy to head west.

More importantly, his profile and personality will prompt more than a couple of prospects to head there as well. Recruiting is going to be crucial not only to Rodriguez resurrecting a once promising career, but to rebuilding a talent thin Arizona program, no matter who they hired.

What does it mean to the rest of the conference though?

Personally, I like Rich Rod, and I also understand that the entire conference, not just Arizona, gets an attention boost with this move. For both reasons, I'm hoping he doesn't flop, which would bring even more even more negative attention.

And offensively, I don't think he will. Offense plays well in the Pac, and has for 50 years.

And even given that Michigan had no players in place that fit his system, it wasn't the offense, shockingly un-Michigan like as it was to Michigan men, that derailed him in Ann Arbor.

It was the absence of any semblance of defense. Which was not only impossible for Michigan Men to stomach, it was impossible to win with in a conference, and a schedule, that routinely puts the Wolverines up against teams that do have talent and depth on both sides of the ball not often seen in the Big East.

The fact that Michigan has fairly quickly become a good defense with mostly the same players not only validated Michigan's decision to change course for the second time in short order, it raised the one red flag about Rodriguez's hiring.

Who Rodriguez hires as his defensive coordinator, and how much emphasis he puts on defense, defensive recruiting, and defensive game planning will make or break this hiring.

Going up against Arizona is likely to be particularly painful for Oregon St., whose' defensive strategy under Mark Banker in recent years has proven to be a career springboard for many a mobile quarterback. Washington's conservative approach under Nick Holt is an open invitation for a big day as well. And Colorado could be good for field days as well until some speed is recruited in Boulder.

But trying to win 55-42 every week is hard to do, and Arizona is a looong way from having the athletes that has made that an effective strategy for Oregon. Witness Arizona St., who has some of the best individual talent on defense, but haven't been able to make that work for Dennis Erickson.

When Arizona has been successful, the "Desert Swarm" defense has been able to "Bear Down", and those haven't been catchy phrases, they have been reality.

Rodriguez has never shown the combination of ability and interest in defense to focus anywhere near enough resources to produce one.

A coach doesn't have to be proficient in every aspect of football, and indeed most aren't, even the best ones. But they must make sure someone on staff is.

I think Rich Rod learned some lessons from the Michigan experience, and I don't doubt he realizes he will need some help in this area. Can he even make the right choice though? Will he be able to recognize the qualities required? It's the part of the process to watch closest, because not many are going to beat Arizona with 24 points, and probably not with 34 points unless its in a snow storm, during Rich Rod's stay in the wild west.

Andy_Wooldridge@yahoo.com

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