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A conversation with Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez

I guess it’s time for me to watch The Outlaw Josey Wales.

We’re still in the getting-to-know-you stage with first-year Arizona Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez, and one thing you might want to know is that the 1976 film, starring and directed by Clint Eastwood, is his favorite movie.

The brief description from IMDB.com: “A Missouri farmer joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and winds up on the run from the Union soldiers who murdered his family.”

I sat down with Rodriguez at Arizona Media Day last Sunday to discuss his favorite movie star and some other things not directly related to his first team at Arizona.

Here is part of that conversation:

Q: What is it about Clint Eastwood that appeals to you?

Rodriguez: “Love Clint Eastwood movies. One, they are extremely well-written, and they’re usually a story about good overcoming bad or something like that, but it’s more than that, you know what I mean? When you watch The Outlaw Josey Wales, the overriding story at the end of it was how silly the war was. But Clint Eastwood didn’t fight because he believed in the North vs. South or the South vs. North, he did it because of revenge of his family. I’ve probably watched it 50 times just because of how well-written it was. I admire talented people. It’s like people who sing or play an instrument. I cannot sing at all and I can’t play a musical instrument to save my life, but the people who can do that, I admire them.”

Q: Do you find elements of yourself somewhere in Eastwood characters?

Rodriguez: “He has kind of a quiet confidence, which is what I want our team to have. And sometimes he has to do some things he may not like to do, but he knows he’s gotta do it. One of the great lines in The Outlaw Josey Wales is when Chief Dan George is talking about being a gunfighter and always looking for an edge, and he says you always want to have your back to the sun. It’s a simple thing, but when you’re in a gunfight it would be good to have your back to the sun, so the other guy is squinting when he’s looking at you. Always looking for an edge. As coaches, that’s the essence of what we do. When we’re not actually on the field or coaching the kids or out recruiting, we’re looking for an edge.”

Q: Speaking of “edge,” what is the origin of your expression “hard edge?” Even back in your first year at West Virginia, your players were talking about having a “hard edge.”

Rodriguez: “That goes back to the days when we were at Glenville State (1990 to 1996). You think kids all play hard. Especially in college and especially at this level. But there are different levels of playing hard. It’s like watching a really good high school game. They could be two really good high school teams, great programs, but those kids don’t play nearly as hard as what college kids do because they don’t know. I think my greatest pride as a coach, I hope, is that when people turn on the film, if nothing else they say, ‘Man, those kids really play hard.’ Because you can control it. You sometimes can’t control how fast you are and things like that, but you can control how hard you play. Our guys have gotten better at that, but we aren’t close to where you need to be right now.”

Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez likes to play football fast (no-huddle) and play golf quickly, too. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Q: If you could play a round of golf with any head coaches in the country, who would they be?

Rodriguez: “Well, my buddies … (Oklahoma’s) Bob Stoops, (Cincinnati’s) Butch Jones, (Florida State’s) Jimbo Fisher, (Cal’s) Jeff Tedford. There are a lot of guys. I’ve played with Nick Saban before. I know Nick; he’s from my hometown. He was a lot of fun. I talked to Bobby Bowden (recently); he is a lot of fun to play golf with. He doesn’t hit it far, but hits it straight down the middle. He’ll take your money from you because he’ll chip and putt. He’s one of those guys who will hit it, hit it, chip and putt and make a par and beat you. I played a round of golf this summer with (former Arizona All-American and ex-Boston Red Sox manager) Terry Francona. We went out early, like the first tee time at La Paloma, and we got done in two hours. Eighteen holes. It was the fastest round of golf either of us has ever played. It was fun. I like to play fast.”

Q: Of course you do.

Rodriguez: “I mean, the ball’s not moving, right? Why take six practice swings? It’s standing still. Just hit the ball and move on. My short game probably reflects that.”

Q: How did you get to know the Bowden family so well?

Rodriguez: “I met Terry first because he was the head coach at Salem College (1983-85) before I went there as an assistant, and Jimbo Fisher was his quarterback, and I knew Jimbo. After I went there as an assistant, I kind of met Terry through Jimbo and started working the Bowden Quarterback/Receiver camp. They weren’t going to pay you. They’re pretty tight with the money. But they are great people, and it was probably the best quarterback/receiver camp in the country. I went there five or six years in a row, just to volunteer and work the camp. So I got to know Tommy through that and I got to be close to the family. So when Tommy got the job at Tulane, he was like, ‘Would you like to come to Tulane and be the offensive coordinator?’ I said, ‘Where’s Tulane?’ … Then I said, ‘Would you let me run my offense?’ He said ‘Yeah’ and it worked out great. I really enjoyed my four years with Tommy. He’s really good people and a really good coach.”

Q: In fourth-and-short situations, do you consider yourself a go-for-it kind of coach?

Rodriguez: “I think the most important stat in football is possessions. People talk about turnovers — and turnovers are critical because turnovers involve possessions. For us, we have to possess the ball, and defensively, every stop we make has to be like gold. I mean, it’s got to be a celebration, because that’s a possession they gave back to the offense. We’ll be riskier now early in the season, but I don’t mind that. I think it’s silly to punt from inside the 35-yard line. I don’t know if I have ever punted inside the 35. If I punt from inside the 35 and it’s fourth-and-less-than-15, check my pulse. Call 9-1-1, I got confused somewhere. … I hate to punt. There are sometimes you have to punt, but if you cross the 50, all bets are off.”

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