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Arizona football notes: Stoops half right on how hard it’s been to win at UA

Coach Mike Stoops was 41-50 at Arizona. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Former Arizona coach Mike Stoops really hasn’t been negative — at least publicly — about his seven-and-a-half seasons with the Wildcats, but it sounded like some bitterness seeped through in an interview posted Wednesday on CBSSports.com.

Stoops, now the defensive coordinator for his brother Bob at Oklahoma, said of the UA program during his time at Arizona: “We may have got it as good as it can get.”

He went on to explain:

“You have to be realistic with what your expectations are and you should have high expectations, I certainly did. But what you’re capable of and what the circumstances that are dealt to you, it’s hard to achieve those big goals of winning a championship there.

“There’s a reason they haven’t won a championship at Arizona and it’s not bad coaching or bad players. You can blame it on anything you want, football and championships are about commitments made university wide. It’s a commitment made to winning, not at all costs but there is a cost.

“When you don’t have a football facility and every Mountain West team has one and you don’t, that’s a problem. We were playing at a BCS level and I feel like I was fighting with a toothpick and they’ve got a bat.”

Well, don’t hate Stoops because he’s right about what has been a lack of university-wide commitment. The football facilities have been behind the times, inadequate when compared to UA’s peers.

That facilities gap is being at least partially erased with the current $72 million north end zone project. In addition to being practical, that construction sends a message: Arizona is committed to football.

For decades, it was hard to make that case, and Stoops is hardly alone in thinking so.

“It’s wonderful that Arizona, after many years of lip service, is finally making a commitment to football excellence, because I don’t think they have done that,” former coach Dick Tomey (1987-2000) told TucsonCitizen.com in January.

“They have done it in little bits and pieces, but they are making a major commitment.”

But Stoops is wrong to make it sound like a bigger commitment to football from the university was the only thing, or even the main thing, holding him back for winning bigger at Arizona. Tomey twice won 10 games in a season and produced many of the finest players in school history.

Stoops didn’t last long enough to benefit from the north end zone project, so we’ll never know how he would have fared with upgraded facilities. But the lack of those didn’t stop him from making a serious run at the 2009 Rose Bowl — a goal that might have been reached with a healthy Rob Gronkowski.

Gronk’s back injury is a good a reason as any as to why Arizona hasn’t won a championship.

So, let’s not focus too much on facilities. If Arizona didn’t have a second-half collapse at Cal in 1993 or could cover UCLA’s Danny Farmer in 1998 or could have made one more play against Oregon in 2009, it would have some championships.

College football success is as much about the force of the head coach as anything else. Stoops rebuilt the Cats to a respectable level, but the fact that he didn’t deliver Arizona to “as good as it can get” is as much on him as the university’s previous commitment to football.

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Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez will participate in a Gootter Grand Slam pro-celebrity tennis event at the Reffkin Tennis Center on Sunday, beginning at noon.

It is part of a two-day event with benefits going to research and prevention of sudden cardiac death.

“I don’t really have much of a tennis game and I really haven’t picked up a racket in years,” Rodriguez said.

“It’s for a nice cause, and it should be a lot of fun. I will get out there and swing it around a little bit, probably hit a few balls out of the park. I’m anxious to see what it’s all about.”

* * *

Richard Obert
of the Arizona Republic reports that the Wildcats are making recruiting noise around powerhouse Peoria Centennial High School, which has been a tough place for UA to make inroads.

Obert tweeted that three Centennial juniors — offensive linemen Hayden Johnson and Spencer Nathe, and defensive lineman Marcus Farria — visited Arizona’s practice on Wednesday. So did unsigned senior Brennan Franklin, an all-state linebacker.

Obert wrote that Franklin is “waiting to see if scholarship opens up.”

* * *

Starting right tackle Fabbians Ebbele and defensive back Jourdon Grandon are still suspended from practice after being charged with trespassing and assault for their part in an off-campus brawl earlier this month.

Ebbele’s absence, combined with spring injuries — including those to Mickey Baucus and Jack Baucus — have left the Wildcats short-handed at tackle. Rodriguez said sophomore Trent Spurgeon, redshirt freshman Jacob Arzouman and redshirt freshman Lene Maiava are among those working at that position.

“Right now, we’re barely piecing together two groups,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll throw somebody out there to get run over slowly.”

The previous coaching staff was very high on Maiava’s potential.

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