RALPH D. RUSSO,AP College Football Writer
Rich Rodriguez turned West Virginia into a national championship contender before flaming out as Michigan coach under enormous expectations.
Those turbulent three seasons with the Wolverines didn’t keep Arizona from hiring Rodriguez to overhaul a program that has been mired in mediocrity for most of the past decade.
Athletic Director Greg Byrne posted on his Twitter account Monday a picture of himself with Rodriguez, wearing an Arizona baseball cap, the coach’s wife and two children. The tweet said “And the new Arizona football coach and his family is …”
The 48-year-old Rodriguez will be introduced Tuesday during a news conference in Tucson at the McKale Center, home of the Arizona basketball teams.
Arizona has long been a men’s basketball power, winning a national title in 1997 and playing in another NCAA final in 2001 under former coach Lute Olson. Under coach Sean Miller, Arizona was ranked 23rd in the latest AP basketball rankings.
But the football program has rarely even contended for conference championships. The Wildcats are 3-8 this season.
Byrne fired coach Mike Stoops last month after he went 41-50 in seven-plus seasons at the Pac-12 school. The Wildcats have not won more than eight games in a season since 1998 under Dick Tomey.
Rodriguez will try to change that with a fast-paced, spread attack that has produced prolific offenses everywhere he has coached.
That, however, wasn’t enough in Ann Arbor.
He was fired by Michigan after last season, following three difficult years. He went 15-22 with the Wolverines and the program was cited for rules violations by the NCAA during his tenure.
His last Michigan team went 7-6 — his only winning season there — but set numerous school records on the offensive side of the ball behind speedy quarterback Denard Robinson. And the team Rodriguez left behind for new Michigan coach Brady Hoke is 9-2 going into Saturday’s game against Ohio State.
Before taking over the Wolverines, Rodriguez guided West Virginia to two BCS appearances.
Considered one of the pioneers of the spread offense that has become so prevalent in college football, Rodriguez went 60-26 in seven seasons at West Virginia.
With quarterback Pat White and running back Steve Slaton leading the way, the Mountaineers won the 2006 Sugar Bowl against Georgia and were a victory away from playing for the BCS championship in 2007. That opportunity slipped away when West Virginia was upset at home by Pittsburgh, and the loss set off the events that led to Rodriguez becoming Michigan’s coach.
It was a messy divorce between Rodriguez and his alma mater. West Virginia sued him to collect on the $4 million buyout clause in his contract, a lawsuit that was eventually settled.
Rodriguez has been working as an analyst for CBS Sports Network this year, but had made it clear he wanted to get back into coaching as soon as possible.
Before Rodriguez took over at West Virginia, he was offensive coordinator at Tulane and Clemson.
Byrne, in his second year as AD at Arizona, fired Stoops on Oct. 10, two days after the Wildcats lost to Oregon State 37-27.
The team was 1-5 at the time with the only victory over FCS member Northern Arizona. The Wildcats had lost 10 straight to FBS schools.
After five seasons of building the program, Stoops seemed to have the Wildcats back among the top teams in the Pac-10, leading them to a pair of eight-win seasons and trips to the 2008 Las Vegas Bowl and the Holiday Bowl the next year.
Arizona seemed poised to become one of the nation’s elite teams by cracking the top 10 and opening 7-1 last season, igniting hope that the Wildcats could end their run as the only school from the league’s Pac-10 days to not play in the Rose Bowl.
Then things started to fall apart.
The Wildcats lost their last five games in 2010, including a 36-10 blowout by Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl that came on the heels of a 35-0 rout by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl the year before.
Stoops’ contract ran through 2013 under an extension granted in 2008, and Byrne has said the buyout for the remainder of it will be about $1.4 million.
Stoops was 27-38 in conference games.
Defensive coordinator Tim Kish took over as interim coach and the team won two Pac-12 games, over UCLA and last Saturday over rival Arizona State, 31-27. The Wildcats (3-8) conclude their season Saturday at home against Louisiana-Lafayette.
AP Sports Writer Bob Baum in Phoenix contributed to this report.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at http://www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP
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