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The coaching carousel began spinning wildly this week with the firing of, among others, (ex--Florida coach) Ron Zook at Illinois and the hiring of (ex--Florida coach) Urban Meyer at Ohio State. Before he accepted the job in Columbus on Monday, Meyer (inset) was contacted about the opening at Arizona, and he eventually played a role in the selection of Rich Rodriguez as the new Wildcats coach (more on that later). Here's an exclusive, behind-the-curtain look at the all-important transition that any new coach makes with his team.
6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time
As his plane touched down in Detroit, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne wondered how to tell the world about the man he planned to hire as the Wildcats' new football coach. The 39-year-old son of Texas A&M A.D. Bill Byrne wanted to reveal on Twitter the identity of the coach he hopes will lead Arizona to the Rose Bowl, but how, he wondered, to make the reveal memorable?
His wife, Regina, suggested he keep fans in suspense for precisely the amount of time necessary for a linked photo to load onto their Web browsers and smartphones. A few minutes later, a hyperlink appeared after the following message on Byrne's Twitter account: "And the new Arizona football coach and his family is ..."
The thousands who clicked the link saw former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, grinning as if he'd just won the lottery.
In a way, he had. Rodriguez had begun his three seasons with the Wolverines fighting a lawsuit by West Virginia officials for the full amount of his buyout. (The case was settled out of court in July 2008.) His tenure in Ann Arbor was defined by a 15--22 record and NCAA probation. Flying with Byrne to a city he had never seen, Rodriguez could finally put Michigan in the past.
11:30 p.m. Mountain Standard Time
Byrne was impressed with Rodriguez despite his lack of success with the Wolverines. In October, when Byrne decided to fire coach Mike Stoops, he placed Rodriguez, who was working as a studio analyst for CBS Sports, on a short list of candidates. In his search Byrne contacted Rodriguez, former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti and ex--Florida coach Urban Meyer. Though he wasn't interested in the position, Meyer told Byrne that Rodriguez was one of the five top offensive minds in college football.
Byrne met with Rodriguez in Michigan in early November, and he even visited NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to make sure he had a complete understanding of the compliance issues that had landed Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the organization's crosshairs. On Nov. 21 the two men agreed on a five-year, $9.55 million deal.