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IT'S TYPICAL FOR A COACH TO PROMISE SUCCESS IN HIS FIRST year as a show of confidence to players, recruits, administrators, boosters and fans—and Rich Rodriguez has certainly done that before. The Wildcats' new leader took over at Michigan in 2008, embracing the burden of high expectations, only to be fired three years later (after going 15--22) as his team was finally gaining momentum.
Now the veteran coach, who replaces Mike Stoops (fired last October after a 1--5 start to his eighth season in Tucson), has a new philosophy. "I have to preach patience," Rodriguez says. "I know we're not going to be good enough to play poorly and win, so we've got to play really well and get a few breaks. We want to build a program, not a team, so we're making decisions that will be best for the long run." Those decisions include installing veterans into leadership roles to run his well-known spread offense and new coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 stack defense.
Fifth-year quarterback Matt Scott, who redshirted last season, brings versatility. He inherits an offense that had the third-best passing attack in the country last season under quarterback Nick Foles, who was selected by the Eagles in the third round of the 2012 draft. Senior Dan Buckner (42 catches for 606 yards in 2011) is the team's leading returning receiver and will be Scott's main outside target, while junior Richard Morrison and senior Terrence Miller will provide reliable inside options. Ka'Deem Carey (425 yards and eight total touchdowns as a true freshman last year) will carry the load out of the backfield.
Fixing a defense that ranked last in the Pac-12 and gave up 1,939 yards on the ground last year falls to Casteel, West Virginia's coordinator for the last nine years (five under Rodriguez). Junior Jake Fischer and the linebacking corps will attempt to better contain the run, and juniors Marquis Flowers (at safety) and Shaquille Richardson (at corner) anchor a secondary eager to improve upon the nearly 300 yards per game it allowed.
Though he has talent on both sides of the ball, Rodriguez remains realistic. "The best way to compete is to have good players. I think we have some, but I don't know if we have enough," he admits. "We've got to identify our problems and then work like crazy to fix them. And that's what we're doing." Call it a different kind of promise.
COACH Rich Rodriguez (1st year)
CO--OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS Calvin Magee, Rod Smith
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Jeff Casteel