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Exclusive: One-on-one with Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez says Arizona could be a 'gold mine.' Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com

New Arizona Wildcats football coach Rich Rodriguez gave a one-on-one interview to TucsonCitizen.com on Tuesday afternoon after being introduced at a news conference at McKale Center.

I tried to cover some ground that wasn’t covered at the main press conference or in his side interview with a group of reporters after that.

Here is what we chatted about (and check back later at TucsonCitizen.com for more on the Rodriguez hiring) …

When you were doing your due diligence, who among your peers did you talk to and what did they say about this job?

“I talked to several guys. I talked to Urban Meyer, just because he was in a similar situation, although I guess he was a bigger free agent in the market than I was (laughs).

“I asked him about (athletic director) Greg (Byrne) a little bit and asked what he thought about Arizona. I called several athletic directors, including Scott Stricklin who worked with Greg at Mississippi State. I talked to some coaches who have coached in this league about this place. What I came up with is that I think Arizona can be a gold mine.

“What I have to do is find out all the reasons why we haven’t won the Rose Bowl, because there have been good coaches here and good players here. I think Greg is addressing some of those issues, facilities-wise. But I think the whole league, whether it’s the TV money or whatever it is, is looking at this as we can get a return on our investment if we invest in football. I’m excited to be in on the beginning of that.”

You’re energetic. What is your philosophy on sideline behavior?

“I’m kind of high strung, and I know Mike (Stoops) is really high-strung. I kind of learned to cover my mouth early at certain times when I wanted to say something.

“I was a head coach when I was 24 at Glenville (State). I used to scream and yell at the officials, and then I learned they can’t hear you and don’t listen to you anyway. So why are you doing it? Even though I will yell a few things, I have really gotten away from that. You don’t need to grab kids or anything like that.

“I will coach passionately. But I have calmed down a lot, really, in the past five or six years. One, the cameras are on you, but, hey, the officials can’t hear you anyway. I do like energy. I want our guys to play with passion. I will show more of that kind of stuff at practice. I want our guys to be concerned about winning on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, too.”

When you arrived at Michigan, you and your staff met with every player where they lived. Is that something you would like to do here?

“Yep. I want all our coaches to sit down with them where they live — go to their apartment or their house or their dorm room — and see if they’re living the right lifestyle. I don’t know these guys. I want to get to know them and their families. And that takes a process.

“I’m a big believer in knowing names, and I have to learn a whole bunch of names. When the staff gets off the road (recruiting), the first thing we’ll do every morning is a little slideshow of the players, and we’ll go around the table and we’ll have to say their name and where they’re from. That forces you to learn it.”

You and your wife, Rita, have been active in the community at your other coaching stops. What do you typically like to get involved in?

“We’ve been involved in the children’s hospital. The saddest thing there is is when there are sick kids. Just imagine how it affects you as a parent when your kids get a little sick. You just feel for these kids — and not only the kids but their families.

“If you can give any sense of comfort to a family who has a sick kid … I’m all for that, and it’s not just me but the guys on the team. We’ve always been geared a little bit toward that.

“I want people to get to know us. This is my home for the rest of my life, so I want to embrace that.”

Isn’t that something coaches always say when they’re hired — about not leaving?

“Yeah. But maybe it’s different if you’re coaching in a place where it gets really, really cold and then you get a little bit older. My wife has rheumatoid arthritis. She has medicine to keep it under control, but what’s a better place than here for that issue?”

Merry Christmas. Photo by Mark Evans, TucsonCitizen.com

Do you want to retain the 3-3-5 defense you have used in the past?

“I like to run the odd front because it gives you versatility, but even the 3-3-5 now has morphed into a 3-4. I’m going to try to hire the best defensive coordinator I can, and if his schemes and philosophy can match some of the parameters I give him, then we’ll do that.

“I just want to have a great coach and a great scheme. Defensively, things are a little different. In this day and age you have to have more of a variety because one week you might see a spread team and the next week you see two tight ends and I-backs. In this league, you’ll see that with Oregon and Stanford.

“I’m not married, so to speak, to a 3-3-5.”

With your fast-paced, no-huddle offense, what is the process it takes for the team to be as conditioned as it needs to be?

“One of the most overlooked factors at any level is conditioning. That’s a point of emphasis from the first workout in the offseason through every ballgame. We practice that way. They work out that way. We talk about it every day. We have to be the be best conditioned team in America.”

How long does that process take?

“Depends how quickly they buy into it. They will all get there eventually. You can get them in condition by the first game. It’s harder for some than for others. It’s not hard on me; it’s hard on them.”

Being a coal miner’s son screams toughness. How did that shape you?

“The toughest person I have ever known is my dad. He dropped out of high school. My grandfather was a coal miner, he came over from Spain. All my uncles, my brother, were in the coal mines. I went in there when I was in the seventh grade, and I said, ‘This ain’t for me. I got to do something else.’”

Give us a sense of just how hungry you are for this opportunity after things didn’t work out at Michigan.

“I would like to think I was always hungry. I’ve had other people say I’m pretty competitive in just about everything, particularly in athletics. My kids tease me how I’m even competitive when I’m driving; I shouldn’t be. I need to learn that. … But the way things happened in the past six or seven months have fueled that hunger even more. If there ever comes a day when I’m not hungry, I’ll get out of this. It’s too hard of a job to not have that passion.”

Related stories:

An Arizona man: Rodriguez talks commitment

Bear Down and Blog: Arizona nation welcomes Rich Rodriguez

Rodriguez’s compensation: Nearly $2 million per year, five years

Rich Rodriguez: Five burning questions

Rich Rodriguez reaction: ‘He will love it’ in Tucson

Greg Byrne tweets: Rich Rodriguez is Arizona’s new coach

Video: Rodriguez on the theory of the pregame speech

Video: Rodriguez breaks down the read-option offense

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