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Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez appreciates coaching staff’s humble beginnings

Rich Rodriguez

Rich Rodriguez wasn’t in the spotlight early in his career. Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

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Ah, the good ol’ days. Rich Rodriguez remembers those. Becoming the head coach at Salem University at 24 years old. Taking over at Glenville State two years later, in 1990.

The small college days.

These days, as the first-year head coach at Arizona — and as a guy who has won Big East titles and breathed the air at Michigan — Rodriguez is accustomed to coaching luxury. Assistants to the assistants to the assistants. Yes sir, Coach. Whatever you need, Coach.

Back then, he was just a one-man band making his way in the backwaters of the coaching world.

“My wife lined off the field when I was at Glenville. She was eight months pregnant,” Rodriguez said.

“I made her stop because I was afraid it was going to screw up the child with those fumes from the paint. I said, ‘Honey, I don’t think that’s really good for ol’ junior there.’”

Rodriguez’s background is a microcosm of the Arizona coaching staff, most of whom have long, loyal ties to Rodriguez.

This is a coaching staff with humble beginnings.

Seven of the 10 UA coaches played college ball at lower-division schools. Liberty. Salem. California (Pa.). Rodriguez was a walk-on at West Virginia, eventually working his way into the starting lineup.

Only one UA coach, co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, played in the NFL, doing so as a tight end for Tampa Bay from 1985 to 1988.

Six of the 10 started their coaching careers in high school. Only offensive line coach Robert Anae began his career on the major college level, doing so with Dick Tomey at Hawaii, although Anae later spent time working the trenches in junior college.

(By comparison, only one of the 10 coaches on last season’s Arizona coaching staff played small college football, and just two coached in high school.)

Having these bios with unprivileged beginnings is exactly how Rodriguez likes it.

“I don’t know if I would hire a guy if he hadn’t coached at the high school or small college level,” Rodriguez said.

“When they go to a big school, all you do at a big school is get spoiled. If you’re in a small college or high school, you have lined off the field, you were the equipment guy, you were the only manager. Now I have managers for every position, trainers all over the field, people washing clothes, people painting.

“Sometimes, I don’t know where they all come from.”

There is something to be said, UA coaches say, about the collective personality that arises from having worked their way up from the bottom. It’s no wonder Rodriguez and his assistant have forever preached about having a “hard edge” — an everyday intensity and toughness when nothing is given to you.

And with that should come the attitude of gratitude.

“For me, I’m living the dream every day getting to coach Division I elite athletes in a conference like the Pac-12,” said receivers coach Tony Dews. “It’s a dream. I’m humbled every day that I get out of bed and have this opportunity.”

Here is a look at Arizona’s coaching staff:

Coach Duties Player First job
Rich Rodriguez Head coach Walk-on DB, West Virginia Assistant, Salem University
Robert Anae Offensive line OL, BYU Assistant, University of Hawaii
Jeff Casteel D-coordinator S, California Univ. (Pa.) Assistant, Palmetto HS (Miami)
Tony Dews Receivers TE, Liberty Assistant, Bainbridge HS (Ga.)
Tony Gibson Safeties DB, Glenville State Head coach, Gilmer County HS (W.Va.)
Bill Kirelawich Defensive line LB, Salem Head coach, Cardinal Brennan HS (Pa.)
Spencer Leftwich Tight ends OG, Stephen F. Austin Assistant, Stephen F. Austin
David Lockwood Cornerbacks DB, West Virginia Assistant, University of Delaware
Calvin Magee Co-OC, RBs TE, Southern University Assistant, Tampa Catholic HS
Rod Smith Co-OC, QBs QB, Glenville State O-coordinator, Franklin HS (W.Va.)
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