Young is quiet and intense with a kind of Midwestern button-down style, big on self-improvement and the Positive Mental Attitude kind of thing. "It is not so much that we are trying to duplicate a Michigan system," says Young of his Arizona adventure, "but we'd like to establish the same aura for football here. The people in Tucson have been very responsive toward what we are trying to do."
In part, that responsiveness can be credited to Larry Smith, Young's chief recruiter and another ex-Michigan assistant coach. "We are doing a lot more recruiting nationwide than the U of A used to do," he says. "We came here with some good contacts in the Midwest, western Pennsylvania and California. Outside of Arizona we don't seem to bump heads too much with those people at State. They go after pure speed a lot of the time, somebody who can break open a game with one big play. We concentrate on the consistent performer. I suppose in a way what we have tried to bring in is a Big Ten-type ballplayer."
Within Arizona, the U and State recruiters definitely bump heads. " Arizona high school football has improved a lot since I've been here," says Frank Rush. "We've got 11 starters from the state this year. [The U of A has eight starters from Arizona, including standout placekicker Lee Pistor.] Still there are not enough for both of us.
"But I'll tell you this, the way they've turned it around in Tucson may be a good thing. Before, if we beat them, everybody said 'So what?' Now the game is big outside the state as well as inside. That's good for the football image of the whole state. But I am not going to like it if we don't keep on kicking their tail."
You do not, of course, turn a Wildcat, much less a pussycat, into a Wolverine overnight, but Young and his Michiganders have come close. In their first year, 1973, with essentially the same team that had gone 4-7 the previous season, they finished 8-3. However, Kush continued to have his good time, kicking the U's 55-19. Last year, for the first time in a decade, the U's took the States, Tucson beating Phoenix 10-0 and finishing with a 9-2 record overall.
All of which set the stage for football '75 in Arizona. What with the Ann Arbor crowd taking over Tucson and Kush keeping the East Lansing image in Tempe, the consensus was that Arizona had indeed become Michigan West. All sorts of pleasant benefits were predicted. At the very least it was thought the State vs. U game on Nov. 29 that finishes both teams' regular season would decide the WAC title and who would host the Fiesta Bowl. There was even some griping that the WAC had become the Little Six and the Big Two (guess who).
Going into last weekend both State and U were unbeaten. More surprising, considering that until a few years ago Arizona was regarded as being part of the unimproved football wilderness lying somewhere between the Southwest Conference and the Pac-8, both schools were nationally ranked. ASU was regarded as the 11th-best football team in the country and the U of A only a bit behind as the 13th.
Many if not all things seemed possible, but some funny things happened on the way to the Nov. 29 showdown. On Saturday night in Tempe, Kush's men were held scoreless during the first half by a weak (1-5) University of Texas at El Paso team. The Sun Devils came to life in the last 30 minutes to score a 24-6 win, hardly the kind to improve a team's ranking.
Down the road in old Tucson, things were much much worse. Looking like a team deeply preoccupied with preparations for the Fiesta Bowl, Young's Wolver-cats ran into one of those rifle-armed quarterbacks who regularly appear in the WAC. This one plays for the University of New Mexico (2-4) and is named Steve Myer. During the course of the afternoon he threw for 351 yards and four touchdowns. Despite some heroics from their own gunner, senior Quarterback Bruce Hill, who completed 21 of 34 pass attempts for 406 yards and two TDs, the U's went down 44-34.
It was the kind of game people in the WAC always seem to be playing. By no stretch of the imagination was it Big Ten football. Well, maybe Iowa-Indiana football, but that is not exactly the kind of thing Jim Young has in mind. It is possible, but not certain, that off the weekend the bunch up in Phoenix might get passing marks from Duffy Daugherty. However, it is a cinch that Yost, Kipke and even Schembechler would not care to be associated with those ultra-high-yardage doings down there in old Tucson.