Rich Rod pops up again… as UA’s new football coach

It was inevitable that a college football program somewhere would be desperate enough to take a chance on hiring Rich Rodriguez.

That somewhere appears to be Tucson.

Greg Byrne, the University of Arizona athletic director, has scheduled a noon press conference to announce that the former West Virginia and Michigan head coach will soon be taking over the Wildcat program from Tim Kish.  Kish has been filling in as the interim head coach since Mike Stoops was fired midway through the season.

Rodriguez has been working as an analyst for CBS Sports since being fired at Michigan following a tumultuous three-year run that produced a disappointing 15-22 record and created chaos among alumni and fans alike who were taking sides on whether he should be fired even sooner.

The inability to beat either of the Wolverine rivals, Michigan State or Ohio State, in three years added fuel to the fire – as did missing a bowl appearance two consecutive years.

When he did get the program to a bowl game, the Wolverines suffered a humiliating 52-14 loss to Mississippi State in the Gator Bowl.  That was the final straw and Michigan decided it would be worth the $2.5 million it would take to buy out Rodriguez’ contract.  That stung even more since UofM had to pay a similar amount to help buy out Rodriguez’ contract at West Virginia, where he had been a rising star on the college coaching stage.

Rodriguez took his alma mater to a 60-26 record in seven seasons and won four Big East Championships before being offered the opportunity to run one of the most tradition-rich programs in college football history.

And that importance of tradition at Michigan started Rodriguez’ problems in Ann Arbor.

He didn’t embrace the traditions the way the fans and alumni had expected.  He brought in new offensive ideas that were foreign to Michigan football.  He was an offensive-minded coach that couldn’t put together a defense, which had always been a point of pride for the Wolverines.

Rodriguez also set some new records – but not the kind that Michigan fans wanted.

He lost nine games in his first season, which set a school record.  And worse, the program was hit with NCAA violations for the first time in its storied history.  It is still operating under a three-year probation that resulted from sanctions imposed for violations of practice and training regulations by the coaching staff.

There is no question whether Rodriguez can coach.  He proved that at West Virginia.  But the question is whether he can compete in the Pac-12 with any more success that he demonstrated in the Big Ten.

That’s a question that won’t be answered for awhile yet.

But you have to wonder if Byrne was paying any attention to what is happening to his counterpart in Tempe.  Lisa Love, the ASU Vice President for Athletics, took a similar chance and made a controversial hire when she brought in Dennis Erickson to run the Sun Devil football program five years ago.

Erickson, too, had been a winner.  Two national championships at Miami attested to that fact, but it was several decades ago.  He came to be associated more for his nomadic career, never staying at any one school for very long and often creating controversy along the way.

Love looked like a genius when Erickson brought ASU a share of the Pac-10 Championship in his first year.  But the program went without a winning season the next three years, and this year is turning into a major disappointment.  And Love’s stock is falling along with it.

She may soon have to make another tough decision and accept the fact that the last one hasn’t worked out.  Maybe a phone call to the ASU AD might not have been a bad idea for Byrne – before pulling the trigger on his latest hire.

But the one good thing about picking up Rodriguez while he’s still out of coaching is that Arizona won’t have to buy out his contract from another school.

However, that will be little consolation to the Wildcat Nation if this one doesn’t work out.