Rich Rodriguez arrived in Tucson for the first time in his life Monday night. It was late. Dark, obviously.
But Arizona Wildcats athletic director Greg Byrne, his new boss and tour guide for the evening, had one stop to make. One sight to see. They swung by campus, heading toward the football stadium — the north end of the football stadium.
“He said, ‘This is where our new end zone project is going to be,’” Rodriguez said.
New coach, meet new facilities.
Together, they double the message:
Arizona is getting serious about football.
Rodriguez was introduced as the school’s new football coach Tuesday afternoon after a six-week search, tabbed as the guy to energize a program that improved under Mike Stoops but sputtered to a halt after seven-and-a-half years.
Check off the things you want in a coach:
Head coaching experience (18 years worth, and he’s only 48), has won titles (four of them in the Big East at West Virginia), is committed to a plan on offense (a spread running game), can charm the socks off fans, can enchant the dollars out of boosters’ wallets.
“I will not just coach University of Arizona football. I am going to live it,” Rodriguez said at his news conference at McKale Center, in front of a few hundred fans, who cheered at that comment.
“My family will live it. Everybody on our staff will live it.”
Rodriguez is not far removed from living the life of the “it” coach in college football, an offensive guru who turned down Alabama after the 2006 season. He accepted the Michigan job a year later. It didn’t work out there, but Rodriguez didn’t get dumb overnight.
Byrne is betting he hired the coach who can still win big. And Rodriguez received two intriguing endorsements — one from former Florida football coach Urban Meyer, the other from Arizona men’s basketball coach Sean Miller.
Byrne said he had a “long discussion” with Meyer.
“He said, ‘Greg, if you hire Rich Rodriguez, you’re getting one of the five greatest minds in college football. That would be an incredible hire at the University of Arizona,’” Byrne said.
And when Byrne traveled to New York City last week with the basketball team, he sat next to Miller, who offered his assessment of the coaching search. Miller suggested Byrne answer two questions.
Which candidate is the most hungry?
Who wouldn’t the other Pac-12 coaches want you to hire?
Miller then answered his own questions.
“He said, ‘In my opinion, it’s Rich Rodriguez,’” Byrne said.
And so it is.
Rodriguez feels extra pangs of hunger because of the 15-22 flameout at Michigan. He left behind fractured relationships at each of his previous schools. There were NCAA violations on his watch with the Wolverines.
He’s not coming to the desert to retire. He came to restore his reputation and raise Arizona at the same time.
“I have something to prove,” he said.
“I don’t like it when somebody says, ‘Well, I don’t have anything to prove to anybody.’ I do. Every day, I do. And I always hope I have that. And I would expect my coaches and players to have the same attitude.”
Rodriguez said he didn’t want to make any “false promises” on his first day on the job, but he did say “this is my final coaching stop,” which is a heck of a promise to make on the first day. But, hey, what’s an introductory press conference without a few grand feel-good statements?
Speaking of which …
“I want to win the Rose Bowl at the University of Arizona,” Rodriguez said.
“I want to be in the top 10 in the country every year. I want every one of our players to graduate and I want them to represent the university the right way, on and off the field.”
Later, there was this:
“You have a great college town that supports the university, you have great academics, you have great weather, you’re in an outstanding league that is going to continue to get even more and more exposure, you can recruit great players from your area … so why not Arizona?
“Why not us? Why can’t we win it all?”
Well, to start with, you have to have the right coach. And then you have to have facilities that are at least comparable to most of the schools you are recruiting against, which brings Rodriguez back to the $85 million north end zone project. Construction is expected to begin in January.
“I certainly think it was a part of it,” Rodriguez said, asked if the planned facilities impacted his interest in the job.
“That’s a big, important piece as far as sending a message. ‘Hey, don’t you want to be somewhere where you can have great success and build the best program in America? Look at our commitment.’”
Imagine that. Here was a still-in-demand, ever-more-hungry Rich Rodriguez talking about a new four-story building that will house the entire football operations.
This wasn’t John Mackovic 11 years earlier talking about the need for larger coaches’ offices.
Look at the commitment. Arizona is getting serious about football.
Bear Down and Blog: Arizona nation welcomes Rich Rodriguez