Football Guide: Rich Rod Part III
Rodriguez looks to improve upon back-to-back 8-5 seasons
Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez answers questions from the media after practice on Tuesday. Rodriguez has gone 16-10 in his first two seasons at Arizona, including back-to-back bowl wins.
Just like one of his most repeated mottos, Arizona football players describe head coach Rich Rodriguez as an almost contradictory figure.
Rodriguez often talks about wanting his players to be “comfortable being uncomfortable,” and they portray him as a strict players’ coach.
“It’s fun,” senior receiver Austin Hill said about playing for Rodriguez. “It’s always upbeat. It can be tough at times, but his motto is, ‘You gotta be comfortable being uncomfortable.’ He definitely works us hard, but at the end of the day, he makes us better players on the field and better men off the field.”
Players who run afoul of team rules, like multiple school record-holder Ka’Deem Carey in 2013 or 30-time starter and senior safety Tra’Mayne Bondurant in 2014, must work their way back onto Rodriguez’s teams.
“He’s a high-caliber, demanding but loving ‘taking care of his players’ coach,” senior quarterback Jesse Scroggins III said. “We know he cares about us, and that’s why we follow his rules.”
Arizona went 8-5 with bowl wins in Rodriguez’s first two seasons. The UA had only been to 16 bowl games before Rodriguez came to town.
Rodriguez said this is where he wanted the program to be going into his third year.
“The foundation, the culture, whatever you want to call it, of the program that we wanted to establish the first couple of years — I think that’s been set, so that’s a good thing,” Rodriguez said. “And now we’re going to try and take the next step. The thing is, we can be significantly better, and it may not show in results because everybody we’re playing is getting better. So we got to make more improvement than our opponents are making, and we know they’re all making improvements, too.”
At Glenville State, Rodriguez won the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year award in 1993 and 1994 and was NAIA Coach of the Year as well. He won the Big East Championship in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007.
“Coach Rod’s a great coach,” sophomore receiver DaVonte’ Neal said. “He makes us comfortable being uncomfortable. He emphasizes that a lot by going out there and making us feel uncomfortable, like maybe yelling at us a little bit, just to see how we react to the pressure. It’s great to know that you have a coach that wants to make you feel your most comfortable when you are uncomfortable.”
However, Rodriguez’s last stop, at Michigan, one of the most storied programs in college football history, ended with him getting fired. The Wolverines have seen their record decrease each year after 2011 since Rodriguez left, after getting better each year he was there. His replacement, Brady Hoke, is on the hot seat.
When asked about Michigan’s record getting worse each year since he was fired, Rodriguez said, “Have they? I haven’t noticed,” and laughed.
“The biggest disappointment when we got run out of there was that some of the things that we had to correct the first couple of years — it was painful,” Rodriguez said. “By the third year, we started making a little progress, and we thought we were going to be really, really good year four or year five. But we didn’t have that opportunity and so that was the most disappointing part about that — that we didn’t get a chance to finish the job, so to speak, but things work out for a reason, I guess. And now I’m here in sunny Arizona, beautiful weather in this brand new facility, so this is pretty good for us.”
Rodriguez resurfaced at the UA after working at CBS for a season and has made Tucson a popular destination.
According to the Arizona Daily Star, Arizona is the only school that features transfers from all the power five conferences and Notre Dame and BYU.
Scroggins, who started his college career at USC, said the coaches and especially Rodriguez are the reason the UA is so popular to transfers.
“We see that U of A’s on the rise, and everybody wants to be a part of that, everybody wants to be a part of something great, and coach Rich Rod is doing something great. He’s putting up what I believe can be a dynasty,” said Neal, who transferred from Notre Dame.
Senior safety Jared Tevis, who is from the Tucson area, said Rodriguez has had a great impact on the program and that it will pay off.
“I think it’s just a matter of attitude,” Tevis said. “It’s kind of more important as I said, more important to the players and to the community. We’ll continue to try and get that going, and the discipline and accountability has increased a ton since coach Rod got here, and I think that’s gonna help us take that step to the next level.”
Rodriguez inherited a program from former UA head coach Mike Stoops that lost 10 games in a row to FBS teams in 2010 and 2011, despite featuring 12 current NFL players.
Hill said the program has done “a complete 180” from Stoops and has gotten Tucson and the UA more interested in football.
“He really got the community much more involved than I thought he possibly could, and he’s really gotten people interested in football,” Hill said. “Which is awesome, because more fans coming to the games, staying longer — it’s a great experience as a football player to have and to see that the community has your back.”
Freshman running back Jonathan Haden said Rodriguez wants the Wildcats to be closer to each other than anyone other than their actual family.
“It makes us feel like, ‘Why not Arizona?’” Haden said.
An upcoming goal Rodriguez has for the program is less optimistic and also a bit of a contradiction.
“We’re not to the point yet where we’re good enough to play poorly and win,” Rodriguez said. “It sounds like coach speak, but I’ll know we’ve arrived when we go out there and play bad and stink it up and still win the game.”
—Follow James Kelley on Twitter @jameskelley520