UA’s Rich Rod gets first off-field test after player arrests

Before installing their new offenses and defensive schemes, Arizona’s new college football head coaches apparently have to install something just as important…discipline.

Rich Rodriquez, the newly-hired boss of the University of Arizona football program, is the latest to be faced with one of the most difficult parts of the job.  He has to decide what to do with four players who were arrested last Friday for their reported involvement in a brawl that broke out at a party in the campus area.

The players admitted they were at the party, but claim to have had no part in the melee that took place.

The university hasn’t been able to publicly address the incident due to federal student-privacy laws.  So we don’t know yet what approach Rodriquez is going to take.

They are scheduled to appear in Tucson City Court next week.  “When it’s all done, when the process is done, I’ll make further comment at that time,” Rodiquez told the media earlier this week.

But it’s pretty obvious he’s painted into a corner here.

And the fact that his counterpart over in Tempe, Arizona State‘s new head coach Todd Graham, has already passed the test, just adds a little more pressure.

Just last month, Graham suspended defensive end Junior Onyeali for “not meeting the high standards of the Sun Devil football program.”  Graham had been hired as that school’s new head football coach less than three weeks earlier, but had promised discipline would be a top priority during his reign.

Graham delivered on that promise, despite the fact that Onyeali, last year’s Pac-10 Defensive Freshman of the Year, is one of the team’s top players and arguably the best pass rusher from his defensive end position.

Even closer to home, Arizona head basketball coach Sean Miller just suspended his starting point guard at perhaps the most critical time of the season, going into the conference tournament – which the Cats pretty much have to win to be assured of a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

That took some true grit on Miller’s part.

Now Rodriguez has to show the same resolve.  In his case, the fact that his players were arrested makes it all the more serious.  The coach’s logical choices are pretty simple, either suspend them or kick them off the team.

He, too, is dealing with players who would likely be contributors next season.  Fabbians Ebbele, an offensive lineman, and cornerback Jourdon Grandon were both expected to be starters.  Eric Bender is a reserve offensive lineman and Jared Tevis is a reserve linebacker.  All are sophomores.

Graham came into his new job at ASU with a reputation as a disciplinarian, something sorely needed after Dennis Erickson‘s loose style of coaching during the past five years.

During the one year Graham spent as head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, he backed up a zero-tolerance policy he instituted by handing down indefinite suspensions to both his back-up quarterback and a starting tight end, on separate occasions.  The QB had been arrested for possession of marijuana, the tight end had violated team rules.

But Rodriguez doesn’t have a similar recent track record in this area.  He has espoused discipline after arriving in Tucson, but hasn’t yet been tested.

Until now.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)