Alright, so you’ve probably seen the below video of Rich Rodriguez doing The Whip with members of the Arizona gymnastics team. It’s basically on every sports site across these here internets.
This is the latest production of UA “digital guru” Matt Dudek, whose past works include a cinematic prelude to the Wildcats’ Territorial Cup showdown with Arizona State and a remake of Speed with Rich Rodriguez decrying anti-uptempo rhetoric to Sandra Bullock.
The video production coming out of the Arizona athletic department fits the identity of the Rich Rodriguez-led Wildcats, and in turn, Rodriguez fits what Arizona needed in cultivating a football identity. Put simply, he’s giving a program that lacked any character a face.
Rodriguez’s address at the podium of Pac-12 media days included repeated jokes, poking fun at the conference’s blitz to push its centennial anniversary. He made reference to The Lion King. He was loose and charismatic. In other words, Rich Rodriguez was the antithesis of what Arizona football had long been.
As an undergraduate, I cut my teeth covering college football in the early days of Mike Stoops’ tenure at UA. Stoops was a logical hire in 2004, following the disastrous two-seasons-and-change of John Mackovic collecting paychecks before retirement. As defensive coordinator at Oklahoma, the Sooners were one of the most tenacious teams in the nation.
Arizona had long staked its reputation on defense, rising to national prominence at various points in the 1990s (including the 1993 season, which preceded the filming of Speed) behind Desert Swarm.
But while Arizona had Top 25 finishes and competed in the Pac-10 through that era, historically great defenses were somewhat squandered by a jarring lack of offense. If the Wildcat defense were Desert Swarm, the offense was Desert Snore with its insistence on first-and-second-down draws and counters, followed by often ineffective throws on third down.
Stoops’ defensive mind fit the mold of Arizona’s past success, and his Big 12 ties brought Sonny Dykes in to introduce an uptempo offense as the complement. The Wildcats’ problem under Stoops wasn’t that he failed to put the right pieces in place; his assistants were, in fact, too good. He lost his brother and defensive coordinator, Mark, to Florida State.
Dykes became the head coach at Louisiana Tech and parlayed his success in Ruston to the current head gig at Cal.
Stoops seemed overwhelmed for his final two years on the job, and the sideline outbursts that prompted the UA student section, “Zona Zoo,” to break out into chants in years past instead prompted grimaces.
Schematically, Stoops made sense. And he rebuilt Arizona enough that Rich Rodriguez was able to take the Wildcats to Pac-12 title contention rather quickly. Stoops just never seemed like a cultural fit, nor did he ever establish a true identity for the Arizona football program.
In some ways, that assessment probably mirrors how some feel about Rodriguez and a certain programs with an “M” logo, of which the Arizona head coach is still asked to this day. A coach needs to be comfortable for his program to flourish, and Rich Rodriguez has looked comfortable at Arizona.
There are subtle things: pep rallies on University Ave., dancing with the gym team on YouTube, new uniforms. Then there’s the more meaningful, like mapping out a very particular recruiting blueprint and implementing schemes built around players’ skill sets. Both put Rich Rodriguez’s stamp on Arizona football.