Arizona Football Takes the Field with No Room for Excuses

Hard Edge

Tom Danehy

Coach Rich Rodriguez loves the practice field. It’s where the winning starts and the losing is marginalized, if not eliminated altogether. With his staff engaged and operating at full efficiency, Rodriguez says, “I’m excited to be out on the field with our players.”

There was a big turnover of players from last season’s surprising 8-5 team, and before the start of the season Rodriguez realized that it might be weeks into preseason camp before he was able to produce something even resembling a depth chart. There was also the pressing matter of deciding on a quarterback from among returner B.J. Denker, transfer Jesse Scroggins, and incoming freshman Anu Solomon.

There is no discernible difference in practice following a win or a loss. It’s a pretty even-keeled process, tightly scripted and executed with precision and attention to detail. There’s no sideshow stuff, no zany antics like those of the former USC coach who brought the Trojans national attention followed by NCAA probation. It is old school, let’s-get-to-work, no excuses, and it seems to work just fine.

With strict limits on how much time the coaches have with the players each week, there’s no opportunity for “Hey, let’s take a break and have an ice cream social.” Even the rare variations from the norm are planned out in advance.

Senior linebacker Jake Fischer knows what to expect from practice. “It’s intense. It’s hard work. You don’t ever want to slow up or you’ll get left behind.” Fischer notes that the only breaks in the routine that he has seen will come when the coaches suddenly call everybody over to practice specific situations — goal-line stands or late-game, hurry-up offense (which, in the case of the 100-offensive-plays-per-game ’Cats, amounts to hurry-’er-up offense).

Like many good coaches, Rodriguez believes that success on Saturday can often be traced back to something that went right on Tuesday or Wednesday.