TUCSON, Ariz. —
Rich Rodriguez’s read-option offense was a hit at West Virginia, where he won four Big East Conference titles and turned the Mountaineers into national-title contenders.
It didn’t go over so well at Michigan; Rodriguez was fired in 2010 after going 15-22 in three seasons.
Now Rodriguez brings his hard-to-defend spread offense to the desert, hoping it’ll be a good fit for a program that needs a boost after two lackluster seasons.
“Of course, I’m biased, (but) I think it can fit anywhere,” Rodriguez said. “Schemes are sometimes overrated from the standpoint of does a scheme win you ballgames or lose you ballgames. I think you have to have good players executing and I think what we do is a good fit in this league and a good fit in any league.”
Arizona’s chances for a turnaround season under the coach known as RichRod will depend on how quickly his players are able to pick up on his schemes.
Rodriguez’s offense is a spread, but emphasizes the run — his teams have never passed more than they’ve thrown the ball — which will be a big change for the Wildcats, who passed on more than 60 percent of their plays with Nick Foles at quarterback.
Arizona will still likely pass a little more than some of Rodriguez’s previous teams because of quarterback Matt Scott’s passing ability, but also to protect him.
Once considered a future star at Arizona, Scott was supplanted by the prolific Foles early in the 2010 season and spent the past two years mostly watching from the sideline.
With Foles off to the NFL, Scott gets another shot at being the starter and is relishing the opportunity to show he can run a Division I offense.
“It was a humbling experience for me,” said Scott, a fifth-year senior. “In high school, you come out to college as that guy that has always started and it was tough for me to sit on the sideline. I felt like I wasn’t contributing to the team’s success, the little success we had. I was hungry, and I never want to be in that position again.”
Learning Rodriguez’s scheme hasn’t been the only adjustment for Scott and the Wildcats.
His tempo has been a real eye-opener.
Arizona played fast under previous coach Mike Stoops, but nothing like what Rodriguez calls for.
He wants his players to play fast on both sides of the ball, playing no-huddle, running to the line of scrimmage, on and off the field
Looking back at last season, Rodriguez said the players still fought hard in games, but didn’t train like elite athletes should after Stoops was fired in October
When they showed up for spring drills, the lack of conditioning was apparent.
Players huffed and puffed, while Rodriguez became exasperated.
The players worked on their conditioning over the summer and showed up at fall camp in better shape and ready to go.
“There is a new attitude surrounding the football program, everyone is working as hard as I’ve seen them work,” linebacker Jack Fischer said. “The work ethic of the coaches and everyone is giving it their all and I believe it’s going to show itself.”
Perhaps above everything else Rodriguez has done, he’s given Arizona a much-needed morale boost.
The Wildcats were a top-10 team in 2010 after opening 7-1, only to have their Rose Bowl hopes dashed by losing the last five games of the season.
Arizona opened last season 1-5 and had a string of 10 straight losses to FBS schools, leading to Stoops’ firing.
Since Rodriguez was hired on Nov. 21, Arizona football has become relevant again, drawing national attention while creating an excitement in Tucson usually only reserved for the basketball team.
He’s still got some work to do with plenty of questions surrounding this year’s team — depth being a big one — but Rodriguez appears to have a good foundation in place.
“The guys seem receptive,” Rodriguez said. “They seem hungry after last year being at the bottom of the league. They are embarrassed and angry. I hope they use that anger to fuel themselves and prove themselves.”
Just like their coach and his offense.