The Arizona Wildcats football program has not had a whole lot to cheer about in the past 16 months or so. The team has recorded just four wins since October of 2010, fired their head coach of nearly eight years and has seen their recruiting take a hit because of the coaching changes. Fortunately for the UA, Rich Rodriguez is here to awaken a sleeping giant in the desert and get the program to the promise land.
After spending Monday night addressing a crowd of nearly 700 at a local resort in Tucson, Rich-Rod, his family, and various members of the athletic department headed north to Phoenix to visit the many alumni living in the area. Tyler Lockman of Fox Sports Arizona was in attendance and has a report from the event:
In a Phoenix ballroom Tuesday night, a University of Arizona fan excitedly handed new football coach Rich Rodriguez a football and a marker to sign it. There was just one problem: The marker wouldn't write.
"That must be an ASU pen," Rodriguez joked before producing a marker of his own and scribbling "Bear Down" on the fan's football.
The interaction made abundantly clear how Rodriguez has embraced Arizona culture just as quickly as it's embraced him. Rodriguez has had the Arizona community buzzing since he was hired Nov. 21, and Tuesday he wooed Phoenix area alumni at the Phoenix Country Club. The reception he got couldn't have been warmer.
The hiring of Rodriguez is already paying dividend. While Mike Stoops was regarded around the country as a good football mind, he was never the personable guy that would mesh well with the communities surrounding Tucson. Finding light-hearted interviews with fans and alumni were like pulling teeth at times; that's far from the case with Rich-Rod.
Alongside Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, Rodriguez sent the message Tuesday night that UA can compete with the best programs in America as long as everyone involved - from players past and present to fans, alumni and administrators - believes it.
"I cannot sit here and predict how good we're going to be next year," Rodriguez said. "You're never going to hear me say, 'We're going to win this number of games, that number of games' and all that.
"Our goal will always be to win the Pac-12, win the Rose Bowl, win the national championship. That will never change. And we will get there."
Rodriguez also made multiple mentions of the rivalry game with Arizona State and has called it, "the silly little school up north", among other things. Just a few weeks into his tenure at Arizona, Rich-Rod already understands what is expected of him. And he has the complete and total support of those around him. As former linebacker Kevin Singleton said on Tuesday night:
"We've got a good, solid coach with a strong background. He's got a good attitude, a real positive attitude, and he's a people person. I've got a good feeling about him, and I think we're going to have a lot of success here."
There is a genuine excitement about football in Tucson and we're more than nine months away from kickoff. When was the last time you could honestly say that?