As a coach with the reputation of turning around programs, it's no wonder South Carolina recruited Rodriguez earlier this month. But he believes he has unfinished business at Arizona, and he'll be around to coach the Wildcats in the New Mexico Bowl on Saturday.
Bob Davie is in his fourth year of changing the culture at New Mexico and has it in its first bowl game since 2007 - playing on its home field, no less. His first three were part of a seven-season stretch of losing campaigns since that game eight years ago.
Davie went 11 years between being fired from Notre Dame and his next coaching gig, and he's proud of what he's accomplished with the Lobos in such a short time.
"It's a big deal for us to get in this game," Davie said. "Everyone knows the dynamics of what has gone on here to get this program back. We're getting better, and not everyone in the country can say that."
Rodriguez felt the same way when he brought the Wildcats (6-6) to Albuquerque in 2012. Arizona went 8-5 - a four-win improvement from the previous year - in Rodriguez's first season in Tucson and beat Nevada 49-48 by scoring two touchdowns in the final minute of the New Mexico Bowl.
This season could be considered a disappointment after the Wildcats won 10 games in 2014 with an appearance in the Pac-12 title game and a bid to the Fiesta Bowl, but injuries derailed them following a 3-0 start.
Most notably, linebacker Scooby Wright injured his knee in the opener against Texas-San Antonio, then sprained his foot and has been out since suffering the injury in a loss to then-No. 9 UCLA on Sept. 26.
The Wildcats needed a 37-30 upset of then-No. 10 Utah on Nov. 14 just to become bowl eligible, but quarterback Anu Solomon suffered a concussion in that victory. He missed a 52-37 loss to rival Arizona State on Nov. 21 in the regular-season finale, and his status for the bowl game is uncertain.
The good news is that Wright, a junior who could leave for the NFL after this game, appears ready to play. He admitted to rushing back from the knee injury.
"Scooby's practicing full," Rodriguez said. "He's been working hard in rehab for two months now. He's worked hard up to this point and playing actual football and getting actual reps was good for him. I'm sure he's happy to be in the mix."
The Wildcats have given up at least 30 points nine times and ranked 10th in the Pac-12 in total defense with 463.4 yards allowed per game. The Lobos (7-5) finished ninth in the 12-team Mountain West in offense with an average of 431.9 yards, but Rodriguez believes their option scheme could confuse Arizona.
Three players rushed for at least 650 yards, including quarterback Lamar Jordan. New Mexico's 37 rushing touchdowns rank sixth in the nation, and its 208 pass attempts are the sixth-fewest.
Consistency has been a problem for the Lobos, though. They gained a season-high 512 total yards in a 47-35 win over Air Force in the finale but had 326 in a 28-21 loss to Colorado State the previous week that cost them a berth in the Mountain West title game.
"It's not by choice that we've been so hit-and-miss," said Davie, who coached linebackers at Arizona in 1978 and '79. "We've had a hard time controlling the ball. We've had a hard time putting games away. That's something we continue to work on."
Arizona uses a more balanced approach. Nick Wilson has rushed for team highs of 725 yards and eight touchdowns despite missing three games, and quarterback Jerrard Randall averages 9.0 yards per carry and has scored five TDs while seeing action in 11 games.
Solomon has completed 62.7 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns, and Cayleb Jones' 51 receptions lead five players with at least 30.
Arizona enters as the favorite despite playing on its opponent's home field. The Lobos went 5-2 at University Stadium, while the Wildcats were 2-4 on the road.
"It's a road game, which is a little bit different for a bowl," Rodriguez said. "(And it's) against a good, very-hungry team."