If you work for Rich Rodriguez, you learn more than RichRod’s football system. You learn that you can’t make a mess.
He might be the most tidy coach in college football.
An hour after the Wildcats overcame USC last season, Rodriguez orchestrated a sit-down dinner at midfield, an enjoy-the-day feast for some visiting recruits. At sunset, as the wind whipped through Arizona Stadium, a large red tablecloth was swept onto the 50-yard line.
One of the servers, a family friend, not only had an extra in supply – “just in case” — but later told me he had been instructed to use red tablecloths, not standard white, because the football department thought they might get smudged and look dirty on the field.
Is that thinking ahead, organizational thoroughness, or what?
That is what happens when your school hires a program manager and not just a football coach; a winning system must include more than a good third-down call.
A few months ago, Arizona initiated an OKG catchphrase, “Our Kinda Guys.” And although the label isn’t original (Boise State did so a few year earlier) it typifies the difference between the mess at USC and the progress at Arizona.
The Trojans don’t have an extra red tablecloth.
I can’t recall seeing a more helpless Pac-12 football coach, uncomfortable in the glare, than USC’s Lane Kiffin.
He is surrounded by 100 players, a support staff of dozens and 70,000 Trojan fans. And yet he seems alone, almost as if to say “How am I going to get out of this mess?’’
Kiffin calls plays on third down. He lacks an OKG network.
If you run your finger down the list of USC assistant coaches, you notice that Kiffin has surrounded himself with virtual strangers. It’s more like a “Who Are These Guys?” staff. The only assistant coaches who had worked with Kiffin before he became ‘SC’s coach are line coaches Ed Orgeron and James Cregg.
There’s no real USC blood at USC any more. There is no Kiffin Coaching Tree, no historical loyalty, which is the risk you take when you hire a 35-year-old head coach.
By comparison, when asked to respond in a word-association game, Rodriguez doesn’t pause to match names, faces and reputations.
Co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee: “Salt of the earth,’’ said RichRod. “As good as they get in all aspects.’’
Co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith: “He played for me and he coached for me. We have a very close relationship. He’s a great recruiter.’’
Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel: “As good a defensive coach as there is in the country. We’ve been together what seems like forever.’’
Cornerbacks coach David Lockwood: “He was a great teammate of mine at West Virginia. He’s an exceptional teacher.’’
Receivers coach Tony Dews: “He’s got tremendous energy. Love to have him around.’’
Defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich: “One of the best at what he does; I’m glad we were able to get back together with him.’’
Offensive line coach Jim Michalczik: “He’s the first guy I called when we had an opening, when Robert Anae returned to BYU. We were very fortunate to get a coach of that quality.’’
Special teams coach Charlie Ragle: “Great hire. He’s been a big component of what we’ve done for 18 months.’’
Safeties coach Matt Caponi: “A rising star in the profession.’’
Arizona’s coaches have spent a cumulative 43 years under Rodriguez. Kiffin’s assistants have worked 14 seasons for him.
USC has an overwhelming recruiting advantage over Arizona – if you could pool the 22 total starters at each school, making a team of 44, you’d probably select 36 or 38 Trojans — but a lot of it is nullified by the teaching and coaching atmosphere fostered by RichRod.
When the Trojans lost at home 10-7 to Washington State last weekend, USC had 193 net yards. That might be the most baffling statistic of the college football season.
The Trojans’ starting offensive line includes Parade All-American Kevin Graf, ESPN All-American Max Tuerk and first-team 2012 freshman All-American Marcus Martin.
Their receivers, Marqise Lee and Nelson Agholor, are the most feared twosome in college football. Their tailback Tre Madden, was a four-star recruit, with bloodlines to former NFL star Lawrence McCutcheon. USC’s three QBs were more highly rated coming out of high school than almost anyone Arizona has been able to acquire at that position, forever.
Yet USC averages 278 yards per game. That’s 113th in the nation, numbers accumulated against two unranked opponents.
It is the ultimate proof that winning and losing in college football goes beyond those wearing uniforms.
Coaching football at Washington State and Arizona should be about 100 times more difficult than it is at USC. But this year the 100-to-1 shots are cleaning up.