UA football headed in right direction…the signs are there

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                </div>  College football fans are always looking for something, beyond the obvious wins and losses, that will provide some comforting signs to tell them their favorite program is turning the […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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College football fans are always looking for something, beyond the obvious wins and losses, that will provide some comforting signs to tell them their favorite program is turning the corner in a rebuilding process.

If University of Arizona fans have been paying attention lately, they may have noticed a number of encouraging indicators that should provide some assurance that their Wildcat program is laying the groundwork for continued success.

In his two years as head coach, Rich Rodriguez has put together back-to-back 8-5 seasons and won a couple of bowl games.  But Wildcat Nation is more interested in where the program is going, rather than where it’s been.

And that’s why some recent developments in the program are worth noting.

An article by Daniel Berk for the Arizona Daily Star reminded us that Trevor Wood is among those UofA recruits who will be on campus next week to participate in football workouts.  Wood, a 6’5″ 235-pound tight end, is a four-star prospect who actually turned down offers from schools like Alabama, Oregon, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Michigan State.

Let that list sink in a little.  What are the chances he would be playing for a national championship had he opted for any one of those top-tier programs?  Pretty good, right?

But Wood is suiting up in a Wildcat uniform.  And he’s not the only top prospect these days that is giving serious consideration to playing in Tucson.

A little more than a week ago, Keenan Walker, who also had offers from some of the top programs in the country, picked the Cats.  He had narrowed his list down to Arizona and Ohio State – and then picked Arizona.  That, too, may have been a blown chance to play for a national title ring at least once in the next four years.

The 6’6″, 280-pound offensive tackle, ranked No. 9 nationally at his position, was undoubtedly influenced by the fact that his father and uncle attended UofA, and his brother is on the roster right now.  But if he didn’t see Arizona as a program with promise for the future, the Cats wouldn’t have made his list – family tradition or not.

And Arizona also finds itself on Kahlil McKenzie‘s wish list.  McKenzie is a five-star defensive tackle out of California that is ranked by at least one recruiting service as the 10th-best prospect at his position in the country. His list is down to just Arizona and Tennessee.

The addition of Wood and Walker also provides an indicator of success of a different sort for the Wildcat program because both are local products, which gives a boost to Rodriguez’s announced plans to put more emphasis on attracting in-state prospects.  Both are from Chaparral High School, which has a half-dozen or so athletes on board already – including two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year DaVonte Neal; the wide receiver transferred in from Notre Dame and sat out last season.

And let’s not forget that Connor Brewer has been sitting on the sidelines, waiting out his NCAA-mandated year of ineligibility following his transfer from the University of Texas program.  The former prep star was the No. 7-rated quarterback in the class of 2012 after setting school and state passing records at… you guessed it – Chaparral High School.

But the talent is only half the equation when you’re building a program to compete on the national stage.  The other important component is the money – and Arizona has been addressing that as well.

The addition of the 187,000 square-foot Lowell-Stevens Football Facility cost the college $72 million, but is providing the program with a new recruiting tool that has become a game-changer.

Now, on the heels of that, come some new, creative ways to fund success in the Old Pueblo.  A proposal being considered by the Arizona Board of Regents would allow an outside donor to provide stakes in an oil and gas company as incentives for keeping the head football coach, as well as the athletic director, on board for the next eight years.  If they stay, they get units in the company which can be cashed in for a substantial windfall.

This latest approach would provide just another form of perks often given to coaches, above and beyond their base salaries.  But it definitely gets props for it’s inventiveness.

However, whether it would be effective is anybody’s guess, due to the nomadic nature of football coaches. Rodriguez is just entering his third season at the helm and his base salary, which, according to his most recent contract adjustments, will be about $2.3 million a year over the next four years.

That doesn’t put RichRod anywhere near the top of the pay scale for typical big-school programs.  But if he continues to build something special in Tucson, there will soon be offers for more money from other schools. That’s just the way the game is played at that level.

And right now, the Wildcat program is headed in that direction.

You just have to pay attention to the indicators to see that.

(Photo: Arizona Athletics)