One of the many things that is different for coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona than it was at Michigan: He has the support of the former head coach.
With only a couple of weeks on the job, Rodriguez has met with fired Mike Stoops twice for dinner, doing so as friends but also to discuss the business of Wildcats football.
“Because we have known each other for a long time, I didn’t want to put him in an uncomfortable spot and ask him where all the bodies are buried and where all the traps are laid,” Rodriguez said. “But we talked about the program. …
“He had great things to say about it. He told me, like everybody else did, that you’re going to love living here and that we have good kids and you’re going to love coaching them.”
Contrast that to when Rodriguez was hired at Michigan.
After his introductory news conference in Ann Arbor, he flew back to West Virginia for a few days. Former coach Lloyd Carr called a team meeting with the players.
This is an excerpt from John U. Bacon’s book “Three and Out,” detailing Rodriguez’s three years at Michigan:
“(Carr) told them he wanted them all to be happy, and he recognized not everyone would want to go through the coaching change to come. So, he said, if any of them wanted to transfer, he would sign the form, since it requires a player’s current coach’s signature.
“On its face, it seems like a simple, generous offer to look out for people he cared about — and, in fairness, that was probably part of his motive. (Carr did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.) But it was also interpreted by many of the players as a vote of no confidence in his successor before Rodriguez had conducted a single team meeting, a single workout, a single practice, yelled or sworn at a single player, or coached a single game. It was an invitation from Carr, someone they knew, admired, and looked to for direction — the man who had recruited them and promised their parents he would look out for them like a father — to execute a preemptive bailout, to transfer, to jump to the NFL, or simply to not come back for a fifth year.
“Certainly that’s how Michigan’s former director of compliance, Judy Van Horn, read the gesture.”
Bacon’s book tells a tale of how Carr — who would become an associate athletic director during Rodriguez’s tenure — was part of a group who never accepted Rodriguez (not a ‘Michigan Man’) and helped to undermine his efforts with the Wolverines.
“There are about three dozen people who worked directly for both Carr and Rodriguez and know them well. Almost every single one of them told me, at one point, ‘Lloyd never liked Rich.’
“In many ways, their styles could not be more different. Carr came across as professorial, while Rodriguez was more comfortable as a good ol’ boy. Carr was very private, even closed off. Rodriguez was open and outgoing. As early as the (2008) Capital One Bowl, one athletic department staffer observed, ‘If those two were driving across the country together and couldn’t talk about family or football, they wouldn’t have anything to say to each other for three thousand miles.’
“Carr was also no fan of the spread offense, which had tormented his team many times. In the last few years of Carr’s tenure, he and his staff sponsored a fantasy camp to benefit the children’s hospital. In 2007, a camper asked one of Carr’s assistants if they would learn about the spread offense. ‘The spread offense?’ the assistant spat. ‘That’s Communist football!’”
Sitting in his new Arizona office Monday, Rodriguez reflected on how important it is to have the support of the former head coach.
“I think sometimes you don’t even realize it,” he said.
“As a coach, you just kind of go for it; you don’t pay any attention to the noise outside. And I’m usually overly trusting. In the past, I sometimes trusted too much and there were things going on that I didn’t know about that maybe I should have known about.”
His friendship and open discussions with Stoops have led Rodriguez to be more comfortable about the situation at Arizona. Stoops has publicly praised Rodriguez and said the new coach’s zone-read offense will be a “great fit” with the Wildcats.
“I’ve said this from the start, even when I talked to (athletic director) Greg (Byrne) about this job: This can be a great job if everybody is pulling in the same direction,” Rodriguez said.
“I’m talking about the fans, the support staff, the university, the athletic department, the coaches, the alumni … all that. If you have everybody rooting for you — and not different factions rooting against you — you have a chance.
“I think we have that here.”