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Expectations High For The Next Wildcat Coach

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Arizona Wildcat fans are well acquainted with the clichés used in a coaching search. When discussing the succession of Lute Olson-via-Kevin O'Neill-via-Russ Pennell, phrases like "home run hire" and "win the press conference" were bandied about with the regularity a Southern Californian drops "bro."

The basketball coaching hire was of particular significance in basketball-mad Tucson, but ultimately who Greg Byrne tabs to lead Wildcat football will prove more important. Conference realignment and billion-dollar television deals declare plainly that football is king, and as a result whoever takes the reins must meet loftier expectations than have ever faced UA.

The chatter of making a splashy hire has already begun, and will only gain in volume as weeks pass. Byrne must play his hand close to the chest and avoid invoking specific names and clichés, a pitfall of his predecessor's final hire at UA.


Jim Livengood a.k.a. The Man Who Hired John Mackovic a.k.a. The Man Who Almost Hired Tim Floyd did little to dispel rumors about unrealistic hires like Tom Izzo, Rick Pitino or John Calipari. When Zero Hour struck and the top tier names were either staying put or Kentucky-bound, Livengood and Co. scrambled like an undergrad that opted for a Thursday night on 4th Ave. over studying. Sean Miller fell into UA's lap, but more in spite of the search than because of it.

A name like Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn is fun to kick around on Twitter, but Byrne's best move is covering all bases with tight lips. No sense in implicitly insulting the football version of Sean Miller, treating him like a No. 2 option when pie-in-the-sky candidates inevitably don't pan out.

But the new coach needs to be on that can face the rigors of expectation head-on. Byrne made waves immediately at Mississippi State by replacing Sylvester Croom -- two years removed from a successful bowl season -- for Dan Mullen. Thus far his decision is paying dividends in a conference with higher expectations than anywhere else, and at a program that has historically floundered. Sound familiar?

If a Byrne hire can lay the foundation for a winning program in Starkville, the Pullman of SEC Country, then a powerhouse should be the goal in Tucson. The new regime has some musts to live up to in order to avoid the fate of so many staffs to pass through the Old Pueblo before it.


Winning is every new coach's expectation. Winning with immediacy? Not as much. But the emerging local kid Ka'Deem Carey will only be a sophomore. Dan Buckner is becoming a legitimate No. 1 target. The offensive line that began 2011 with zero combined starts will be among the Pac-12's most experienced units a year from now. Regretfully, the program's greatest quarterback of all-time will be gone, but in Matt Scott and Tom Savage, Nick Foles has two capable replacements.

A bowl game in the new staff's initial campaign isn't just doable, it should be demanded.


UA's sole association with the Rose Bowl is the answer to the trivia question, "Which Pac-10 member has never played in that particular game?" That dubious distinction must end.

Whether UCLA's failure to even slow Edgerrin James in 1998 or the premature field rush of the Zona Zoo in 2009, UA has had its share of gut wrenching moments defining its inability to play in Pasadena. When the late Terry Hoeppner was hired at Indiana, another traditional "basketball school," he garnered attention by spreading roses across the podium at his introductory press conference.

Mike Stoops leaves Tucson with three consecutive bowl game appearances, a legacy of consistency unprecedented at UA. Yet "decent" was the Wildcats' peak: decent bowl games, decent records, a decent streak of postseasons.

Decent should be the foundation, not the ceiling. If Coach Hep could make the gutsy declaration of Rose Bowl-or-bust at a program as historically awful as IU, a coach at UA can do the same.


Basketball is engrained in Tucson's culture and always will be. Even as basketball floundered and football rose in recent years, hoops remained the athletic program's defining sport. The football coach's goal should not be to supplant Wildcat basketball, but co-exist on a parallel plane that would benefit both sides.

Football success means greater revenue for all sports, including basketball. Meanwhile Miller continuing to guide the basketball program on the winning road Olson walked for a quarter-century makes Arizona an athletic school a la Ohio State, Texas and Florida, not simply a one-sport school.

Tucson is certainly big enough for the both of 'em.

So there you have it, new hire. Three (not so) easy steps will placate a fan base and administration starved for success. Is that too much to ask?