Here are five reactions to Arizona's hiring of former West Virginia and Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez.
Okay, so there was some spontaneous piling on last night. Call it a moment of fun Twitter brilliance outside of the realm of actually evaluating the hire itself.
2. Rich Rod Has A Tremendous Track Record
We have F/+ data going back to the 2005 season (offensive and defensive breakouts don't begin until 2006). Here are the rankings of the six teams Rodriguez has coached in that span:
|Year||F/+ Rk||Team||Record||F/+%||Off F/+%||Rk||Def F/+%||Rk|
Circumstances matter. And Michigan's initial failure in 2008, combined with some serious "fit" issues and, let's face it, an awful defensive coordinator hire more or less doomed Rodriguez in Ann Arbor.
From 2005 to 2010, Rodriguez put an improved product on the field five times. West Virginia went from surprising in 2005 to devastating in 2006-07, and after an incredible cratering in 2008, his Wolverines improved in both 2009 and 2010, even if the defense regressed almost as quickly as the offense improved. On a macro level, he has shown some serious program-building chops. He has also shown that he is not an automatic defensive abomination. It's easy to say he's just an offensive coach, but with Jeff Casteel in charge of the defense in Morgantown, he put a pretty good defensive product on the field as well.
3. The Transition Probably Won't Be Incredibly Smooth
Rodriguez's teams run the ball. A lot. At West Virginia, his Mountaineers ranked second, third and third in Standard Downs Run Percentage from 2005-07; they ranked second, ninth and fourth in Passing Downs Run Percentage. They ran the ball as much as any non-service academy in that span of time. At Michigan, he opened things up a bit, but only so much; his Wolverines ranked 23rd, 21st and 22nd in Standard Downs Run Percentage, 54th, 62nd and 73rd in Passing Downs Run Percentage.
The reason I bring this up is obvious: Arizona has run the ball less than almost any team in the country in recent years. Mike Stoops brought in coaches like Sonny Dykes (now the head coach at soon-to-be WAC champion Louisiana Tech) and Seth Littrell to run a version of the Airraid offense, and in 2010-11, they have indeed raided the air. The Wildcats have ranked 103rd and 119th (out of 120 teams) in Standard Downs Run Percentage the last two seasons and 115th and 118th in Passing Downs Run Percentage. The players Rodriguez will inherit in 2012 were recruited to execute within an offense that could not be much more diametrically opposed to Rodriguez's offensive philosophy. Figuring out how to work with players of this style while bringing in his own will take some time.
In a way, however, the high level of experience on this year's Arizona squad is a bit of a positive. Just about every Arizona offensive player you've heard of is a senior: quarterback Nick Foles, running back Keola Antolin, receivers Juron Criner, David Roberts, David Douglas and Gino Crump will all be gone after this Saturday's game versus UL-Lafayette. For that matter, so are the next two quarterbacks on the depth chart, Bryson Beime and Matt Scott. Arizona was done in by a young defense and a ridiculously inexperienced offensive line. But in terms of skill position talent, Rodriguez will certainly be able to sell recruits on the prospects of early playing time, even if it results in some tough growing pains in 2012. Running backs Ka'Deem Carey and Daniel Jenkins could find success in a new offense.
(And yes, I'm as disappointed as you are that I won't get to see Foles running a Rodriguez offense for a year. That would have been fun. Nick Foles In A Running Effort, if you will.)
4. Will Mike Leach Ever Coach Again?
Okay, that is a bit dramatic, but Leach is to bloggers what Brett Favre is to ESPN. We just can't help ourselves. We want to talk about him, we want him back in our lives, and we want him hired for every job, especially one that already employs (well, employed) some of his former assistants and recruited to his style. With Rodriguez, however, you get as high a ceiling -- in terms of past performance, a higher ceiling, really -- with a bit less drama (or at least, less unique drama). I get it. I just want someone to hire the Pirate, dammit. Tulane and Florida Atlantic, I'm looking in your direction...
5. This Is A Solid Hire
Hiring coaches is almost always a crap shoot. As I have said, it is the scariest, riskiest thing you can do with a football program, and you should only make a change if you absolutely know your current coach isn't going to work out as you hoped he would. There are few guarantees in making a coaching hire, but there is no doubt that bringing in a coach with previous BCS conference success is by far your least-risky move. Despite the recent baggage, Arizona brought in a coach who a) is somehow still just 48 years old, b) has produced seven winning records in 10 years of coaching at the BCS-conference level, and c) had his team within one game -- one half -- of the BCS championship game in 2007. We can chuckle, or LOL, about the hit his reputation took in three years at Michigan. But if Rodriguez brings in a solid coaching staff, it is difficult to imagine him not performing at a reasonably high level in the desert. His teams are entertaining and occasionally brilliant, and his track record is as good or better than any coach the Wildcats could have brought in to lead this program.