10 Questions With: Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez
After spending his first 28 years in coaching east of the Mississippi, Rich Rodriguez trekked far west, to Arizona, to take over a struggling Wildcats program. After an 8-5 debut campaign in which his squad won three of its final four games, capped by a thrilling New Mexico Bowl win over Nevada, Rodriguez has the Wildcats primed for bigger things in 2013. We caught up with Rich Rod to talk about how important off-the-field personnel is to building a winner on the field, advance scouting, his role in the proliferation of the zone read and just how creative the Wildcats plan to get with their facemasks.
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1) We've had a chance to meet some of your off-the-field operations staff this off-season, guys like Mike Parrish, Matt Dudek, Andrew Warsaw and Billy Kirelawich. How do you find people like that where there's not as much data out there like there may be when you're looking for, say, a wide receviers coach?
Whether it's on the operations side or the personnel side, guys that have a passion for football, certainly have a passion to help build a program and then being a people person. If you're going to be running camps and clinics and dealing with your players on their various issues then you want somebody that's a joy to be around and enjoys helping young guys achieve college success. I've been lucky. These guys have been really good and I've been around a bunch of good ones in my career.
2) Guys like that all have jobs that hardly existed a decade ago. Is that a situation where you've always needed people to, for example, run your camps and clinics and never had the budget for it, or have you created new jobs for people as budgets have expanded over the last 10 years?
Ours is really small compared to some of our colleagues and other schools in similar situations. We have a relatively small staff. I'd like for it to grow like some of the other staffs. It is certainly bigger than what it was 10 years ago and a whole lot bigger than they were 20 years ago. I think it's been very beneficial in a lot of ways. The biggest benefit, obviously from a structural standpoint and an organizational standpoint, I think the biggest benefit is the things they're able to do to help your current players. Whether it's helping them when they have emergencies, helping them navigate through some tough times or making a transition from high school to college. I think that's been a big thing. Just a little bit ago a couple guys came back from helping guys do community service, visiting some children at the hospital. There's a lot of benefits to having some guys on your staff that are in non-coaching roles.
3) How do you set expectations for your off-the-field staff?
I think the biggest thing is to communicate. It starts with the head coach. We've got to communicate our message, what we want from our program and then everybody has to be on board with that same message and that same kind of goal and mindset. If there are issues that come up it's usually because of a lack of communication. As a head coach, we've got to make sure that we communicate what we want out of the program, what our expectations are from them, and I also believe that our whole staff has to communicate amongst each other. We have a really, really tight staff. A lot of us have worked together a really long time. We tease each other, we have a lot of fun. There's also a professionalism there that everybody understands as well.
4) The Pac-12 South is expected to be a wide open race this year. Is that something you stress to your players, or is it no different from any other year?
Our goal every year is to win the league. I think that's the same no matter where I've coached, no matter where I've been. I think that's always going to be your first goal. We don't talk about it too much. A lot of people talk about the process, talk about what you've got to do every day to get better. We always look at our opponents. Like now, in June, we do some scouting of our opponents. Watch some film and talk about them a little bit. More than anything, we're always concerned with us first and foremost and what we're doing to get better.
5) How much time do you devote in the off-season to scouting your upcoming opponents?
There's about a two week window where we'll watch some of our opponents in our league, our rivalry game, we'll watch that a little bit. When camp starts in August it's all about us. After about a week and a half of looking at opponents our focus is still mainly on us for the rest of the time.
6) So when the Arizona State games roll around in November, how much will the notes you took in June factor into your game-planning?
In the spring we looked at it a little bit and then a little bit again in June. We'll make notes of it and when that game comes back up we'll refer to it. But there's a lot of things that can happen between now and the time we play them again. They're always on our mind and we certainly think about them but not nearly as much as we think about ourselves.
7) How much tinkering do you do with your offense every year?
We study some other people that are doing spread principles just to see if we can learn anything, and over the years we've added quite a few things to our package. At the end of the day we're always more concerned with what we do and making sure we're able to execute and those types of things. We tweak it and we've been tweaking it for 20 years. I think the base is still the same but for 20 years we've looked at ways we can make it better.
8) The story I've always heard about the berth of the zone read came from your backup quarterback suggesting one day in practice that he could keep the ball instead of simply handing it off to the running back. How close is that to reality?
That was at Glenville State, actually by our starting quarterback Jed Drenning. This was way back in 1991 or 1992. We didn't run a lot and he wasn't a zone read type of guy. We ran it some at Glenville, that's when we first started doing it, but then it really became part of the package at Tulane with Shaun King. We already kind of knew what we wanted to do with it but it was new to college football, particularly to Division I football. With Shaun at Tulane was when it really kind of took on its own life, I guess.
9) How has the Pac-12 Network impacted your program on an everyday basis?
I think it's been positive for everybody. Our guys know that every game we have during the season and even our spring game are going to be on a national network. I think it's fun for them and it certainly should help in recruiting. The network has been really good about their coverage and getting content and getting our message out in a lot of ways. I think the Pac-12 is probably in a better place than it's ever been.
10) Some very unique facemask prototypes popped up on the Internet earlier this week. Is there any chance they see the field this season?
We haven't been talking to anybody about that. I think that's an individual that's come up with a unique idea. It's not anything that we're going to be wearing this year, but they look pretty neat.