Tabula rasa time in Tucson

During the press conference announcing his hiring, Mike Stoops made careful reference to revisiting the days of Desert Swarm. A respectful approach indeed, but the Stoops era needs to worry little about Wildcat football tradition.

This is tabula rasa time in Tucson. For those of you who have cleared your mind from college philosophy class, tabula rasa means, roughly, blank slate. For British philosopher John Locke, it referred to the time of our birth, where we enter the world sans thoughts, and from that moment on the markings begin.

For Mike Stoops and Arizona football the slate is clean. And that's just how it should be, especially in light of what this program has had to endure recently.

Really, if there's been a mantra for the UA, it's been frustration. This is a program that has gone more than 40 years without winning an outright conference championship. During the Jim Young era, it played second fiddle to ASU. During the Larry Smith era, there was success, but not enough to reach the promised land. And then when Smith decided to flip off the fans en route to USC, that frustration increased exponentially.

Dick Tomey, the school's winningest coach, went 4-4-3 his first year. As we know, he put together some good teams, and often crept into November with a chance at winning the league, only to seemingly find a way to falter. Sure, the UA was 10-2, but people remember the collapse at Cal. Sure, Arizona was 12-1, but it still placed second in the Pac-10.

Fans found ways to get fed up with Tomey, and Tomey's insistence on blaming himself for losses on the field. They got frustrated with his conservative nature on offense, and eventually his tenure deteriorated into little more than conversation about his future.

The short-lived John Mackovic era was exponentially worse. He alienated the Tomey faithful in his program, and then managed to alienate a good portion of Wildcat followers. Thus, his injury-riddled teams often appeared to throw in the towel, until the UA made a gutsy decision and pulled the plug in late September.

By doing so, it went a long way toward eliminating countless unhealthy circular debates. Was it Mackovic's fault the team didn't play for him, or was it whiny, coddled holdovers from the Tomey era that led to the downfall?

Regardless, this program hit rock bottom. Something had to be done, and the UA administration got aggressive. More importantly, by landing Stoops Arizona can start clean. The Tomey-Mackovic anti-thesis that so effectively tore this program apart is gone. Over. Finished. It no longer matters who was to blame. It doesn't matter if Tomey was conservative, or whether his players gave up on Mackovic, or whether Mackovic was a terrible choice and a horrible motivator.

It's dead weight. It's water under the bridge. It's immaterial to the future of the program.

Stoops graciously acknowledged the attitude of Wildcat teams from the past, most notably Tomey's powerhouse Desert Swarm units, an area close to the new coach's heart given his background as Oklahoma's defensive coordinator. He was even Tomey-esque in his use of terminology, often adopting the "compete" catch-phrase. Tomey took hits from the fans for talking about the importance of "competing," which often seemed to take precedent over actually winning.

But that aside, let's be honest. Tradition and Arizona football don't exactly go hand in hand. When the team is introduced at home games and they show that video on the fancy-dancy jumbo screen, it's almost as if the UA struggled to find enough material to fill the segment.

In Tucson, Stoops has an opportunity to create a legacy. He can tear the foundation down and build anew. He is tabula rasa. He is the clean slate. He is the future of Arizona football.

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