Over 300 former Arizona football players held a Zoom call Tuesday to discuss the new head coaching vacancy, according to former defensive back Heath Bray who appeared on the Eye on the Ball radio show on FOX Sports 1450.
Bray, a captain on the 1992 squad, said notable names like Joe Tafoya, Tedy Bruschi and Brandon Sanders were planning to speak in the virtual meeting. The ex-players are also planning to have a Zoom meeting with UA athletic director Dave Heeke on Thursday, albeit in a much smaller group.
The purpose of all of this?
“To figure out what in the Sam Hill is going on, and what can we do, and how can we be a positive influence,” Bray said. “And anything that goes for it, I have no idea. This is a situation like none I’ve ever seen before.”
Bray, now the owner of a wealth management firm, said Arizona football is at “rock bottom” right now following a program-record 12 straight losses including a 70-7 blowout against ASU (who Bray calls “those Satanists”).
Bray said a sense of apathy, not anger, has crept in among fans and former players, which he said is “the most erosive, malignant feeling you can have in any relationship.”
“I mean it doesn’t get any lower than this, and so we’re at a turning point where either we fix this or you’re going to have guys do something else,” he said.
“I’ll give you a great example. I have a young son who’s a football player and if grows, he’s got an opportunity to be a guy. If he was a senior right now and he was a guy, I would not let him go to U of A. And that’s coming from me and I’m one of the most diehard, red and blue, through and through since 1988. That’s how bad it is.”
Bray warned that if the UA doesn’t get this hire right, not even 20 former players will care enough to join a Zoom call when it comes time to make another head coaching hire.
“The only thing I can do—my dad always taught me—you gotta be careful when you vocalize your opinion,” he said. “But he said always give it if asked. With us, I don’t know what we can do. I know there’s gotta be some input. There’s a couple names thrown around right now and there’s a couple of them that the ex-players are going to love and a couple of them that are going to cause a revolt.”
Bray did not offer his list of preferred candidates, but says there are two factors Arizona must consider.
“There’s the quantitative and the qualitative,” he said. “The quantitative side says you got to hire a guy that’s gonna put butts in seats. The qualitative side says we got to hire a guy that gets Arizona, an Arizona guy that gets the uniqueness of Tucson, the community outreach necessities, the family atmosphere and those are not very good bedfellows all the time. We’ve got a very difficult stance because you’ve got to hire a guy, but they’ve got no money.”
Bray said former UA coaches John Mackovic, Rich Rodriguez and Kevin Sumlin did not do enough to foster that kind of family-oriented environment, causing the program to take on a cold, corporate feel to it.
Bray used an example of an interaction he had with Sumlin to highlight that.
“I’m at a 7-on-7 tournament which my son is in, who ended up being the MVP of the tournament, who’s a potential player someday, and I’m somebody that has a pretty decent name at the U of A, and Kevin walks up, and I’m like, ‘Hey Kevin what’s going on, man?’ He sticks out his hand and goes ‘Kevin Sumlin. Nice to meet you,’” Bray said.
Bray also described a moment with Heeke that turned him off.
“I don’t want to throw Heeke under the bus because I like Dave. Dave is a good guy. But last year I did the Pac-12 pregame show with Rob Waldrop. I took Rob over to the facilities, he’s got a 20-foot picture with Tedy and Chuck (Cecil) and Ricky (Hunley) on the inside of the facility. We go into Heeke’s box. There’s an eight-foot photo of Rob Waldrop outside of the box. These are all permanent fixtures. We go in, we got (former AD) Cedric Dempsey and (his wife) June sitting there. Heeke is six feet over my left shoulder and we talk to him for maybe 15 seconds the entire day. With Rob Waldrop in the room. Me in the room is one thing, but freaking Rob Waldrop. He’s one of the four pictures in the facility. His picture is not even 10 feet from where we’re sitting.”
Bray would also like to see Arizona re-establish a tough brand of football, with players who embrace the underdog mentality that the program’s most successful teams have had.
He acknowledged that many coaches wouldn’t dare recruit players that fit that mold anymore, but held out hope that the new hire will.
“To be honest with you guys, in today’s recruiting, Tedy Bruschi doesn’t get a shot. Chuck Cecil doesn’t get a shot,” he said. “Hell, I may not get a shot.”
“Because this is why—you got to have the resume as an assistant coach to present. Because if you take a flyer on a Scooby Wright, and he fails, your job is on the line. And that’s different. You can’t go and watch a guy and say, ‘I came to watch XYZ player, but holy cow that ABC player is the guy I want.’ You can’t do that anymore.”
Bray added: “But I don’t think that we have to necessarily do things the way we did back then. But if there’s any possible way that we can go and tangibly institute that communal feel we had, I’m telling you right now guys, that’s the tightest bunch of dudes ever. I mean, I’m tight with guys that played before me, guys that played after me. I’m not tight with anybody who played probably after the year 2000. It just seemed like it just started steering off.”