Evaluating College Football’s First-Year Head Coaches: Rich Rodriguez

Until he arrived at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez had a history of losing big in his first season. But the former West Virginia and Michigan coach finally figured out how to win in year one.

Probably one of the biggest reasons why everything clicked right away with the Wildcats is the fact that the administration and players bought into Rich Rod’s philosophy and style almost immediately.

That never happened at Michigan. Rodriguez went through hell in Ann Arbor. He was never accepted and he got blamed or everything. But after everything that has been reported about his three years with the Wolverines, it’s clear he was never going to get the support he needed.

So after taking a year off, Rodriguez jumped at the opportunity to coach again even if it meant a program and conference that were totally foreign to him.

What went right? One year removed from a four-win season, Rodriguez push the right buttons and the Wildcats rolled to eight wins and a bowl victory — something that evaded him at Michigan.

Rich Rod’s offense was able to execute so well in his first season because of the play of quarterback Matt Scott and running back Ka’Deem Carey.

Scott had a breakout season as he threw for 3,620 yards and 27 touchdowns. Carey was even more valuable as he was a first team All-American with 1,975 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns.

Carey has had some off-the-field issues, so his future is a little cloudy, but Rodriguez has always found backs to carry the load.

What went wrong? As good as 2012 was for Arizona, the Wildcats could have been a 10-win team. Much like it was at Michigan, Rodriguez squad struggled on defense and lost three shootouts to Oregon State, Stanford and Arizona State.

That last loss was the toughest as the Wildcats felt they should beat their in-state rival.

Despite the appearance of success, Arizona actually struggled in Pac-12 games and finished with a 4-5 record.

Where do things go from here? It’s probably too early to believe Arizona can win the Pac-12, but Rodriguez, the administration and fans have their sites set on finally playing in a Rose Bowl.

It’s almost hard to believe how low Rich Rod had fallen at Michigan, and how so many had given up on him. Remember this is the same guy who led WVU just one game shy of the BCS Championship.

Arizona should be better in 2013, but watch out for the Wildcats in 2014 and 2015 after Rodriguez has had time to stock the roster with his players.

It’s clear the UA brass love what they have in Rodriguez as they gave him a contract extension after one season.

Rich Rodriguez First-Year Coaching Grade: A-

Previous Evaluations

Jim Mora, UCLA

Urban Meyer, Ohio State

Bill O’Brien, Penn State

Charlie Weis, Kansas

Tim Beckman, Illinois

Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M