Former kicker talks Wildcats

Former Arizona kicker Steve McLaughlin has been keeping up with the program and has plenty of thoughts. Read on to see what he thinks of the coaches, the future of the program, and more.

In the past few years, the Arizona's kicking game has been a problem. The issue has lost the Wildcats a few games over the past decade, including a forgettable loss to rival Arizona State in 2009.

While the recent struggles had mounted and contributed to the firing of former head coach Mike Stoops, it is important to remember that the kicking game at Arizona once flourished.

Placekicking in Tucson may have been at its peak in 1994, when senior kicker Steve McLaughlin won the Lou Groza Award (given to the nation's top kicker) and was a consensus selection to the All-American team.

Now, McLaughlin admits that he didn't know everything about Rich Rodriguez before he was hired at Arizona, but has seen the changes since the new coach arrived in Tucson.

"I think there's a ton of enthusiasm surrounding the program," McLaughin said. "It's kind of like a shot of adrenaline for the program. Arizona has certainly gotten some national attention and that is always good.

I've heard Coach Rodriguez speak and he seems really committed and excited for the opportunity that he's been given."

The former Wildcat didn't have any favorite options when it came to the coaching search, but isn't disappointed with Greg Byrne's choice.

"I don't know who the other candidates were, but if I were to look out across the landscape of college coaches, I don't think they could've done very much better than Rich Rodriguez," he said. "He's a top tier coach, a national figure who's had success, and he's been at programs that have helped him learn how to win."

That national name is something that McLaughlin believes will help the program greatly.

"I think a lot of that will also attract the players from those parts of the country where he has been successful before," he said. "Especially because those players know that he has won on the other side of the country. There's a couple different advantages there and it works towards Arizona's benefit in many ways."

McLaughlin never had any contact with the previous coaching staff, but kept an eye on how things were going with the football program. He believes that former head coach Mike Stoops achieved good things at Arizona, but it was time for a change.

"I wouldn't say that the previous coaching staff failed," McLaughlin said. "Ultimately, if you don't win a national championship or a Pac-12 championship, if you don't meet the expectations of the town or even the coaching staff themselves, you can call it a failure.

"However, I think if you look what Coach Stoops did as far as getting the program off the bottom, it was flat coming out of the early 2000's. It was so far gone and I give credit to Mike Stoops for helping get the program to its feet a little bit.

"Obviously, it didn't get to the level that it needed to be at and that's why the change was needed in order to get to the next level."

One thing that the McLaughlin can attest to is that special teams are an important part of winning. However, in the later years of the Mike Stoops era, kicking issues cost the Wildcats a few games.

"I don't have a first-hand account of what went wrong with the kicking game, but I can say that the quickest way to fail in a game or a season is to have a poor kicking game," McLaughlin said. "One thing that Dick Tomey taught us was that one of the ways to win a game was to control the kicking game.

"When you think about a punt, that's a forty to fifty yard play. When you're kicking off, the closer you can keep the opponent to the goal line, the smaller their playbook is. Field goals are obviously points on the board. The kicking game is very important."

McLaughlin also noted that Rich Rodriguez and Dick Tomey have something in common: an eye for talent. Rodriguez has let walk-ons have a chance to play at all of his coaching stops and Tomey had a few lesser known players become stars in his time at Arizona.

"Dick Tomey didn't care if you had a scholarship or were a walk-on," McLaughlin said. "He gave everyone a chance and didn't have a problem with taking a scholarship and giving it to a guy who didn't have one. Two perfect examples of the way that little known guys earned time are Tedy Bruschi and Dave Fipp.

"Bruschi was only recruited by us and Cal. He didn't fit what the experts say is the right height and size of a linebacker. I remember the first day he was in camp he blocked a punt, which was unheard of at the time. Tomey saw it and instantly made him part of the traveling squad. We all know how that story ended.

"On the walk-on side, David Fipp came in and was like a Chuck Cecil-type because he was only about 120 pounds. He just worked his butt off and became a starter and earned a scholarship. Walk-ons are a huge part of the program and if Rich Rodriguez can find those guys, then it's going to make the program that much better."

Rich Rodriguez also brings an exciting offense to Tucson and McLaughlin is excited to see it in action.

"It's going to be exciting for sure," he said. "Any time you start doing something new, it takes some time to get it going, but if you have coaches that are qualified and work hard enough to get it done, which I think Rich and his staff are, then I think it will be a fun time to be a Wildcat."

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