The best thing about the Rich Rodriguez hire at Arizona is also the worst. Rodriguez clearly has something to prove. The odds are he is motivated and ready to prove his critics wrong.
Arizona AD Greg Byrne tweeted this picture moments after giving Rich Rodriguez a chance to guide the Wildcats.
Rodriguez went to Michigan as the golden boy. He took a solid West Virginia program and made them a national power. The Mounties were good under Don Nehlen but Rodriguez built them into a two-time BCS team and was one bad loss to Pitt away from playing for a national title. He was 35-5 his final three seasons.
He was THE hot candidate after the 2007 season. He reportedly turned down the Alabama job and took the Michigan job, replacing Lloyd Carr.
It was never a good fit. While the fan base soured on Carr, the players loved him. Not only was Rodriguez an outsider coming in to replace a “Michigan Man” but he was bringing in a system that was radically different than system the current Michigan talent was recruited to play. Pro style quarterbacks like Ryan Mallett and Steven Threatt left the program and succeeded elsewhere.
His fast-paced pistol offense, which is a version of the spread option, was alien to the power football usually found in the Big 10 and it never really worked.
After a 3-9 season and a ninth place finish in the Big 10 he lost a lot of Michigan fans. He probably never had the team, most of whom were fiercely loyal to Carr. He lasted two more years, but despite a 7-6 finish and a Gator Bowl appearance, he was fired.
On the outside looking in one has to ask, “If he can’t win at Michigan, how can he win at Arizona?” Anyone on this site is a Wildcat fan, but even the most myopic Wildcat fan would not pretend that Arizona is close to Michigan as a football school. It is natural for fans to be worried.
Rich Rodriguez has something to prove. And that may be Arizona’s salvation.
Rodriguez is just 48 years old. This is not a last paycheck for him but a chance at getting back on top. He's young enough to want to re-create his legacy and get back on top. This is not merely a coach who misses coaching and is looking for a gig to keep him near the game. This is a lot more.
Four years ago he was on top of the college football world. Two of the top five programs in college football wanted him. Today he has been shamed. He not only left Michigan with a losing record, but with a black eye from NCAA investigators. The first in the program’s history.
Now he has a chance to rebuild his reputation. You have to imagine that he’s motivated and ready to prove his detractors wrong. He wanted a second chance and he got it. He did not have to go to Conference USA or the MAC for his chance, he gets to take over a program that, as of 14 months ago, was 7-1. He does not have to create a program from scratch or go down to I-AA, he gets to take over a program that went to three straight bowl games and still has some young talent.
In short order, he gets a chance at a place where he can take advantage of that second chance.
Now he has to do it.
To do so he has to capture the magic of the coach who won 60 games at West Virginia and not the coach who went 15-22 at Michigan. He has to be the coach that had Alabama and Michigan clamoring for his services, not the coach who left two fan bases with a bad taste in their mouths.
The Wildcat fan base is torn right now but would be unified with a winner. Rodriguez can make fans forget flirtations with names like Bellotti and Petersen if he wins football games. If his pistol offense works and the 3-3-5 defense is effective, then fans will be on board.
They don't care who wins football games, they just want to win football games.
The fans don’t really care how you win in Tucson, just that you win. Rodriguez has won before and won big. He has also lost before and fallen far.
None of that will matter if he dusts himself off and gets back on his feet. No one will remember the bad times at the Big House if he makes new memories in the Gray Old Lady. You have to think he’s motivated and more driven than ever. Second chances are rare and that is exactly what he has.
Rich Rodriguez has something to prove. Now he has his chance.