Publisher's note: Our mission at Cat Tracks Magazine and CatTracks.net is to publicize the University Arizona Athletic programs in a "positive" manner. It's never been our role to publicize off-the-field problems and we seldom question the hiring and firing decisions of the athletic administration. That's simply not been the focus of our reporting. However, the turmoil within the UA Football program leaves me no alternative but to comment on these recent events.
Mackovic might be arrogant and self-centered, but he is his own man. That's why I am somewhat surprised at how these recent events have unfolded.
Since that first meeting Mackovic and I have always been cordial, considerate and respectful of each other. But because of the rocky start, we have not developed a relationship that has brought us any closer. However, I have maintained great relationships with many of the assistant coaches and the players. That's allowed us to cover the games and monitor the success and failures of the program.
In some respects, we're no different than the rest of the media covering UA Football. Mackovic has always been somewhat distant and aloof to the point that he's perceived as arrogant. He sets the tone for the way he communicates with everyone, so why should we expect him to communicate any differently with his players and staff?
Now that he's alienated many – media, players, assistant coaches and the administration (although I doubt they'll admit it) – Mackovic says he's going to change.
It is not uncommon for finger pointing to occur during times of adversity and it would be naïve to expect anything differently from a University of Arizona football program struggling to create harmony during a losing season. Some say it would be different if the team were 10-0, or even 7-3, instead of 3-7, but the dissention among the players and the coaching staff has been eroding the program for longer than anyone wants to admit.
When Mackovic replaced Dick Tomey, it was expected that many of the players recruited by Tomey would be unhappy with the change. I'm sure Mackovic expected it and I'm just as sure that he addressed the issue. But did he sell his program and win over the players? It sure doesn't look like it.
Many coaches prefer to separate themselves from the players and use their assistants as a buffer, thus maintaining a hierarchy among the staff that creates greater respect for coaching staff. Lute Olson allows his assistants to be that buffer in his basketball program and it's been an effective means of maintaining a line of communication to the players. This method also creates a hierarchy that establishes the leadership chain. Everyone knows who is the captain of the ship and the roles of the lieutenants (assistant coaches) are clearly defined. It's a great system, but in order for it to be effective it's imperative to have the unyielding loyalty of your staff.
The problem Mackovic has run into is that when he lost the respect of his players, his assistants were unable bridge the gap and keep the ship on a steady course. Why? Because Mackovic put his assistants in harms way when he told the team after the Wisconsin that "they were performing for their position coaches' livelihood the rest of the season." In the process, Mackovic sees to have lost some of the assistants' respect and some of their loyalty.
Now you have what's paramount to a mutiny. The captain has lost control of his ship, the troupes are up in arms and even some of the lieutenants have joined with the troupes to change the leadership.
When Mackovic learned of this unrest, he should have called a meeting of his coaching staff and reaffirmed his position as the leader of this football program and asked those who were not willing to follow his leadership to find another job. Next, he should have had the same meeting with his players. If he loses a couple of coaches and maybe 41 players, so be it. He would be in total control and the ship would once again be on a steady course.
It might have been too late for that approach, but at least Mackovic would have known where he stands with all of his players and coaches. In a worst-case scenario they all leave and Mackovic resigns. After all, Mackovic said during his prepared statement, "It would have been a lot easier for me to walk away. It would have been far easier."
But he can't walk away. He'd be leaving $2.4 million on the table. Nope, can't do that! Instead, Mackovic decided to shed a couple of tears and apologize to the players and coaches he's humiliated in hopes that they will buy into the ploy and follow him through the remainder of the season.
Believe me, it would have been far easier for the players, the assistants and Athletic Director Jim Livengood if Mackovic had walked away. It would have also been easier for the fans and the boosters, who have also become dissatisfied with the direction of the football program.
But Mackovic didn't walk away and Livengood couldn't afford to fire him.
With more than $2.4 million left on his contract, Mackovic shed a few tears and told the public he would also shed his arrogance and become a more compassionate and caring individual while Livengood had to sit there and endure Mackovic's performance. All because, there is not enough money in the athletic department bank account to send Mackovic packing.
Livengood has been backed into a corner with no way out. But in many ways Livengood is falling victim to own folly. He should have done his homework before hiring Mackovic. Mackovic was run out of Texas for some of these very same things that are happening here. Everywhere he's been, Mackovic has distanced himself from the fans, the administration and his own team. That is not a prescription for success in any business.
Mackovic has made a tearful public apology, but has anything really changed? The football program is still in a shambles. The players and assistant coaches have no way of knowing what lies ahead. The administration has been handcuffed and the fans are still on the outside looking in.
Surely some players and assistants will stay, while others will choose to leave at the end of the season if not sooner. I have a feeling this might be the beginning of a very long and sad story. I doubt that the chaos that actually started with Mackovic's hiring will stop until he's gone.Talk about this story on the FOOTBALL MESSAGE BOARD Contact Doug Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org