UPDATE, 10:30 a.m.: Akina in a press release from Arizona: I’m not happy that I had to put both of these institutions in this situation. It’s been a tough month for me and my family making these decisions. Any time you have younger children, it becomes a very difficult decision and that was the driving force behind this decision.”
UPDATE, 10:31 a.m.: Mike Stoops in the same press release: “We have always hired good people to come into our program. We’ve always had great coaches for our system and players. We will make sure that we hire another quality person.”
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The cornerstone of Arizona coach Mike Stoops’ “winning the offseason” plan was the hiring of secondary coach Duane Akina from the University of Texas.
And then came the stunning news this morning from athletic director Greg Byrne via Twitter:
Duane Akina alerted Coach Stoops and myself this morning that he would be returning to Texas due to family considerations.
When news broke in January of Akina returning to Arizona, where he coached 14 years as an assistant to Dick Tomey (1987-2000), I thought this was a “wow” moment. I consider Akina the finest secondary coach in the country.
Now, all that good news has come undone … and then some.
As a practical matter, Akina’s old job at Texas re-opened because his replacement, Jerry Gray, landed over the weekend as the new defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.
Did Texas coach Mack Brown — who already has the highest paid coaching staff in America — come back to Akina and offer him the world?
Did Akina sense that he didn’t fit in at Arizona with Stoops?
Or, do we take this at face value, and say that going back to Austin was just better for Akina’s family.
He told me upon his hiring at Arizona that, “All the kids were really fired up about coming back to Tucson.”
Luring an assistant from Texas was quite a coup of Stoops, who needed some good publicity after ending the season with five consecutive losses. Although Stoops often says, “there is no shortage of quality football coaches” and he likely will turn around and hire someone with a fine resume, this Akina-back-to-Texas scenario could turn into a public relations hit for Stoops.
Stoops’ three coaching hires this offseason — including defensive tackles coach Joe Salave’a and offensive line coach Robert Anae — were met with excellent reviews. Arizona’s recruiting class wasn’t highly rated, but Stoops and staff sealed some key last-minute deals, including CDO running back Ka’Deem Carey, that helped further momentum.
Wrote Byrne on Twitter: Although disappointed because of the commitment we had made we respect Coach Akina’s decision based on family.
Said Akina in the UA press release: “Mike and Greg have been terrific to me. Arizona is a wonderful place that is special to me. I came here because this is a solid program that is on the rise. Mike is an outstanding coach and I am sorry it didn’t work out. He has a tremendous staff in place.”
Akina has coached three winners of the Jim Thorpe award — given to the nation’s top defensive back — including Arizona’s Darryll Lewis in 1990. Lewis was a converted running back. Akina says he still thinks Arizona cornerback Chris McAlister should have won the Thorpe in 1998.
Akina coached five first-round defensive backs, and another (McAlister) at Arizona.