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Arizona coaching rumors swirling as season winds down

Mike Bellotti

Mike Bellotti after Oregon's victory over Oklahoma State in the 2008 Holiday Bowl. Photo by Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE

The Arizona Wildcats’ season is winding down, and the coaching search buzz is heating up.

WildcatSportsReport.com, one of our partners in the TucsonCitizen.com Sports Network, posted two premium stories on its site Friday night — one regarding the pursuit of former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and the other stating that Boise State coach Chris Petersen is not out of the picture.

In the case of Bellotti — who is believed to want to coach again after stepping down as the Ducks head coach in the spring of 2009 to become the school’s athletic director — things could move very quickly.

Bellotti, an analyst for ESPN since the start of last season, is helping to call Wisconsin’s game at Illinois on Saturday morning. If athletic director Greg Byrne moves on Bellotti, then an announcement could come quickly, within 48 hours of Saturday night’s game at Arizona State.

Question: Does Bellotti want to wait to see if other Pac-12 jobs open up? ASU? UCLA? Those jobs have intrigued him in the past.

Wrote WildcatSportsReport.com, at times citing sources from within Oregon’s athletic department:

“(A)lthough it’s been confirmed by multiple sources today that Bellotti has indeed been contacted by Arizona and that as recently as this morning things were “hot and heavy,” there is a chance that Bellotti wouldn’t make a decision on Arizona until the ASU and UCLA situations play out. …”

A source told TucsonCitizen.com that Bellotti, if he takes the job, has a plan to bring current Pac-12 assistants with him to Tucson.

How much money would it take to land a proven head coach like the 60-year-old Bellotti, who was 116-55 in 14 seasons at Oregon?

USA Today released its annual study of coaching salaries this week, revealing that the average salary is $2.125 million for a head coach at a school from one of the six conferences that have an automatic bid to the Bowl Championship Series.

Average Pac-12 compensation isn’t quite as high. Keeping in mind that USC and Stanford, as private institutions, don’t have to report salary information, Oregon’s Chip Kelly leads Pac-12 coaches at 2.8 million per season. Cal’s Jeff Tedford is next at $2.3 million, followed closely by Washington’s Steve Sarkisian ($2.25 million).

Former Arizona coach Mike Stoops, who was fired at midseason, was at $1.465 million.

Bellotti’s compensation would certainly have to be in the upper tier of Pac-12 salaries. Same for Petersen, whose compensation for this season was $1.525 million.

It has been presumed all along that Petersen has been Byrne’s first choice. They both worked at Oregon in the mid-1990s; they and their families developed a strong friendship.

WildcatSportsReport.com wrote Friday night that Petersen “has always been heavily engaged” in the possibility of taking the Arizona job.

Byrne has said he would like to hire a coach soon after the end of the regular season, which, for Arizona, is Nov. 26 against Louisiana-Lafayette.

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