At this week’s practices, Arizona looked nothing like a team that’s mired in a 10-game losing streak and reeling from the loss of their long-time head coach.
Jimenez Practice Facility has been full of enthusiasm, positivity and, believe it or not, fun.
“The energy has been awesome out here,” said secondary coach Ryan Walters.
Even the media can see the drastic difference. Players and coaches have been all smiles as head coach Tim Kish has put the fun back in football during a time when nobody would expect it.
The first practice after Mike Stoops was fired, the Wildcats did nothing but step to the line of scrimmage.
That mentality and commitment to enjoying the game has changed the atmosphere surrounding the team. Coaches that are usually media-shy have been joking around with reporters they’ve never said a word to before.
Kish even implemented a Tuesday hat day, where coaches wear a different hat every week.
Kish donned a green Master’s cap. Walters wore a Lakers hat. Coordinator of operations Cam Nelson rocked a Dallas Cowboys hat. One assistant coach sported a pinwheel hat.
“It was awesome. I’m going to have a different one every week,” joked outside receivers coach Dave Nichol. “I’m going to go with the Dumb and Dumber, a big cowboy hat next week. They like to see us having fun, and we like to see them having fun so we’re trying to do that a little bit.”
That’s exactly what this team needs.
Over the past few months the Wildcats have lost five players to ACL injuries, a boatload of games and their leader and figurehead in Stoops.
They’ve answered the same questions about their struggling defense and often invisible run game. They’ve tried endless combinations on a defensive line that ranks last in the nation in sacks but have seen no progress.
They finally returned leader and playmaker Adam Hall from injury, only for him to go down for the rest of the season. Then last week, they were shocked to hear the only collegiate head coach they’ve had was fired. And then a select few — Nick Foles and Trevin Wade — had to talk to the media about it.
Kish’s positivity has given the Wildcats a breath of fresh air as they play the last Division I team they defeated.
Players haven’t been allowed to talk to the media since Stoops was let go. Their focus has been remembering why they ever chose to pick up the pigskin in the first place.
To get back on track and salvage an all-but-lost season, that’s the needed remedy for a team that’s seen negativity all year long.
“When a big event like that happens you’ve got to try and find a sense of normalcy and fun in what you’re doing and being enthusiastic about what you’re doing,” Walters said. “That’s what we’re trying to get done and I think that’s what the guys have done.”
— Mike Schmitz is a marketing senior. He can be reached at email@example.com