Who has the toughest job in college football this week? Tim Kish certainly has to be a leading candidate for that dubious distinction.
The used-to-be assistant coach at University of Arizona just got handed a program that is off to a 1-5 start and in disarray after losing the head coach it has known for the past eight years.
This is a man with no head coaching experience, despite the fact that he has been coaching football since he got his start at a Cincinnati high school in 1976. And he was given nine days to prep for his first game as a Division I head coach.
His well-traveled resume includes stops at top-tier schools like Purdue, Northwestern, Illinois, and Indiana. But he filled the role of assistant coach at each.
To add a little more pressure, his athletic director put an extra shovel full in his wheel barrow. Right after announcing the Oct. 10 dismissal of Mike Stoops, Greg Byrne said publicly that he felt it was important for his seniors to have a chance to play in a bowl game. Kish needs to run the table the rest of the way to even aspire to a bowl invitation.
This is one of those times when the title “interim head coach” comes with little promise of turning into something more permanent.
However, Kish and his newly-minted Wildcats do have a few things working in their favor.
One of the most ineffective defenses in Division I is not one of those. So it’s a really good thing that Kish’s experience is on the defensive side of the ball. He was a defensive back in college and has been involved in coaching defense in all but one year of his career, when he was a quarterback coach at Ball State. He has been the linebackers coach at UA for the first six years under Stoops, and was promoted to defensive coordinator the last two.
However, the offense is one of the positive factors going forward. And that begins with one of the best quarterbacks in the Pac-12, Nick Foles.
The senior is on pace to establish new records at Arizona in a number of categories, including season passing yards, pass completions, and pass attempts. He’s a throwing machine who has a .715 completion percentage in a 29-game career in Tucson, following his transfer into the program from Michigan State; his first time under center was in 2009 when he started 10 out of 12 games.
He’s also got a good corps of receivers to work with; through the first six games, 13 different players have had receptions. Five of them have 26 or more, led by junior Dan Buckner who has accumulated 487 yards on 33 receptions. And the other four are battle-tested seniors: Gino Crump (30 catches), David Douglas (29), David Roberts (29), and Juron Criner (26).
In addition to having a bye week to make the coaching transition, Kish got another gift from the scheduling. The Cats play UCLA next. The Bruins are 3-3 on the year and there isn’t a winning record among the three teams they beat – San Jose State, Oregon State, and Washington State.
Kish has a lot of things on his mind right now, the most critical of which is how the departure of Stoops is going to effect recruiting, and whether he can hold on to those who have already committed but are free now to change their minds.
But right now, he’s got to find a way to begin winning ball games – and maybe have a chance at keeping the job he didn’t ask for.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)