The Daily Fizz: The recipe is lacking some key ingredients

Gary Randazzo

Why is everything such a struggle for Arizona football? Recruiting is a constant uphill climb. Wins come in bunches, but lack consistency. Success is unsustainable from one year to the next. New coaches don’t result in significant change. Individual achievements don’t seem to translate to overall program improvement. What is missing? What are we missing? What ingredients are lacking from a winning recipe? Is Arizona football immune to momentum?

Overall, what’s been happening on the gridiron has been a tough pill to swallow, and no one seems to know how to make swallowing the pill easier.

Let’s be clear about one thing.

Arizona losing football games is not Khalil Tate’s fault. It’s not the fault of Colin Schooler, or Tony Fields, or Lucas Havrisik, or whichever student athlete is assuming punting duties this week.

Granted, Tate has struggled mightily at times. The Arizona defense has more holes in it than a sweater in an abandoned cabin. Special teams have been atrocious. All this being true, Arizona’s struggles are more about the collective than the individuals. After all, Tate ranks fifth in program history with 6,051 total passing yards. Schooler leads all FBS players with an average of 5.43 solo tackles per game. Fields ranks fourth at 4.89 solo tackles per game. In a program famous for its running backs, J.J. Taylor’s 3,182 career rush yards ranks fifth all-time in program history.

Arizona has not been an elite program on the recruiting trail, but they have produced some elite talent on the national stage. If this weren’t true, there would be no way the Wildcats could possibly lead the conference in rushing offense dating back to the Rich Rodriguez Era.

Still, something is wrong and somebody smart better figure it out quickly.

Former coaches like Larry Smith and Dick Tomey were motivators. They put the team first, at all times, even though they had some of the best players taking the field in the history of the program. Their teams certainly had some struggles during their tenure. However, overall, they were winners. They produced results. They had an innate ability to uplift their players to the point that the “team” excelled.

I haven’t seen anything like that in two decades.

John Mackovic was an unmitigated disaster. Mike Stoops had the program heading in the right direction and almost peaking in 2008 and 2009 before slipping and falling hard to the floor of the league. Rich Rodriguez immediately elevated the program in his first three seasons before somehow sliding backwards rather than building on the momentum of a 26-14 start to his career at Arizona and a Pac-12 South Division title. Today, the program is in the midst of a 5-game slide in year two of the Kevin Sumlin Era. It’s simply brutal. The offense is worse now that it was last year. The defense is giving up 37 points per game. Special teams are a disaster.

Where’s the progress?

Are we honestly expected to believe that next year will be better? If it is, what about the following year?

Nothing in life is guaranteed, but without getting to the root cause of exactly what is going on inside the program and inside the minds of the individual players, how are the fans supposed to take anything the programs publicly releases, seriously.

Clearly, the fan base is not buying what the program is selling.

Saturday’s home game against No. 7 Utah should be a sellout. It won’t be. That’s a problem.

No one judging the football program pretends finding the missing ingredients will be easy. Further, we accept change does not occur overnight. We also accept that due to low scholarship numbers, the Wildcats are not exactly playing with a full deck.

For these reasons, Sumlin and his staff have an incredible opportunity to return Arizona football to being a competitive football program. Key contributors on both sides of the ball will be returning next year. Also, due to the low scholarship counts, the staff can go hog wild on the recruiting trail to continue to infuse the program with “their guys”. The combination of experienced contributors and new faces recruited directly by this coaching staff could have positive results. However, player personnel is only half the battle. The more looming battle is figuring out all the little things, the missing ingredients, so to speak, that put a permanent chip on the shoulder of this football program.

Larry Smith figured it out. Dick Tomey figured it out. Will Kevin Sumlin figure it out?

He almost has to because the hard truth is 1998 was 21 years ago. Over the next two decades of Wildcat football, the 2014 season can’t be viewed as the program’s high mark. It simply can’t. 

Comments (7)
No. 1-3
Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

Gary your story raises so many questions.

After awhile, I wasn't in love with the RR hire, but he did adapt and took players like BJ Denker and turned him into a decent QB.

We all give Sumlin a pass for year one, except for some horrible gaffes in game decision making that would never have happened under RR, probably translated into 3 losses. Clock management, decision making, use of time outs, going for 2 instead of 1 and vice versa (which has never been an issue with previous coaches) and a multitude of other issues, plus the total misuse of Kahlil Tate.

We could go on and on, keeping Yates, a stubborn OC with his plug and play system which trumps the skill and talent of available players, lack of discipline, etc. etc. -- all of these things are issues that time cannot solve. In your mid 50's this isn't the time to learn these skills.

Last week, there was improvement in the defense against Oregon, but assistant coaches broke out into a fist fight on the sidelines, and the defensive staff CC inherited are insubordinate to him. Arizona talent is so bad, they play better on a goal line stand with 10 than 11 -- the joke in which staff can't get the right combination of players on the field, first 12 then 10.

We could hope that time will solve this, and a breakthrough would happen, but that hasn't worked out for monkeys in a room full of IBM Selectrics banging out the great American Novel.

Success of Arizona Football under the Sumlin regime has the same odds.

mrzipityduda
mrzipityduda

Key ingredients: AZ FB is like scrambled eggs...but someone ran out of egggs

Wineknow
Wineknow

Gary, I think you need to follow your thoughts through to their conclusions. Sumlin is not going to figure it out if he hasn't already. What Smith and Tomey did was DEFINE the program within the PAC10. That was Smiths job and Tomey fine tuned it. Both understood AZ, AZ's place int eh football universe and were then able to capitalize when and where they could. Effectively they took what the league gave us...opportunities to excel in special teams and defense when offensive players were less common. I do not think Stoops ever thought that way. I think he believed there was a system that could work anywhere and he applied that to AZ...same for Sumlin and especially Mazzone. But when you don;t have all of the pieces (i.e. clearly Mazzone offense is dependent on complicated long developing plays and therefore better O linemen and smarter QB's) Rodriguez was just a total mercenary from what I can tell, but he appears to have been heck of a lot better coach than Stoops and Sumlin.

IMO, it begins with a having highly agile, adaptable coach who works to understand Arizona and its place. This is why I favor a Cecil hire - even for HC...he knows that stuff innately and, IMO, that is a huge first step.


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