The Arizona Wildcats were down this road just a couple of years ago, promoting a graduate assistant to coach defensive backs.
There’s a difference, though.
When Mike Stoops handed over the defensive backs to Ryan Walters for the 2011 season, it was Walters’ first full-time job in football.
Rich Rodriguez’s new safeties coach, Matt Caponi, isn’t the same kind of rookie. Caponi, elevated last week from graduate assistant, has six years of experience as a college coach, although it came at the Division III level.
Caponi replaces Tony Gibson, who left to return to his roots in West Virginia, with his second stint with the Mountaineers. Caponi, 30, said his interview pitch to Rodriguez was something like this:
“First, I just kind of felt like I had a little more experience than most GAs,” Caponi said.
“I have been coaching for eight, nine seasons. I felt like it would be a good opportunity to show that at my age I could bring a lot of energy and excitement to the program and the community.
“I feel like because I’m young, I’m hungry and I have a lot to prove. I feel like I’m ready and I can make a major impact in recruiting.”
Caponi will be in charge of recruiting northern California for the Wildcats.
He was a free safety for Division III power Mount Union from 2000 to 2003 before jumping into coaching. He was a student assistant in 2004 and became the school’s JV coordinator and linebackers coach a year later.
Caponi joined the staff at Division III Washington & Jefferson from 2006 to 2010, serving as defensive coordinator for the final three seasons. He then made the wise decision to step back in job title while taking a step up in divisions.
Caponi joined the staff of Pittsburgh in 2011 as a graduate assistant, working with four assistants who would eventually join Rodriguez after the season — Gibson, Calvin Magee, Tony Dews and Spencer Leftwich.
“I wanted to see what it would be like at the Division I level,” Caponi said.
Caponi, who was in Arizona’s Educational Leadership graduate program last fall, said he didn’t expect to climb the coaching ladder this quickly.
“I don’t think it has really set in that I have this opportunity right now,” he said.
“It might take a week or to when I get to run my first position meeting at this level. Just three seasons ago, I was at Washington & Jefferson, and if someone had told me I would a position coach at the University of Arizona and working for Coach Rodriguez, I would have said they were crazy.”