Rich Rodriguez is bringing a very different Arizona squad to Pasadena this weekend. They have employed a new defensive scheme, moved players around, and are rebuilding in every sense of the word. They are 2-2 overall and 0-1 in conference play. Let’s take a look at The Wildcat staff and their special teams.
My first knee jerk reaction is to say Rich Rodriguez is not a good coach. Maybe it’s just because I don’t like him very much. We all know about his dismal history at Michigan and we’ve beaten Arizona every year since he’s been there. He was hired the same year as Mora, and has a 57-35 record. He does, however, have a Pac-12 South Championship, which is something we cannot say about our current head coach. He has one ten-win season under his belt, a Fiesta Bowl berth, and was named the 2014 Pac 12 Coach of the Year. These are things that Bruin fans have been yelling about for years. But do they make Rich Rod a good coach? Is he really better than Mora? Well, Mora is currently 57-39. Hmm...very close records. Is the devil is in the details?
Coach Rodriguez was once considered an innovator, developing the zone read back in 1990, but that has now become the norm. He has developed and evolved other offensive schemes, like running an entire game as a two-minute drill. He completely blew up his defense this year after it fell apart in 2015, attributing their problems to a multitude of factors, including coaching, recruiting, and injuries. After spending 10 years as the defensive coordinator, Jeff Casteel was fired. Rodriguez says, "So I just decided that instead of going piece by piece, I'm going to blow the whole thing up and start over again. And that was hard because of the loyalty and respect and the fact we'd won a whole lot of games together." We definitely know what it’s like to have a coach that’s loyal to his staff, almost to a fault. But their pass defense was abysmal last year, and amid a torrid of issues, something had to change. So, he changed it.
And now he’s starting fresh with newly hired Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates. Under Mora, both Coach Ulbrich and Mazzone left (although some speculate Mazzone was going to be given his walking papers) before they were fired, but each had worn out their welcome and tried the patience of Bruin fans years earlier. Coach Rodriguez’s willingness to blow up his defense is one thing that some would say makes him a better coach. Even though you have a year or two of rebuilding, the change can pay dividends in the end if fans are willing to hang with it.
Marcel Yates hails from Boise State, where he led a defense that was characterized as attack-style, causing multiple turnovers in opponents. Both Yates and co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee received a contract for longer than one fiscal year, which is the first time in Arizona program history that this has happened. During Yates’s career at Boise State, his defense was one of two teams nationally to post top-10 finishes for turnovers forced each of the last two years, and his 2014 unit also ranked seventh nationally in both tackles for loss and sacks. As this is a rebuilding year and Arizona’s defense is undersized, they are currently ranked 111th nationally in total defense, allowing an average of 25.5 points per game this season. I truly believe Marcel Yates will do a lot more in the future and his success is coming. During his tenure as an assistant at Boise State, the Broncos won seven conference championships in nine seasons and appeared in a bowl game each year, including two Fiesta Bowls. There were a lot of college football fans that argued that Boise State needed to pony up and join a better conference, and quit being a big fish in a small pond. But those bowl wins show they were able to win on the big stage. This mentality is something that will benefit Arizona in the end. Coach Yates will turn the defense around and, if recruiting fills the cupboard, will make Arizona a more competitive team in the future.
Coach Calvin Magee joined the Arizona staff in 2011 as associate head coach, co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach. He’s been a successful coordinator of spread-option running attacks for head coach Rich Rodriguez, and in his career, he has coached in 12 bowl games. He has coached the likes of Nick Wilson and Ka’Deem Carey, and works alongside Coach Rod Smith. Smith also serves as the team’s quarterbacks coach and has also been with the Wildcats for five seasons. According to an article on tucson.com, Smith coached "Michigan’s Denard Robinson for two [years]. As Arizona’s quarterbacks coach, Smith turned Matt Scott into a pro prospect, B.J. Denker into a solid college player and Anu Solomon into a savvy veteran". He is also known for his excellent recruiting skills, due in part to his personality, but also his demeanor as a "family man". He says, "Recruiting it’s just like coaching our players. I can be me. I can be myself. I don’t have to put on a show." After five years working together and on the same staff, they have been through the ups and downs and are now part of a struggling team looking to make a comeback.
Redshirt sophomore Josh Pollack is handling kicking and punting duties. He kicked a season long, 46-yard field goal against BYU, and had his only miss this year in the same game. He hit a career long, 65-yard, punt last weekend versus Washington, and hasn’t missed a PAT yet this year. He saw very limited action last year, so his true abilities remain to be seen. Senior wide receiver Nate Phillips is taking the punt returns, and number two slot receiver Tyrell Johnson will be fielding kick returns. According to current U of A statistics, Phillips is only averaging 3.5 yards per return this year, and Johnson is slightly better at 15.4 yards. Their return game is not stellar (something we are no stranger to) and definitely containable.
I’ve asked around and I still can’t get a straight answer, so I’ve added a poll. Is Rich Rodriguez a better coach than Jim Mora? Give us your opinion below!