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Arizona Football: Experience Separates Rodriguez and Stoops

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Rich Rodriguez was a guest on Tuesday's Petros & Money Show, a late afternoon program on FOX Sports Radio. If you have not given it a listen, I recommend it highly; it takes a different approach from most blowhard sports talk shows, and works in plenty of Pac-12 discussion. That's largely due to co-host Petros Papadakis being a former USC running back, but I digress.

Rodriguez spoke about spring practices, Adam Hall's injury, Matt Scott's place in the new offense and much more. Give it a listen here. What most piqued my interest was when discussion turned to Rodriguez's past coaching experiences. As will be the case for his first year or two in Tucson, Michigan came up, but what intrigued me was talk of his tenure in Division II.

This is a column that could have been penned when Rodriguez was introduced as head coach last November, but the width of the experience gap between Rodriguez and his predecessor Mike Stoops was not as apparent then. No to this observer, at least.

Through a spring practice though, it's evident what a much different approach fans should expect under a new staff.

Athletic directors will typically change course when replacing a coach. Stoops had no head coaching experience when Arizona tabbed him to replace the experienced and well-traveled John Mackovic in 2004. Since Stoops flamed out, Greg Byrne's change of direction meant experience.

Experience refers to a lot: experience building a winner, experience suffering through loss, experience of managing a staff, experience The comparison of Stoops' arrival at UA to Rodriguez's is odd in that regard, because at 48, Rodriguez is six years older than Stoops when he began coaching the Wildcats.

However in coaching years, Rodriguez is nearly two decades Stoops' elder.

Salem International University made Rodriguez the youngest head college coach at all of 24 years in 1988. He was 25 through his one season at Salem, before the school closed the football program. After a one-year return to West Virginia as an assistant, he spent seven years at Glenville State.

All told, Rodriguez spent five years (six if you count his student assistantship in 1985) as an assistant: one at WVU, two at Tulane and Clemson. He spent 18 as a head coach.

The concept of experience was one I took for granted after graduating college and entering the workforce, as I am sure graduates before and since me have. I worked in my chosen field as a student -- it's all applicable, right? Well, not quite.

Punching the clock in a low-level position grounds one a lot quicker than any internship or part-time gig. Stoops came to UA from a high pressure position -- defensive coordinator at Oklahoma is no breeze. But Stoops also enjoyed nothing but success prior to his arrival at UA.

Midway through 2010 as things soured for the Wildcats, Stoops appeared frazzled, unsure of how to respond. He had suffered through challenging seasons before, but early in his tenure when he was still had the tether of building. Having never truly experienced valleys, Stoops was ill-prepared to climb back to the peaks.

Stoops could still be a very good head coach. From 2008 through October 2010, he led UA to one of its best runs in program history. Punching the clock at a lower level before joining a BCS conference fray might have sharpened his skills, though. Toledo struck me as the perfect opportunity when it came open last December, just at the wrong time.

The dues paid at D-II, establishing WVU as a powerhouse and yes, the failure at Michigan are the defining differences between regimes.