Arizona tabs Paul Rhoads as new defensive coordinator
Arizona Athletics announced Friday the hiring of Paul Rhoads as defensive coordinator. Rhoads, who was the head coach at Iowa State from 2009 to 2015, has also served as defensive coordinator in stints at Pittsburgh, Auburn and Arkansas. During his eight-year run at Pittsburgh, five of Rhoads’ defenses finished in the nation’s top 30 for scoring, while three ranked in the top 12 in the NCAA for fewest yards allowed. Prior to joining Kevin Sumlin’s staff at Arizona, Rhoads spent the previous two seasons as defensive back coach at UCLA.
5 things to like about the Rhoads hire
#1: Head coaching experience
While not a requirement, it’s nice to have a coordinator with head coaching experience. Rhoads triggered the start of Iowa State returning to relevance in the Big 12. He was a tough minded coach then, and remains one today. Importantly, Rhoads knows how all the big stuff works when running a football program. As such, he respects the rebuilding job Sumlin is going through now and can be an ally in those efforts, based on actual experience with another Power 5 program that has historically always had to work three times harder than the perennial national powerhouses.
#2: Recruiting diversity
In his 30-plus seasons, Rhoads has built a solid network of high school and junior college ties that could help the Wildcats tremendously on the recruiting trail. If Rhoads can make in-roads for Arizona in the Midwest and the East, it will be a win-win for everybody. The Wildcats have had little to no success in these markets for decades, instead focusing recruiting efforts based on ties in the west, the south, and on the islands. Rhoads will have plenty to sell young athletes in these markets, including year-round sunshine and a chance to start on defense or special teams tomorrow.
#3: Familiarity with the Pac-12
Granted, it’s only been two seasons with UCLA, but it’s been the two most recent seasons. As a defensive backs coach in a pass-happy conference, Rhoads has already watched a ton of game film on the offenses his defenses will be facing in the upcoming seasons.
#4: Teaching the right things
During Thursday’s press conference, Rhoads said three things that are critically important: safety, tackling, and fanaticism. In basically one long-worded sentence, Rhoads basically told the media in attendance that he was going to teach his Wildcats how to tackle safely in a way that brings ball carriers down, while flying around the football in a way that make’s Wildcat fans proud. Perhaps his best comment of the day is telling the media that his defense is going to learn how to line up properly. Honestly, it’s as if Rhoads encapsulated Arizona’s defensive problems over the past 5-6 years in the span of three deep breaths.
#5: Rhoads speaks with authority
Rhoads does not come off as someone who is going to be everyone’s best friend. He talks like a coach who has a clear mindset on what he intends to accomplish and how he is going to accomplish those goals. The Arizona locker room needs a serious makeover, where hard work overrules preference to any particular assistant coach. Favoritism seems like it’s on its way out the door, and that will be a good thing. Rhoads has an opportunity, right now, to identify the best players and put them on the field. He has some nice upperclassmen returning, but also enough younger players who, if they fall in line, have a chance to compete for serious playing time. I don’t see Rhoads playing any games with his players. They either buy in to his philosophy and work ethic, or they starting enjoying time on the sidelines.