Saturday update> Arizona is making the change…


Original post (Friday night)>

Where have the halcyon days of the … Rich Rodriguez era gone at Arizona?

It wasn’t too long ago that the Wildcats, a somewhat quiet, on-again, off-again power program in the Pac-12 Conference, went to five bowls in six seasons under Rodriguez, including a Pac-12 South title and a berth in the New Year’s Six Fiesta Bowl.

Rodriguez, however, followed up a 3-9 2016 campaign with a 7-6 ledger a year later, and coupled with other issues in the athletics department, was dismissed in Tucson, Arizona.

Kevin Sumlin slid into the job after a disappointing close to his time at Texas A&M, and now Sumlin has yet to post a winning record or postseason appearance in three challenging years atop the Arizona program. The Wildcats had mustered just a 9-19 mark in Sumlin’s three years going into Friday night’s contest at home against rival Arizona State, which only has played two games thus far in the abbreviated season that has been delayed by COVID-19 but turned in a strong start previously under coach Herm Edwards.

Sumlin, who’s earned an average salary just below $3 million at Arizona, would be owed a buyout of around $5 million if Sumlin left or resigned on his own; should Arizona make a change, the cost to the school balloons above $7 million per the original terms of his deal signed three years ago.

Again, however, the Arizona job has some incredibly positive elements. There’s a strong tradition of success and Rodriguez showed an ability to find success in the modern, expanded PAC-12.

The job also has paid consistently in the top half of the PAC-12, there’s good in-state talent and the obviously ability to recruit nearby California, as well as West Texas.

Look for Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian to be perhaps the top candidate for the position. Sarkisian has head coaching experience already at a pair of PAC-12 powers, Southern Cal and Washington, and presently is the engineer of perhaps college football’s most explosive offense for the top-ranked Crimson Tide. He’s turned down other jobs just a year ago, after being closely linked to both Colorado and Mississippi State, but everyone from Nick Saban to Lane Kiffin is championing Sarkisian as ready for his next head coaching opportunity.

Former Colorado, UCLA and Washington coach Rick Neuheisel is another name worth monitoring at Arizona. Sources with direct knowledge tell FootballScoop.com that Neuheisel is interested in making one more run at success with a major-college program.

USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell, San Jose State coach Brent Brennan, UCF coach Josh Heupel, who’s maintained strong success despite key injuries and opt-outs this season for the Knights program and continues to engineer an exciting, tantalizing offense, and Oregon defensive coordinator Andy Avalos are names to watch, per industry sources, college football coaches and current PAC-12 staffers. Ryan Nielsen, a Southern Cal graduate with Power-5 experience at North Carolina State and presently in charge of the New Orleans Saints’ defensive line, is another name to watch in the mix in Tucson. Nielsen’s considered an excellent developer of talent and understands recruiting and program development.

There will be other candidates with interest in the job. It’s just too attractive a proposition for many coaches to ignore.

Finality of a decision is expected within 24 hours.

As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest coaching news.

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John Brice has covered college football, mostly in the SEC as well as covering Notre Dame and Ohio State, for more than 20 years. He's a former Tennessee Vols football sideline reporter and believes life should be spent traveling or planning the next trip.