Yesterday athletic director Greg Byrne hired former Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez to coach the Wildcats in 2012. Here are some notes from Rodriguez's first press conference in Tucson. In case you missed it, you can watch the press conference on the Arizona athletics website.
First, though, some overall impressions. Rich Rodriguez largely seems like the same guy. I have followed his career at Michigan. Rodriguez works hard and speaks his mind. A lot of what he says is "coach speak" (his term), but he tries to be as honest as he can without getting himself into trouble or offending anyone.
Second, Rodriguez is pretty open about himself. He is who he is. He has a certain style, likes to do things a certain way, and has a plan. This apparently has not changed since his days at Michigan or at CBS. I think he understands the difference between a good fit and a bad fit, and he will embrace Arizona if it embraces him. He says a lot about everybody needing to "pull in the same direction."
Rodriguez has learned a lot from his struggles and mistakes at Michigan. He is approaching Arizona differently, largely because Arizona is a different place. He does not want to make the same errors (failing to connect with the former players, the fan base, etc.) if he can avoid it.
More specific notes on the press conference after the jump...
Again, you can watch the press conference here.
Athletic director Greg Byrne (GB) gave a brief introduction, then allowed Rich Rodriguez (RR) to speak. Afterwards Byrne made a few more comments and then opened Rodriguez to a Q and A.
- GB thanks a lot of people, especially Tim Kish for winning against ASU and keeping the program going through this tough time. Kish gets a big applause.
- GB says the hiring process was diligent. "A lot of energy went into this decision." GB spoke with college ADs, pro coaches, college coaches, and high school coaches, and even the media. RR's name kept getting mentioned.
- GB says he was impressed that RR connected with Arizona high school coaches and developed a personal relationship with them.
- GB says Urban Meyer told him RR was "one of the five greatest minds in college football" and "that would be an incredible hire for the University of Arizona."
- GB says basketball coach Sean Miller recommended RR because RR is the hungriest to win and is the guy the PAC-12 coaches don't want to coach against.
- RR at the lectern, says he's excited to get back into coaching. RR thanks Sean Miller for the flattering comments and recommendation to GB.
- RR introduces wife (Rita), daughter (Raquel, 15), and son (Rhett, 13). RR jokes that Rhett decommitted from West Virginia and then from Michigan and has committed to play for Arizona. (He said this same thing about Rhett committing to Michigan when introduced in Ann Arbor.)
- RR wants former Arizona players involved. He joked that they wouldn't be allowed to "call the plays" (unless they were on the staff), but he did give an open invitation to come visit with him and get involved in the program. This is a wise move, as RR's initial disconnect with former Michigan players was one of the reasons his first seasons at Michigan were a struggle.
- RR's No. 1 goal for the program is winning the Rose Bowl. He also wants Arizona to be in the top ten every year and for every player to graduate with an Arizona degree, as well as representing the university on and off the field. He will stress this every day.
- RR also gives props to Tim Kish for doing something remarkable in a tough situation. They have mutual friends on the staff.
- RR says that Arizona is an appealing job because Mike Stoops made it appealing. RR adds that Stoops is a good football coach, and that there are a lot of good players here. RR quickly moves on because Stoops is a touchy subject.
- RR appears worried about his contract, given his history. "Five years doesn't always mean five years." He says he understands the importance of success, and what's being asked of him.
- RR: "I will not just coach Arizona football. I'm going to live it." (This includes his family, his staff, and his players. They will all "live Arizona football.")
- RR likes Tucson, calls it a "great college town." Also comments on the nice weather, which he hasn't experienced much. This was another attractive part of the job.
- Another RR goal is to make Arizona the place all recruits want to go. "The place in the Southwest to play football and get your degree."
- RR will emphasize rivalry with ASU every day.
- RR excited to meet the students, wants to double attendance at football games. "I want people sitting on each other's laps at the Zona Zoo."
- RR says he will make no false promises, but he understands why he was hired. He knows he has to win games and championships. He makes one guarantee: that Arizona will get his best effort, and that of his staff.
- RR wants to let Tim Kish finish the season. RR will start coaching duties after the last game.
- RR will emphasize the state of Arizona in recruiting. "Very, very important." He says there are high school coaches in the state that he knows and is familiar with, has recruited here before. RR also says he knows California. Texas, too. RR still prefers Florida and "warm weather states." RR says Arizona has a good enough brand name to recruit anywhere in the country. (This is virtually identical to him wanting to recruit nationally at Michigan.)
- RR wants fans to come to open events and get to know him. Once the season starts, practices will probably not be open, but in the spring, there will be open events.
- RR worries that people have the wrong idea about him, wants people to find out for themselves.
- RR has an appreciation for the media, having spent the last six months with CBS sports. He wants the media to get to know him, too.
- RR promises that when fans watch Arizona, the Wildcats "won't be boring." (He said the same thing in his first press conference at Michigan. A couple years later, Michigan had Denard Robinson.)
- RR won't give a date on when they'll win championships. He'll give his best projection at spring ball. (It could take a while.)
- RR grateful for the opportunity, says Arizona is his final coaching stop. He hopes to be here for another twelve to fifteen years.
- GB back up at lectern, says people "on the fence" about this hire need to get involved, buy season tickets, and support the team and its new coach.
- What interested RR in Arizona: RR says he's been in the state a few times, recruited here before. RR says he and his wife wanted to live somewhere warm. RR impressed with Arizona academically and as a college community, but is most impressed with GB, "an AD who wants to get it done."
- RR mentions that he had other opportunities, but doesn't name names. (Tulane is documented.) He decided on Arizona because he wanted to go someplace where he could win a Natl. Championship.
- RR says that Arizona can win a NC if "all the people are pulling in the same direction." RR says it will take hard work and dedication, but is doable. RR says the program needs fans, athletic department, coaches, players, everyone on the same page, "from the day you start working."
- RR on how he was hired: GB did his due diligence. RR amazed with number of people GB contacted, who then contacted him. RR met with GB a few weeks ago at RR's home in Detroit, Michigan. They also had breakfast at a "secret restaurant" in New York to discuss the job. A random Michigan alumnus noticed them and said hello, but did not recognize GB. RR: "That would have blown his cover."
- RR thanks CBS Sports for giving him a job for the past six months.
- RR says there were frustrating times at Michigan, but also some good things. RR's biggest frustration was that he "didn't get a chance to see it through." RR proud of his players, feels kind of validated because Michigan is doing so well.
- RR says despite misconceptions he embraced Michigan tradition. RR says you need a plan and everybody pulling in the same direction. RR also says he learned that if you make a mistake, "own up to it and move on." (I'm not sure if he means his overblown NCAA infractions or culture clash with Michigan alums.)
- RR says he will "absolutely" consider current Arizona staff members and West Coast oriented staff. RR has had previous assistants who have recruited out of Arizona, California, and Texas.
- RR's criteria for someone on his staff: can he recruit, can he teach and develop, and is he a good guy. RR says there are some great coaches on the current Arizona staff. But RR will not mess with Tim Kish and his staff right now, because they have a game to play.
- RR isn't sure if Arizona is more similar to West Virginia or Michigan. RR says all college communities are unique and have support. RR says at WVU their success came because they had something to prove.
- RR wants to salvage his reputation and prove everybody wrong.
- RR on offense: utilize your personnel and what you can recruit. Developed the spread at Glenville State because he had no other option. RR says the players were too small, so they had to win with scheme. RR got a standing ovation at Glenville State for getting a first down.
- RR says he runs no huddle because the hardest thing to defend is the two-minute drill. "Shoot, why don't they just do that the whole game?" RR says he likes to play fast, the huddle is the biggest waste of time in football.
- RR's goal is to assemble a staff before Christmas. He doesn't want to interrupt coaches that are currently in seasons. Some hires could happen as early as next week.
- RR took the NCAA test on recruiting and got all the answers right. He admits that it's an open-book test, so "if you can read, you can pass."
- RR will start calling recruits immediately.
- RR on Oregon and USC: spread coaches (Oregon's Chip Kelly) got together and traded ideas, talked football, about seven or eight years ago. RR is friends with Cal's Jeff Tedford, visited him last spring and regrets it because maybe he gave Tedford "a little too much information" on spread offense.
- Geography important in recruiting but is not applicable to play on the field. RR says schemes don't differ that much in different conferences. (Well, that's your opinion, RR.)
- RR on facilities: it was a part of what attracted him to the job, but a small part. RR says you don't need to outspend other programs on facilities, but you need to be at least in the same ballpark in terms of quality. Other programs are recruiting the same players you are. Facilities largely send a message that a program is committed.
- RR excited about Matt Scott. RR says every player will get the chance to prove himself, no matter where they are on the depth chart. (Every new coach says this when they arrive.)
- RR says NCAA violations at Michigan were a big factor for GB, and it was brought up a lot. GB checked with NCAA and compliance office at Michigan to verify RR's story. RR assures everyone that there will never be another issue with the NCAA in the future.
- Surprisingly no questions about the defense. I waited for that during the entire press conference. A little disappointed in the Arizona reporters. That would have been the golden question for RR to answer.
One last overall impression. I'm a little concerned about RR's overall "stubbornness." The whole "I am who I am" thing. He seems a little shaky in wanting to adapt an offense to fit the players, as opposed to the other way around, but he did say that one of the reasons he made the spread (RR is one of the spread's original architects) was because he had to depend more on scheme than on talent. In a way, that's adapting to your personnel.
I'm also a little concerned about the defense. RR was never asked about it, and so we won't know until later if he still is gung-ho about the 3-3-5 that worked great at WVU but epically failed at Michigan. (Btw, current Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has improved Michigan's defense dramatically with the 4-3.) I was also curious to hear who RR is considering for defensive coordinator. I was hoping Jeff Casteel would be mentioned. Again, I'm more disappointed in the Arizona reporters for not asking the juiciest question that everyone wanted to know: the damn defense.