The 2017 season could be a make-or-break year for Arizona Wildcats head coach Rich Rodriguez.
After winning the Pac-12 South and reaching the Fiesta Bowl in 2014, Arizona football has experienced a significant downturn, posting a 7-6 record in 2015, and then a dismal 3-9 record in 2016, including a 1-8 Pac-12 record.
Meanwhile, Arizona’s recruiting efforts haven’t generated much optimism that the program will recover — the Wildcats’ 2016 and 2017 classes were both ranked ninth in the Pac-12, not to mention many of Rodriguez’s top recruits have left the program or have not developed as planned.
Arizona isn’t expected to have much success in the 2017 season, either, so as SB Nation’s Bill Connelly put it, the Wildcats are “checking every box on the Program Collapse Checklist.”
For those reasons, Sports Illustrated pegs Rodriguez as one of 10 coaches “under most pressure to win in 2017.”
Here’s what SI’s Joan Niesen wrote:
“It’s year six for Rodriguez at Arizona, and after he quickly built the program back up in 2012–14, things have taken a downturn the past two years. The Wildcats peaked in 2014, going 10–4 and 7–2 in conference play and winning the Pac-12 South. Since then, they’ve won a total of 10 games. A three-win season like the one they had in 2016 simply won’t cut it, and it doesn’t help that the athletic director who hired Rodriguez, Greg Byrne, left Arizona earlier this year for Alabama.
“Rodriguez has a $9 million buyout clause after this season, which is a relatively steep price for a program like Arizona. Still should the Wildcats repeat their one-win mark in Pac-12 play or only marginally improve upon it, it’s easy to see Rodriguez being let go. And with a tough schedule coming—one of Arizona’s three non-conference games is against Houston, and the Pac-12 slate won’t yield any sure wins—the situation don’t look too rosy in Tucson.”
As Niesen pointed out, Greg Byrne’s departure to Alabama could play a significant factor in Rodriguez’s future. New Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke has no ties to Rodriguez, and will likely be more willing to make a coaching change than Byrne was.
Rodriguez’s $9 million buyout could be an obstacle, but seeing how vital UA’s football program is for generating revenue, sitting back and watching its demise continue could prove to be more costly than forking over the cash to let Rodriguez go.
Rodriguez holds a record of 36-29 in five seasons at Arizona, but just an 18-26 conference record.
The numbers project Arizona will finish 6-6 in 2017, but would that be enough to save Rodriguez’s job? That’s the $9 million question.
The entire list of coaches on the hot seat
Here is Sports Illustrated’s list of coaches on the hot seat in its entirety. ASU’s Todd Graham and UCLA’s Jim Mora made the cut along with Rodriguez:
- Huge Freeze, Ole Miss
- Brian Kelly, Notre Dame*
- Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
- Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M
- Todd Graham, Arizona State
- Jim Mora, UCLA
- Dave Doeren, NC State
- Butch Jones, Tennessee*
- Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech
- Doc Holliday, Marshall
*hired by Heeke in the past
Will Rich Rodriguez be Arizona’s head coach in 2018?
This poll is closed
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire