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Arizona Is Trying to Cut Its Losses

October 03, 2003|CHRIS DUFRESNE

In what some are calling the most massive cleanup effort since the Exxon Valdez, 55-year-old lifetime assistant Mike Hankwitz takes over at Arizona hoping he can make a good enough impression to be considered for the full-time position.

You'd have to ask him why he would want to do that.

The Hankwitz era begins Saturday at Washington State, against a 4-1 Cougar team that just scored 55 points at Oregon.

Arizona also has a "1" and a "4" in its record, but it reads 1-4.

Hankwitz, who joined the Arizona staff last spring, inherits a sticky situation made stickier by the school's horrible hiring of John Mackovic in 2001.

Last year, half the team nearly staged a mutiny on Mackovic, whose old-school coaching style reminded some of certain scenes in "The Junction Boys." There was so much upheaval on Arizona grounds coaches could have commuted to work on bulldozers.

Mackovic, for example, fired one assistant, but only after he landed a top recruit.

Former Arizona assistants scattered across the land all have horror stories. One keeps a picture of Mackovic on his desk just to remind him how bad things were in Tucson.

You knew, eventually, this plug was going to get pulled.

The school fired Mackovic on Sunday, a day after the team's overtime loss to Texas Christian and two days after Mackovic banned 20 players from a team dinner.

Is it any wonder there are 12 players featured on this year's media guide and none of them are smiling?

Yet, Hankwitz covets this job. He has a fine track record as a coordinator, credited as an architect of Texas A&M's "Wrecking Crew" defense.

In Tucson, he might consider a wrecking ball.

Hankwitz passed up and/or whiffed on chances to become a head coach in the past.

"Some of it was my own, you could say fault, for not pursuing things more aggressively," he said.

Some people say Arizona is a great job; others think it's a mirage.

Great weather? Maybe, if you're a scorpion.

Realistically, how is any football coach going to get any love so long as "Legend" Lute Olson is the basketball coach?

We understand how Arizona might have become disenchanted with Dick Tomey and fired him after 14 mostly successful years, but Tomey also won 95 games, more than any football coach in school history.

Maybe Dick Tomey was as good as it gets.

Hankwitz will make things better only because things can't get worse.

He has his own ideas about modern players.

"Kids want to be treated fairly, treated with some dignity, some respect, no matter what their role on the team is," Hankwitz said. "They just want to be recognized."

Fathom that.

Hankwitz also has been closer to the Rose Bowl than anyone at Arizona has ever been, the Wildcats being the only team from the Pacific 10 or Big Ten not to have played in the Jan. 1 game.

Hankwitz actually suited up in the 1970 game, for Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler.

If Hankwitz can impart anything from that experience, it would be that coming together for the common good beats player protest rallies in the school president's office.

"Bo just preached team, and the importance of team, everybody was a part of it," Hankwitz said.

Hankwitz said almost 60 players attended the 20th reunion of the 1969 Michigan team.

"I think the common bond was we all felt so good about what we accomplished and how we accomplished it," Hankwitz said of his Michigan years.

The interim Arizona coach may not want to get his parking space stenciled.

As Hankwitz prepares for his head-coaching debut, his athletic director is scouring the nation for more worthy candidates -- the short list is actually a long list. Surely, Arizona should seek the finest football coaches anywhere, even if few have ever sought refuge there before.

Should Hankwitz succeed under this cloud and under these circumstances, he ought to forget about coaching and make a run for governor.


Pac Bits

* Last weekend's 55-16 loss to Washington State last week left more than a bad taste in Oregon's mouth. "To me it was like getting food poisoning, eating a bad meal," Duck Coach Mike Bellotti said. "We felt sick to our stomach and we have to get rid of it."

Oregon is trying to avoid a repeat of last year's collapse after a 6-0 start. The Ducks play a dangerous nonconference game tonight at Utah (3-1), vastly improved under first-year Coach Urban Meyer. The Utes already have defeated California and Colorado State. Their only loss was by two points to Texas A&M.

* There is no quarterback controversy at California. While Reggie Robertson did a nice job in relief during Cal's triple-overtime win over USC, Coach Jeff Tedford said Aaron Rodgers would get the start this week against Oregon State. Rodgers left the USC game with an injured finger. The news was not so good for receiver Jonathan Makonnen, who will miss the rest of the year because of a stress fracture in his foot.

* Washington's Cody Pickett and Arizona State's Andrew Walter were the conference's top returning quarterbacks this year, yet the Pac-10's top-rated passers this week are Robertson and Rodgers.

* Washington State's seemingly dominant defense ranks only sixth in the conference, giving up 336.4 yards a game. The unit has, though, forced 22 turnovers.

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