Feldman talks UA coaching search

WildcatAuthority.com had an opportunity to talks with CBS Sports Writer Bruce Feldman about Arizona's coaching search. Read on to see who he thinks the candidates are, should be, and more.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne sent shockwaves through the college football world on October 10th with his firing of then head football coach Mike Stoops following a 1-5 start to the 2011 season. The firing did not come as a major shock to CBS Sports college football columnist Bruce Feldman, who saw the writing on the wall long before the season began.

"I wasn't surprised coach Stoops was fired given the way the season had gone," Feldman said. "Obviously they came into the season without much momentum with the way last season ended. You look at the roster and they lost all of those linemen on both sides of the ball. The schedule just did not set up well to break in a lot of guys because they just had a lot of top ten teams right in a row.

"I thought it was going to be tough for them because even with as good as Nick Foles is, I think it was just a sad situation. The schedule didn't break right, they didn't have any experienced linemen there, and then they lost to a team like Oregon State coming off the year they were going into the game with, I wasn't surprised."

As Byrne begins the search for a new head coach, Feldman sees plenty of opportunity for a coach that may be considering taking over the Wildcats next season.

"For coaches out there looking, it's a team in a good conference with a great TV deal," Feldman said. "You're in an area with a good academic program with some history. It doesn't have the history of USC or the history of Texas, but by the same token, you're in a league right now where you can come in and win the league, it's not like you're taking over in the SEC and you're not Alabama or LSU.

"USC is dealing with the sanctions, UCLA is struggling. While Arizona State is having a pretty good year, they didn't even go to a bowl game last year. Who knows what is going to happen with Oregon and the NCAA investigation there. Jim Harbaugh is out of the league. Utah and Colorado are still trying to get sorted out. From that standpoint, it's pretty wide open.

"I think it's a pretty intriguing job. I know there are some facility upgrades in the works, so all of those things are good. Like anything, if someone was fired, there's definitely some holes in the roster and there are some issues. I think it's a fairly compelling job."

A few of the big names swirling around the coaching vacancy at UA are former Oregon head coach Mike Bellotti and current Boise State head man Chris Petersen, which are both intriguing names for Arizona fans. However, Feldman believes that one candidate is much more likely than the other to take over as the 29th coach in program history.

"Bellotti I could see, but it depends on if he really wants to get back in at 61 years old," Feldman said. "I could see that; he's a West coast guy, and there aren't going to be too many jobs that a guy in his sixties is going to be able to get. I don't know if he's the route they'll go, but that's definitely a consideration and it's not a bad job for him at all.

"Petersen I don't know about. I know there's a relationship with the AD, but there are other jobs he hasn't jumped at before. He's had plenty of opportunities to leave, and talking to him a couple of times over the years, I think he's very mindful of that.

"Complicating that even more, who knows what the conference realignment stuff is going to mean to Boise State. He's turned down a lot of jobs, and some jobs I would say have a higher profile. But you never know when the timing is going to be right for somebody and the circumstances are going to be right."

With all of the struggles surrounding the Arizona defense, it may make sense for Byrne to bring in a defensive minded coach to attempt to turn the unit around faster. But given Stoops' background before becoming UA's head coach, Feldman does not foresee a defensive minded coach taking over for the Wildcats.

"It's unusual when you see a program replace a guy with a similar pedigree guy, meaning they don't usually replace a defensive guy with a defensive guy," Feldman said. "I've heard some names thrown out, and I'd be a little bit surprised if they were going to go with a guy who has never been a head coach and was a defensive coordinator just because Mike was.

"I'd be surprised if they didn't go with an offensive guy just given where they've been in the Pac-12. In terms of a splash, you're upgrading a stadium and you want to fill seats, and the quickest way to do that is with a stadium."

Because the coaching search is still in the preliminary stages, Feldman isn't quite sure the exact direction Byrne will take, but he does have an idea of a few candidates that he believes could make an impact for Arizona.

"I just don't see Petersen leaving Boise for there," Feldman said. "I don't see them hiring a guy who hasn't been a head coach yet. I don't know if there's an NFL guy who would intrigue them. Bellotti is out there, but I just don't know if you want to hire a 61 year old guy.

"He's in good shape and he's been charging his batteries for a couple of years. I don't know if he wants that or if he's waiting on UCLA or what the dynamic there is.

"Rich Rodriguez is a guy that had a ton of success at West Virginia and obviously struggled at Michigan, but he's another offensive guy. The one thing with Rich is, like Mike Stoops, and I don't know how much of this is really an issue for the AD, Rich is an intense guy, he's a super intense guy.

"If that's something they're gun shy with, they'll have to think that part through hard. I think Rich Rodriguez is an outstanding coach. I think if they have given him another year at Michigan he would've been there for a long time, but obviously they didn't."

While the coaching search has yet to begin to unfold, the magnitude and importance of this hire for Byrne is certainly not lost on Feldman.

"Between Rodriguez and Bellotti, I think there's definitely some interesting candidates," Feldman said. "If they were to meet with (Mike) Leach, I would be curious to see how Leach would do. You have three guys who have all won a lot of games and all know how to coach offensive football and run a program. I think anyone of those guys would be interesting fits for them and I think you have guys that are proven winners.

"This is a big hire for Byrne and it'll be interesting to see what direction he goes in. Given the state of the Pac-12, especially the Pac-12 South given the situation with UCLA and USC, I think it's a big opportunity if somebody can hit the ground running."

Bruce Feldman is the co-author, along with former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach, of the New York Times Best Selling book Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and in Life.

The book is available here: http://www.brucefeldman.com/

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