Rich Rodriguez was coaching at tiny Glenville (W.Va.) State College 20 years ago when he received a lesson about college football from one of the sport's greats.
In his syrupy drawl, Florida State's Bobby Bowden taught Rodriguez coaching's truest tenet.
"He says, 'Lemme tell you, son. First you lose big, then you lose close, then you win close, then you win big. That's the way it's always been for me. Look at the big programs, and that's always the way it happens,'" Rodriguez said.
"I'll be damned if that isn't exactly what's happened."
Rodriguez will spend his first season as the Arizona Wildcats' coach trying to avoid the "lose big" part of the equation.
History won't be on his side: Rodriguez's Salem University, Glenville State, West Virginia and Michigan teams went a combined 9-32-1 in his first seasons there. He fared slightly better as the offensive coordinator at both Clemson and Tulane, going a combined 13-10.
"It's always miserable. I wish it wasn't like that," Rodriguez said. "I'm doing everything I can. I'm always asking, 'What can I do that we can avoid that first phase?' "
The last UA coach to post a winning record in his first year was Hall of Famer Jim Young, who went 8-3 in 1973. Since World War II, just two Wildcats bosses - Warren Woodson (6-4 in 1952) and Young - won more than they lost in their first year. Dick Tomey, Arizona's all-time winningest coach, was a modest 4-4-3 during his first campaign.
Growing pains are expected for Arizona, which went 4-8 last season under coaches Mike Stoops and Tim Kish. The Wildcats must learn - and then master - Rodriguez's spread-option offense and defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 "odd stack" front if they hope to have any success in 2012.
They must get faster to run either efficiently, and will no doubt need to adjust to the pace of practice and the new coaching staff's in-your-face style.
And that's before the Wildcats figure out a way to replace quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Juron Criner, cornerback Trevin Wade and safety Robert Golden.
Rodriguez concedes that there will be a learning curve in Year 1 - but that's by design.
"After looking at it - and, trust me, I've looked at it a bunch of times - you don't want to take shortcuts when you're building a program," he said. "You want the foundation to be strong. When you do that, in most cases, it hurts you."
Here's a look at how Rodriguez has fared in his previous stops:
• Took over in: 1988
• Inherited: A Salem team that went 3-6 and was outscored by a total of 114 points in 1987.
• The first year: Rodriguez posted a 2-8 mark in his first season as head coach, the victories coming over West Virginia Tech and West Virginia State. At 24 years old, he was the youngest college head coach in the nation.
• After that: Salem suspended its football program at the end of the 1988 season, meaning Rodriguez was out of a job. Using some connections from his playing days, Rodriguez landed a job as an unpaid assistant at West Virginia starting in 1989.
• Took over in: 1990
• Inherited: A team that went just 1-8 under coach Louie Nocida in 1989. The Pioneers' offense was dreadful during Nocida's final year: They were shut out in six of their nine games.
• The first year: Glenville went 1-7-1 in Rodriguez's first season as head coach, good for a sixth-place tie in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
• After that: Glenville improved steadily under Rodriguez, going 4-5-1 in 1991 and 6-4 in 1992, before taking off. The Pioneers won four consecutive WVIAC championships (1993-96) before Rodriguez left to take over Tulane's offense.
• Took over in: 1997
• Inherited: A Green Wave team that went 2-9 in 1996 under coach Buddy Teevens. The club lost its final seven games of the season, sealing Teevens' fate; Tommy Bowden was hired to replace him.
• The first year: Tulane went 7-4 in Bowden's first season, and - with Rodriguez running the offense - outscored its opponents by a total score of 375-225.
• After that: Rodriguez stayed for the 1998 season before being passed over for the head coaching job and leaving the Big Easy. His final year was a memorable one: Tulane went 12-0, winning Conference USA and outscoring its opponents by nearly 2-to-1 (540-295).
• Took over in: 1999
• Inherited: A Tigers team that went 3-8 under coach Tommy West in 1998.
• The first year: With Tommy Bowden in charge and Rodriguez calling the plays, Clemson went 6-6 and played in the Peach Bowl.
• After that: The Tigers went 9-3 in 2000, outscoring their opponents 416-253 over 12 games and playing in the Gator Bowl. Rodriguez departed after the breakthrough season for his first major college head coaching job.
• Took over in: 2001
• Inherited: A club that went 7-5 in Don Nehlen's final season before retirement.
• The first year: The Mountaineers went just 3-8 in Rodriguez's first season, their victories coming over hapless Ohio, Kent State and Rutgers. WVU averaged 21.3 points per game in 2001, eight points fewer than in Nehlen's final season.
• After that: WVU went 57-18 and made six bowl games over Rodriguez's next six seasons. The club won the Big East three times before Rodriguez left for Michigan in 2008.
• Took over in: 2008
• Inherited: A Wolverines club that went 9-4 and defeated Florida in the Capitol One Bowl in Lloyd Carr's final season.
• The first year: The Wolverines went 3-9 in Rodriguez's first year; their 2-6 conference mark tied for ninth-best in the Big Ten.
• After that: Michigan missed a bowl game in Rodriguez's second season, too, but rebounded to go 7-5 in the 2010 regular season and play in the Gator Bowl. After a 52-14 loss to Mississippi State, the worst bowl defeat in Michigan history, Rodriguez was fired four days later.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS …
Here's how Arizona's coaches fared in their first seasons on campus:
Stewart Forbes: 1-1-1 in 1899
William Skinner: 3-1 in 1900
Leslie Gillett: 5-0 in 1902
Orin A. Kates: 2-0 in 1903
W.M. Ruthrauff: 4-2 in 1905
H.B. Galbraith: 5-0 in 1908
George F. Shipp: 5-0 in 1910
R.L Quigley: 2-1 in 1912
Frank A. King: 2-2 in 1913
J.F. "Pop" McKale: 4-1 in 1914
Fred Enke: 3-5-1 in 1931
A.W. Farwick: 4-5 in 1932
G.A. Oliver: 5-3 in 1933
Orian M. Landreth: 3-6 in 1938
Miles Casteel: 6-4 in 1939
Bob Winslow: 2-7-1 in 1949
Warren Woodson: 6-4 in 1952
Ed Doherty: 1-8-1 in 1957
Jim LaRue: 4-6 in 1959
Darrell Mudra: 3-6-1 in 1967
Bob Weber: 3-7 in 1969
Jim Young: 8-3 in 1973
Tony Mason: 5-7 in 1977
Larry Smith: 5-6 in 1980
Dick Tomey: 4-4-3 in 1987
John Mackovic: 5-6 in 2001
Mike Stoops: 3-8 in 2004