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Arizona football preview: The coaching staff

Mike Stoops is 40-45 in seven seasons at Arizona. Photo by David Kadlubowski/The Arizona Republic

Here is the 11th part of our Arizona Wildcats football preview in collaboration with our Gannett partner, The Arizona Republic.

We write the words, and they have taken the cool photographs and put it all together in a slick presentation at azcentral.com.

Check back here and at azcentral.com every Friday as we roll out more of our preview every week, all the way into August.

This week: The coaching staff.

Head coach Mike Stoops

Mike Stoops enters his eighth season at Arizona, making him the third-longest tenured coach in the Pac-12 at his school, behind Mike Riley (10 years at Oregon State) and Jeff Teford (nine years at Cal). Stoops has taken the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games but is trying to avoid further backsliding after a five-game losing streak to end last season.

Before that skid, Stoops — who built back Arizona from the wreckage of the John Mackovic era — had evened his record with the Cats at 40-40. Now, with his record at 40-45, there are some who think Stoops is on a bit of a hot seat. That could end up being true if the Wildcats stumble badly at the start of the season against a grueling schedule.

Noted for his sideline passion — which he has vowed to tone down — Stoops is also recognized as a top-notch Xs-and-Os guy on defense and a solid developer of talent. Arizona had produced a top 50 pick in the NFL Draft in each of the past five seasons.

Offensive coordinator Seth Littrell

Littrell, who was a bulldog of a fullback on Oklahoma’s 2000 national championship team, begins his third season at Arizona and his first as the full-time coordinator.

Although he was the primary play-caller last season, he shared the coordinator title last season with offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, who is now at West Virginia. Whether it was because of the co-coordinators or not, the Wildcats tried to do too much last season, wanting to be a spread passing team while maintaining a “heavy” power running attack.

Littrell, who spent four seasons as an assistant to pass-happy Mike Leach at Texas Tech, will tilt the offense toward a four-wide spread attack this season. With the offense’s bulk of talent and experience resting at quarterback and receiver, the personnel is set up for Littrell to unleash a fast-paced air show.

The potential success of that could make the 33-year-old one of the nation’s hot, young assistants.

Tim Kish has been one of the Cats' key recruiters. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic

Defensive coordinator Tim Kish

Kish, the final remaining member of Mike Stoops’ original coaching staff, is entering his eighth season at Arizona — his first as the full-time coordinator.

Kish was elevated from linebackers coach to co-coordinator after the 2009 season when Mark Stoops moved on to Florida State. Kish shared the title with Greg Brown in 2010 before Brown left to be coordinator at Colorado.

Kish isn’t expected to make any radical changes with the scheme — this defense is, after all, the vision of head coach Mike Stoops — but Arizona might have to get a little aggressive with its blitzes this season if a young front four can’t pressure the quarterback.

Kish, 57, is the oldest member of the coaching staff. He has been a coordinator at Illinois, Ohio and Indiana, so this assignment will be nothing new to him. Kish, with personality-plus, is one of the best recruiters on the coaching staff.

Offensive line coach Robert Anae

Anae is beginning his first season at Arizona after a six-year run as the coordinator at BYU. He also carries the title of run-game coordinator, in addition to his duties with the offensive line.

A physical imposing figure — he was an offensive lineman for coach Lavell Edwards from 1981 to 1984 — Anae exudes toughness. “Coach Anae stresses that as long as we play tough, we’re going to be fine,” offensive guard Trace Biskin said in the spring. “You can correct mistakes, but you can’t correct toughness.”

The bad news is that Anae inherits a group of linemen with almost no experience. The good news is that Anae inherits a group of linemen with almost no experience, likely making them easier to mold in his image.

He had a good run as BYU’s coordinator, although he fell out of favor last season when the Cougars struggled early with new quarterbacks.

Running backs coach Garret Chachere

Chachere enters his third season at Arizona, and his first as the running backs coach. He coached the inside receivers for the past two seasons before happily switching to running backs in the spring because it allows him to be involved with the entire offense.

“What it really allows me to do is be more involved in the front and the protection, and that was my main focus,” he said in the spring. “I really wanted to be more involved in the protection concept and how offenses decide to block things. The running backs allow me to do that more than the receivers.”

Chachere, 42, was a walk-on running back at Tulane but he had to give up football because of a neck injury before his third season. The bulk of his coaching experience before Arizona had actually come on defense.

As running backs coach, he has several intriguing young players to develop, including true freshman Ka’Deem Carey.

Special teams/defensive ends coach Jeff Hammerschmidt

Hammerschmidt, one of the more popular players from the early days of the Dick Tomey era at Arizona, enters the fourth year of his second stint as a Wildcat assistant. He was a grad assistant in 1992, the safeties coach in 1993 and the secondary coach in 1994 and ’95.

This time around, he is the special teams coordinator and coaching the defensive ends coach — and he has challenges in both areas this season.

Hammerschmidt, who was an All-Pac-10 safety at Arizona (as well as an emergency option quarterback at times), will have a new kick returner (Garic Wharton), punt returner (likely Jonathan McKnight or Richard Morrison, a new punter (Kyle Dugandzic) and, possibly, a new kicker as Jaimie Salazar tries to beat out Alex Zendejas.

At defensive end, Hammerschmidt would like to use a three-man rotation, likely led by C.J Parish and Mohammed Usman, with Dan Pettinato and JC transfer Lamar De Rego next in line for time.

Dave Nichol is directing Arizona's best position group. Photo by Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic

Receivers coach Dave Nichol

Nichol begins his fifth season with the Wildcats, his first coaching the entire group of receivers. Nichol has coached the outside receivers for the past three years, and he was an offensive graduate assistant for a year before that.

He’s always been a good fit at Arizona because, like offensive coordinator Seth Littrell and offensive line coach Robert Anae, he coached at Texas Tech under Mike Leach. Nichol was a graduate assistant with the Red Raiders from 2003 to 2005.

Nichol, 34, has the best position group on the team — UA’s receivers, led by Juron Criner, are rated the third-best group of pass catchers in the nation by Rivals.com. But in trying to keep everyone’s egos in check, Nichol in the offseason put together a video of dropped passes, bad routes, missed blocks, etc., and entitled it “Bad.”

That should keep egos in check.

Defensive line coach Joe Salave’a

Salave’a is just starting his coaching career, entering his first full season with the Wildcats after joining the team before last year’s Alamo Bowl. He replaced Mike Tuiasosopo, who left for Colorado after seven years with Arizona.

Salave’a was a standout defensive tackle at Arizona from 1994 to 1997, and then he went on to play nine seasons in the NFL, so the Samoan-born Salave’a has name recognition with recruits, especially with those on the islands.

Salave’a, 36, coached the defensive line at San Jose State for Dick Tomey in 2008 and 2009. He brings energy and a booming voice to practice.

“He coaches the same way he played, and that is the thing I love about him,” coach Mike Stoops said. “He’s been a great fit for what we’re doing.”

Quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo

Scelfo had a successful debut with the Wildcats in 2010, working on Nick Foles’ footwork to make him a more accurate passer (67.1 percent) and tightening Matt Scott’s mechanics to make his passing a weapon to match his running skills.

Arizona completed better than 68 percent of its passes last season.

That is what coach Mike Stoops had in mind when he brought in Scelfo to coach the quarterbacks — and only the quarterbacks. Stoops’ previous quarterbacks coach (Mike Canales, Sonny Dykes) doubled as the offensive coordinator, and teaching the technique of the position suffered because of it.

Scelfo could certainly handle coordinator duties (he filled that role at Tulane and Louisiana Tech for a combined 11 years), but he’s just fine where he is as Arizona has perhaps its best-ever combination of quarterback talent and quarterback coach.

Secondary coach Ryan Walters

Coach Mike Stoops hopes he has caught a rising star in Walters, a 25-year old in his first job as a full-time assistant. Walters, a former Colorado safety, was a grad assistant in the secondary last season.

“I immediately knew what kind of coach he was,” Stoops said. “It doesn’t take you long. I just really liked him. He just saw things the way I saw them and related well to the players. He’s a friend, but they respect his coaching and his knowledge.”

Stoops said his instinct was to hire Walters after last season when co-coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown left. But Stoops took advantage of the unique opportunity to hire the accomplished Duane Akina (a former UA assistant) from Texas.

But when Akina returned to the Longhorns after a few weeks, citing family reasons, Stoops quickly hired Walters in February to a full-time role.

“Just a really polished guy for so young,” Stoops said.

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