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In the conference room next to Byrne's office, the senior athletic department staff prepped Rodriguez for his press conference. He had flopped the first time he met the media at Michigan when, in response to a question about whether the coach needed to be a "Michigan Man," he replied, "Gosh, I hope not. They hired me."
Deputy A.D. Kathleen (Rocky) LaRose was an Arizona softball player and the school's 1978 homecoming queen. She advised Rodriguez to mention winning the Pac-12 South and the Pac-12 title. He needed to mention the Rose Bowl, which has remained unreachable for the Wildcats since they joined the conference in 1978. He needed to mention the Territorial Cup rivalry against Arizona State. Most important, Rodriguez had to use the Wildcats' motto, "Bear Down," taken from the dying words of football and baseball player John Salmon, who died in 1926 after a car crash. It's Arizona's version of Michigan's "Go Blue."
Rita, Raquel and Rhett arrived for their introductions. Rita had bought a navy-blue outfit for the occasion. In 2006 she bought a crimson outfit for her husband's press conference as the new coach at Alabama. But after he decided to stay at West Virginia, she resolved never to shop for a press conference again until the ink was dry on a deal.
Rodriguez had already met with interim coach Tim Kish, the defensive coordinator under Stoops, and recruiting coordinator Dave Emerick. Now he needed to meet the Wildcats. Rodriguez introduced the team to his family, then debunked the notion that players he recruits will get preferential treatment—an attempt to alleviate the most common fear players have during a coaching change—saying, "You are my guys, starting today."
In the equipment room during a tour of the Arizona facilities, Rodriguez asked how often managers checked the inflation level of interior helmet padding. In the weight room he asked about the abdominal equipment.
By Pac-12 standards, the Wildcats' facilities are average, but they lag far behind those at elite SEC and Big 12 schools. With rivals Cal, USC and Oregon all upgrading their facilities, Arizona will try to keep pace by building a new football headquarters to house the coaches' offices, locker rooms and weight room, at an estimated cost of $72.3 million. The new building, which Byrne used to help lure Rodriguez, is scheduled to open in 2013. Byrne says groundbreaking will take place in the next few months.
During his tour, Rodriguez frequently stopped to introduce himself to players. He gave junior safety Adam Hall his Michigan and Arizona cellphone numbers and told Hall to call anytime. To make the transition from Stoops a smooth one, Rodriguez needs a respected player such as Hall on his side.