Next coach to be costly; UA: 'Can we afford it?'

2011-10-11T00:01:00Z 2013-09-17T16:18:59Z Next coach to be costly; UA: 'Can we afford it?'Patrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 11, 2011 12:01 am  • 

Long after the Arizona Wildcats have finalized the structure of Mike Stoops' $1.4 million buyout, they will dip even further to pay for increased salaries of their next head coach and his assistants.

"It's the marketplace," UA athletic director Greg Byrne said. "Whether you like it or not, you have to be competitive."

The UA athletic department will use its own money, not that of the university, to pay for its next football coaching staff.

Still, UA interim president Eugene Sander is concerned about selling the Arizona Board of Regents the perception, and cost, of change.

"The question I will ask is, 'Can we afford it?' " Sander said. "That's a fair question. I think the university president has a fiduciary responsibility to worry about things."

Perception won't be a problem. After all, Sander said firing Stoops on Monday was the "absolutely necessary thing to do" after 7 1/2 seasons.

Byrne, who called the president Sunday, agreed.

"I was concerned about the direction of program and where we were going," Byrne said. "And felt it needed to be addressed."

Byrne, in his second year, said the move had nothing to do with the school's fundraising for Arizona Stadium's north end zone addition. He said he prefers spending any increased donations on capital improvements rather than coaching salaries.

Still, perception of the program weighs on donations.

"You obviously have to get people in your stadium, you have to pay for everything and you have to have fan support for your teams," Byrne said.

Byrne will oversee the school's search for its next coach, aided in the interview process by deputies Kathleen "Rocky" LaRose, John Perrin and James Francis.

The UA has not hired a search firm.

Pressed about whether he prefers a coach geared more toward offense or defense, Byrne smiled.

"I have a preference for a very good football coach," he said.

Byrne said the next coach - whom he ideally wants hired a few weeks after the regular season ends - does not have to be from the area.

"If they're not, what staff are they putting together?" he said. "I want the best players in Arizona to want to come to Arizona, so maybe having a connection there somehow is a good thing.

"Not any one person fits all those things."

Byrne ran his own search before hiring football coach Dan Mullen, 39, at Mississippi State in 2008, using a private jet to fly for interviews, often without telling his wife, Regina, where he was headed.

Once, he called Regina, and realized he was a few miles from her in Atlanta.

Monday night, Byrne refused to talk about specific candidates, but confirmed he and Boise State coach Chris Petersen, who turns 47 Thursday, are acquaintances.

He said interim coach Tim Kish, 57, is "aware" that his role is temporary, but the UA is "wide open" to candidates.

Sander said he will give Byrne "maximum flexibility" in the search.

The president is intrigued by a businesslike coach.

"I know I've heard people describe the coaches at big-time programs, like this one, the head coach almost has chief executive officer capabilities in terms of running a whole bunch of assistant coaches and being a very smooth, smooth individual," Sander said.

Asked if Stoops was not that way, Sander said the change was made for a variety of reasons.

"I never noticed that (Stoops) had what I would call really poor people skills," Sander said. "I knew the man fairly well; he could have an intelligent conversation on a variety of items.

"It was time to make a change."

He called Byrne, 39, "a whale" of an athletic director - "If Greg was a college professor, he'd make a damn fine college professor," Sander said - and was comfortable letting him find the next coach.

Byrne, nicknamed the "Ninja" for his stealth at Mississippi State, vowed not to speak of the search again.

"I hope people can understand," Byrne said, "as you go through this process, there's a lot of information that we're going to have that a lot of the general public doesn't have access to."

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