Arizona athletics: Decade of Decline? Pt. 1

Brad Allis

As the decade closes, I wondered if the Arizona athletic program was in a better or worse spot heading into 2020 than it was 2010. In late 2009 the writing was on the wall and most Wildcat fans knew the end of the Jim Livengood era was at hand. Livengood had some great things occur on his watch, and some huge missteps. There was a lot of successes but also a number of bad coaching hires and some failings in fundraising.

Over the next 10 years Greg Byrne and Dave Heeke would have their share of highs, but also a lot of lows. So was Arizona better off in 2009 than they are in 2019? It’s debatable.

Over the course of a few articles we’ll look sport by sport at where the program was back then, where it is now and where it was in between,

Arizona Football

2009: 8-5 (6-3 in Pac-12) – Lost to Nebraska 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl

Head Coach: Mike Stoops

2019: 4-8 (2-7 in Pac-12) – No Bowl

Head Coach: Kevin Sumlin

In 2009 Arizona football was in a strange place. Arizona had finally had bowl success after a long drought but in just two seasons Mike Stoops would be out. Stoops would follow that Holiday Bowl loss with an appearance in the Alamo Bowl. Kevin Sumlin is fighting for his job after two losing seasons and an apathetic fan base.


While the honeymoon had worn off with Stoops, there was still a sense of optimism. Although letting Stoops go was probably the right decision at the time, in 2009 there were still reasons for optimism. In 2019 it seems as most fans are not very optimistic about Sumlin turning things around, and worse, many have lost interest in Arizona football. 

Comments (5)
No. 1-3
Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan


The end of this decade is like the beginning point of the 2000's. It is hard to rate entire 10 year cycles, but its easy to rate the end of the teens, Arizona football has reverted back to the mean of horrible uninteresting football.

When Mackovic was replaced by Stoops, fans cared, and weathered several rebuilding seasons. Stoops was derailed by personal issues.

RR was derailed by self inflicted issues; he had some early success, used Stoops players effectively, got to 2014 with the best record in the century, and then deconstructed the whole thing by putting more energy into getting another job and chasing other women.

OK, I get that he can use Arizona to get a better gig, but when that doesn't work out, don't half ass it with the job you have -- which he did. No doubt he was the best decision maker, and best at half time adjustments since Tomey.

In the end, I think he was trying to get it back, but then along came Heeke who fired him by email. Who knows what he would have done had he hadn't been fired, but by then it was too late. I was done with him when he complained at the PAC 12 pre-season meeting in LA that "you should try to recruit to Arizona." Whatever happened to "Why not Arizona?"

After that he was nothing to me. Excuses are for losers and he had packed it in by then.

But where we are now is so much worse. Sumlin should have taken a couple of years off before jumping back into coaching. He is literally loafing his way into next season, as well as the past 2. The only thing that separates him from Mackovic is a player revolt. But coaches fist fighting on the sidelines of the Stanford game, players fighting at the pre-game meal at asu is probably just as bad.

Right now Arizona football is at its lowest point in 20 years and it won't get better in 2020.

Call me and I'll tell you how I really fell.

Gary Randazzo
Gary Randazzo


I definitely think that things felt better at the end of 2009 than they do right now. In 2008, Arizona let the home game against Oregon slip away that, had they won, would've put the Wildcats in the driver's seat to actually win the Pac-12 Conference outright. The Holiday Bowl was a joke. I was there in the press box, basically stunned and how ineffective Arizona's offense was in that game (set several Holiday Bowl records for futility). Still, Arizona felt and looked like a football program back then.


Brad, you are just comparing the endpoints of each decade, correct? Despite where we are now, I think you would have to say the past ten years (a PAC South Championship, the first ever championship of any type in the PAC for AZ and Rich Rod winning with not a lot of over all talent) was, by far, the best decade of AZ football since the 1980's or 90's (Smith and Tomey).