It's a long way to the top if you want to coach Arizona football
Ask any head coach in America how they got their start, and they’ll tell you they started at the bottom, then slowly through connections — and lots of time — made their way up to where they are now.
Arizona’s first year safeties coach, Matt Caponi, is no different. In 2012, Caponi spent his first year at the UA as a graduate assistant under head coach Rich Rodriguez. A year later, Caponi has been promoted to safeties coach and says feels at home in Tucson.
“You sometimes just got to be at the right place at the right time,” Caponi said. “I’m almost positive there’s hundreds of coaches calling [Rodriguez] asking him about the position, but I think he obviously trusted me in doing a good job. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity.”
The opportunity arose when former safeties/defensive special teams assistant coach Tony Gibson surprisingly left Arizona to return to West Virginia over the winter.
Gibson had a long relationship with Rodriguez. The two played together at West Virginia before coaching alongside one another for seven years at WVU and then three more years at Michigan before coming to Arizona. Gibson was known for having strong recruiting ties in the South and Northeast. Now that Gibson is gone, Rodriguez has put his faith in his young defensive graduate assistant to take control of the safeties.
“[Caponi] knew what we were doing system-wise,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been a full-time college coach and has had experience. I’m excited about him.”
Prior to coming to the UA, Caponi was a graduate assistant at the University of Pittsburgh for one season. While at Pitt, Caponi got to work with current Arizona wide receivers coach Tony Dews and offensive coordinator Calvin Magee. Following the 2011 season, current Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, formerly at Pittsburgh, left the Panthers.
Looking for a job, Dews and Magee were hired by Rodriguez to help coach at Arizona. The two former Pittsburgh assistant coaches put in a good word for Caponi.
Before Pittsburgh, Caponi had professional coaching duties as a defensive coordinator at Division III Washington and Jefferson College.
“I wasn’t your typical graduate assistant,” Caponi said. “Prior to Pitt, I had roughly six years of coaching experience at a small school where I led meetings.”
Caponi’s roots lead him back to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he was raised and began his coaching career. For now, Caponi will be asked to be in charge of recruiting in Northern California. It would only be fitting though that two of his top returning safeties, Tra’Mayne Bondurant and Wayne Capers Jr. are from Northern California and Pittsburgh, Pa., respectively.
“They have kind of the same personality, but he talks more,” Capers said comparing Caponi to Gibson. “Coach Caponi gives you more feedback on what you’re doing. He doesn’t wait until we get into the locker room.”
Caponi is said to have a strong, intense presence in practice and being hard on his players by expecting the most from them. He accredits his coaching style to what he learned as a graduate assistant and making his way through the ranks. “Being a graduate assistant is a lot of the behind the scenes work, breaking down video, kind of the grind; that’s where you start from,“ Caponi said. “Now that I’m a position coach, it’s using all that I learned and learning to get my guys focused, prepared with meetings, keeping up on their academics, which is big. It’s almost like being a father figure to those guys.”
Adding the title of “coach” to his name will open many more doors for Caponi and will only help him continue to make his way up the coaching ladder.
“Because of my background, I think I’m well prepared. If everything goes the way we plan it to go, I could see myself here at Arizona for the rest of my career,“ Caponi said. “I mean, it’s far away from home but I feel acclimated into Tucson.”