Given the UA's long-established reputation as a college golf power, it was a bit unsettling that the Wildcats weren't able to hire a recognizable head coach from, say, Iowa or Illinois or San Diego State. Or anywhere.
They hired 31-year-old Jim Anderson, an assistant at Texas A&M, who neither used the Arizona job as leverage to pad his nest (as some head coaches did), nor looked upon UA golf as a mid-level, glory-days-are-gone outpost (as some head coaches did).
Inside the college golf industry, Arizona is no longer a powerful brand. The Wildcats finished 10th in the Pac-12 this year, 65 shots out of the lead. They didn't qualify for the NCAA finals this year or in 2010 or 2008.
So Greg Byrne put together a modest package of $110,000 and hired Anderson, selected by his colleagues as the nation's top assistant coach this year. It wasn't stealing Lute Olson from Iowa or bringing Rich Rodriguez out of exile, but on the golf coaches market, 2012, it was about the best Arizona could do.
"When I go recruiting, I can talk about history, about Jim Furyk, Ricky Barnes, Rory Sabbatini and Ted Purdy," said Anderson, the son of a former South Dakota golf pro. "Combine that with Tucson's climate, I mean, you get to play golf in Tucson every single day. I consider myself fortunate to get this opportunity."
This is an old line, but Furyk, Sabbatini, Purdy and Barnes aren't walking to the first tee in Arizona gear any longer. It has been nine years since Barnes last played here, and in the interim you could make a case that Arizona's best players have been walk-ons, Tucson kids like Nate Tyler, Brian Prouty and Tyler Neal.
The two strong variables UA golf has going for it are weather and history. On the course, it has been lapped by Pac-12 superpowers Cal, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Stanford and even rain-infested Oregon and Washington.
One of the first things Anderson will absorb about Tucson is that the course upon which he became a prominent youth golfer, Westward Ho Country Club of Sioux Falls, S.D., is more conducive to developing a college golfer than is the UA's home course, often-shabby and always short Arizona National.
Westward Ho is longer (6,939 yards to Arizona National's 6,785). It is tree-lined and it abounds with rough. It is real golf, not desert golf.
It wouldn't be any surprise if Byrne and his golf committee, including former coach Rick LaRose and women's coach Laura Ianello, make a deal to leave Arizona National to avoid the long commute to Catalina Highway each day.
Byrne is considering a shift of UA golf to the Randolph Golf complex, something similar to his baseball program's transition to Hi Corbett Field. If nothing else, it would save UA golfers about 60 minutes of traffic time each day. But Tucson City Golf has so many inherent problems - a lack of high standards in maintenance and presentation, and primitive practice facilities - that it would be difficult to imagine an elite high school golfer agreeing to play on the 6,902-yard Randolph North course as opposed to what Oregon or UCLA or Texas can offer.
Building a separate practice facility, and acquiring land to do so, would be enormously expensive for a golf program that produces zero revenue.
Nevertheless, Byrne said he did not compromise his standards, even though he was unwilling to pay someone like Iowa coach Mark Hankins $200,000 per year or more.
"A couple of coaches we talked to said they weren't convinced Arizona could beat the California schools and even ASU in recruiting," said Byrne. "But we're not going to take a back seat to them. That's one of the reasons I selected Jim; you'd better have someone who believes that you can get after it at the highest level."
Anderson wasn't a star golfer at New Mexico. "I was the worst player on the team my first year," he says.
He was a walk-on who realized his future was in coaching, not chasing a mini-tour dream. He aligned himself with Lobos coach J.T. Higgins at a time UNM had future PGA Tour players Spencer Levin and Michael Letzig, got a master's degree, and was in the right place at the right time when Higgins went to Texas A&M and helped the Aggies become a national champion.
"It surprised me a bit that Arizona finished the year ranked No. 61 in the nation," said Anderson. "That said, my job is to go in there, get some great players and find a way for us to be Pac-12 champions."
From the outside, coaching college golf at Arizona may appear to be a country club job. Jim Anderson will soon discover that it will be the most difficult challenge of his young life.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org