(Marana, AZ) Now that Arizona’s football season has ended. Let’s look back on what happened and what didn’t happen along the way.
The Spring Game – David Adams and I were sitting in the seats along the west side of the stadium with other media people. A lot of the happenings at Spring Games are pomp and circumstances, Rah Rah kind of stuff.
You can’t buy into that, you need to come with regular glasses and leave the rose colored ones at home.
With all the televised Spring Games on TV around the country, it was easy to see that this Arizona team didn’t have a lot of talent,
Everyone in our group of reporters agreed this would be a long season, and since journalists tend to be impartial, it’s easier to read who’s good and who’s not not based on being a fan.
You can’t blame the school for clever marketing, that’s their job to promote the program and sell tickets. They have to put a positive spin on each Wildcat team. No school will come out and say, “we’re not very good, but still come watch us please?”
Just as in politics, they’re going to tell you what you want to hear. That will never change.
First Third of the season – The day of the Hawaii game, I had some conversations with former players that said “there was a decent chance that Arizona would lose.” This took me by surprise, and truthfully I didn’t believe it.
At the end of the day, they were spot on and the major media outlets had a field day at the expense of the Cats.
After the shock wore off, the Cats won their next four games, out came the rose colored glasses. Fans were talking big that Arizona would win the PAC-12 South.
What a lot the fans failed to see was the talent of their opponents wasn’t very good either. The Colorado win would go down as the signature win this year with the best record of 5-7. NAU 4-8, Texas Tech 4-8 and UCLA 4-8. A whopping 17-31 combined record. Not anything you can hang your hat on or brag about.
Arizona’s schedule was backloaded and a recipe for disaster. The teams the Wildcats were beaten by had a combined record of 56-32 with Oregon State and Stanford the only teams with losing records.
Even Vegas was way off, they forecasted Arizona for 7 wins. They were wrong with other schools, namely Oregon State and Stanford as well.
So what’s next? It’s a double edged sword.
Arizona hasn’t had consistency in their football program since the late Dick Tomey was walking the sidlines.
The habit of hiring “retreads” to coach the Wildcats has produced little success. What will it take to change that trend?
You don’t tend to fire a coach in their second year, as most of the roster are players they didn’t recruit.
That being said, coaches are hired to develop talent. You play the cards that are dealt to you, but through good coaching you need to make the team at least competitive. That’s not happening at Arizona.
The Wildcat’s defense was ranked #118 in the nation, that’s pathetic.
For a school that boasted some of the best linebackers and defenses during the Larry Smith and Dick Tomey eras. Those stats are an embarrassment to the school and the great defensive players that have put on Arizona uniforms in the past.
This issue isn’t a new one. Defensive Coordinator Marcel Yates was never successful here in Tucson under two different coaches. Why was he retained for so long? By the time the Athletic Department woke up, it was too late for his replacement Chuck Cecil to make a difference.
One cannot turn around seven games of bad play with four games left on the schedule. Whether Cecil is a band aid or is named the Defensive Coordinator (which is doubtful), there’s a mountain of work to be done on that side of the ball for the next season and beyond.
The other side of the double edged sword is that a good or bad team, football revenue pays for the Title IX teams, baseball and other non revenue sports at the university.
Athletic Director Dave Heeke made the decision to stick with Sumlin at least for next year. Time will tell if that was a good decision or not.
Meanwhile, with the past two non winning seasons, the fans are not happy, attendance is very low and on a downwards slide. People will take a long hard look at whether they want to spend their hard earned money on a poor product. On the surface with a low ranked incoming 2020 recruiting class things don’t look to get significantly better anytime soon.
UArizona will have to pull a rabbit out of their hat to not lose a ton of season ticket holders for football next season. Once again, how they market this team next year will have to be very carefully calculated. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.”
The attendance issue has been a sore spot with Arizona and the rest of the conference since it’s so easy to watch games on TV at home or your favorite sports bar or restaurant.
Now Arizona is in a precarious position financially with still being on the hook for the buyout of the Rich Rodriguez contract, so its a catch-22. Stay the course with Sumlin and save money on a second buyout, or lose a lot revenue on lower season ticket sales?
That brings us to the next topic, Arizona Stadium renovation. Money raised through boosters, donors and other sources is being used to renovate and improve the stadium. Will this be the ticket to get fans back in the stands and off the couch? It’s a 50/50 shot at best.
The next phase is to revamp the seating on the west side which has some of the original construction from 1928. At a cost up to 150 million dollars is this a viable solution to the attendance problem? Once again, only time will tell.
With Men’s Basketball back on tract and the success of the Women’s teams at the school (Basketball, Softball, Soccer and Golf), Football is still the program that needs to be successful, financially and for the good of the school and community.
Stay tuned to see if the football decisions made by the Athletic Department will be the solution or drag out the inevitable.
A winning program will take care of most those issues.