I'm Right Again Dot Com

A new commentary every Wednesday   -  July 29, 2015


University of Arizona Football

I don't pretend to know a lot about football.  I can't identify the formations (shotgun?) and plays (quarterback sneak, flea flicker, etc.?) until being told by some expert in the broadcast booth. I am willing to remain ignorant of the sophisticated identification of various kinds of offensive "receivers"  and defensive "tackles,"  (or why they're not called "tacklers?").  I'm willing to leave all of this minutia to broadcast announcers and to sportswriters. Nevertheless, I enjoy watching  the University of Arizona football team play... when they are winning.  After checking the win-loss records down through the years, that's been a tiny bit more than half of the time. 

Tucson, Arizona has been blessed with superlative sports columnists and sports broadcasters.  I count myself as one the grateful beneficiaries of the work of one of the finest sports writers, Greg Hansen. (Someday, I'll write about his hometown, Smithfield, Utah Blue Sox; semi-pros. They've been a team for 120 years).  Brian Jeffries, "The Voice of the Wildcats," is a superb play-by-play announcer and only the second to be inducted into the Arizona Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Dig this guys: The morning after the Wildcats have won, I want to read every word printed, even those of all the new sports writers, the next day. Good times and bad, sports coverage has been extremely good for folks in the advertising business— that includes this writer.

Inveterate Arizona football fans and perhaps Greg and Brian are going to be disappointed by my generalizations in this overview.

I believe that I am a repository of a certain amount of residual disappointment for 55 years. Over time, it has accumulated to the point of not being bearable. The athletic director fires a coach, or the University loses one to a school willing to pay more money. (Wow! What a union they must have!) Then, the build-up flack for the incoming, new coach is always so encouraging prior to the first game of the new season, that we are soon convinced that this is our year, as in, "Our Year to Win the Rose Bowl," a dream so elusive that we just as well should expect the gang from Publisher's Clearing House to also come rushing to our doors. Thus, for a half century, our hopes have been  ephemeral: transitory, short-lived. Yes, dashed, is the cliche' most often used. 

A half century ago we had not one but two coaches whose outstanding team tactic was termed "a cloud of dust and a yard of dirt."  Some of their successors lasted for as long as four years—one for only two seasons. I think one got canned in mid-season. We had a coach who was indicted for diverting funds through various schemes, such as peddling airline tickets, ostensibly meant to convey him to various football functions, and other alleged corruptions. When a jury refused to convict him of wrongdoing, the Pima County prosecutor and much of the press were astounded when many of the jurors shook his hand and hugged him before leaving the court room. (I'm not being facetious, it actually happened) 

Then, there was one head coach who broke nearly everyone's heart.  He had come here a few years before as an assistant. From minute one after his return as head coach, his rebuilding of team moral and efficiency was remarkable. His first season was the only one with more losses than wins. The second season in the PAC-10, his Wildcats won six games, including one over #1 rated USC—against five losses. After four memorable years, he suddenly was lured away by the University of Southern California at Los Angeles. USC fans proved to be  fickle, to say the least. They dumped him in a few years.  Shortly thereafter, after posting good records at other schools, he learned that he was terminally ill with a form of Leukemia.  He so loved Tucson, he returned to die here.  It was during his final months, that I came to know him. Not once did he mention the acrimonious departure from Tucson. He was one of most determined people I ever met in my life. I understood why he was a great football coach. I really thought he would beat the "Big C."

I will speak of only two real losers, as coaches, though statistically we had our share. One intercepted a player after a loss; grabbed the kid where there were a number of bystanders, smashed him against a wall and screamed imprecations at him—that included among other things relative to his character, if not his athleticism, that his mother ought to be ashamed of him. So much for character development and teaching by example. The other was a total public embarrassment as a head coach, due to his chasing up and down the field, loudly berating both officials and players continually. He couldn't wait until his players came off the field to castigate them in loud and ugly terms, that went on endlessly. There appeared to be no escape from his wrath.  Almost from minute one of game one, he became fodder for comic relief for broadcasters. I, for one, was happy to hear one day that he was put on the last stage to Norman.

I will only mention the name of my favorite, and my research found that he was the "winningest" one in the whole bunch. In 14 seasons, Dick Tomey coached 95 wins, the most in U.of A. history. Under Tomey, The Wildcats won 10 games in two consecutive seasons. He coached 20 All American, 43 PAC-10 "First Team" players, and five NFL First-Round Picks. The coach and team once found themselves on a Sport's Illustrated cover, a pre-season, number one pick. Tomey's "Desert Storm," led the nation in defense, and deserved all of the recognition they gained. 

If Dick Tomey ever felt one second of conceit, he successfully hid it.

Those who saw it will never forget the 29-to-nothing shut-out of the Miami Hurricanes in the 1994 Fiesta Bowl.  Moments afterward, a reporter for a national television network asked Tomey what he thought of the "upset." The Coach said, very quietly, for that was his style, "29 to nothing is not an upset."  The guy holding the microphone, totally did not understand.  "What do you mean, not an upset?" he asked. Tomey repeated himself with just a tiny bit more emphasis, before he continued his run to the locker room: "29-to-zero is NOT an upset."  The highly ranked Hurricanes had been crushed by the better team; certainly the best football team that had until that time to ever be fielded by the University of Arizona. 

In 1997, The U of A Wildcats and Tomey won the Insight Bowl and in 1998 the Holiday Bowl. That year the Wildcats won 12 games and lost 1.  However, the vagaries of the football gods finally did him in. In 1999 there was a severe drop-off to six wins and six losses. The season began with a disastrous 41-7 loss to Penn State. 2000 was even worse, with only five wins in the entire season. When the Wildcats lost to it's interstate rival Arizona State, the most vocal of the U. of A. athletic supporters cried for Tomey's scalp and he was forced to resign. 

 I very much enjoyed the plaudits Dick received from his fans and former players when he returned for the win over ASU this year.  He deserves a life-size bronze statue near the entrance to the stadium—for all that he achieved while he was here. The University of Arizona football team was once ranked number four in both major polls—a major position with requisite rewards that raised the Wildcats to a stature never achieved before and from which it has continued to reap benefits in many ways, including the incalculable value of success in recruitment of superlative talent.  

Now we have the dynamic Rich Rodriguez, Season Three. Former head coach at Michigan and West Virginia. Came to the University of Arizona in 2012 after a short stint of doing broadcast sports analysis. The very first year, he took the team to the New Mexico Bowl, where they defeated Nevada.  Season two, the Wildcats played in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl and beat Boston College. Last year, the Wildcats had the best numbers in the PAC-12 conference regular season as well as becoming South Division champions, and earning a berth in the Fiesta Bowl.  I suppose job insecurity demands good pay. $1.7-million for
Rich-Rod this year and that's just the base pay. Nike kicks in another $300,000 and there will be bonuses for Bowl games (if any), and other emolument.   

We Arizonans know about the most important contest each year: when the University of Arizona Wildcats play the Sun Devils of Arizona State University. Many a coaches' job hangs in the balance on that win or less—especially if it's been a "so-so" year.  This year, the Territorial Cup went to the Wildcats. 

Rodriguez was picked PAC-12 Coach of the year, deservedly so.

2015 could be the year. I sure would like to see the Wildcats play in the Pasadena Classic before I die. I don't think I could handle their winning it. I might be impelled to rush to 4th Avenue and join the riot, as is the custom. 

 

-Phil Richardson, Observer of the human condition and storyteller    

  k7os@comcast.net

 


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