Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said Tuesday he talked to a lot of people about the Wildcats' coaching vacancy, and the name that came up the most -- and, presumably, the best -- was Rich Rodriguez.
Byrne highlighted three people he chatted with during a news conference introducing Rodriguez: former Florida coach Urban Meyer, current Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller and Charlie Ragle, a high school coach in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Ragle, coach at state power Chaparral High, had two players sign at Michigan, offensive lineman Taylor Lewan and defensive end Craig Roh, when Rodriguez was the Wolverines' coach. Ragle later asked if he and his staff could come up and visit and see how the Wolverines did things.
"He said, 'I've never dealt with a major college coach that had devoted so much time and interest in our program,'" Byrne said of the conversation. "Coach Ragle told me that he'd never been more impressed in dealing with a coaching staff."
Byrne then talked to Meyer.
"He said, 'Greg, if you hire Rich Rodriguez, you're getting one of the five greatest minds in college football,'" Byrne said.
Then he talked to Miller on a flight to New York, where he would meet with Rodriguez for a second time.
"He said, 'Greg, I'd think about a couple of things. Who is the most hungry guy out there? And the second thing is who do the coaches in the Pac-12 not want to have show up in Tucson, Ariz.?'" Byrne said. "He said, 'My opinion is it's Rich Rodriguez.'"
Byrne also will get Rodriguez at a discount.
Rodriguez, 48, signed a six-year, $15 million contract with Michigan in 2007, an average of $2.5 million a year. His Arizona contract will pay him an average of $1.91 million over five years. He will make $1.45 million in his first year, $1.5 million in his second, $1.6 million his third, $1.7 million his fourth and $1.8 million his fifth. He also will receive $300,000 annually from Nike and IMG.
Rodriguez surely endeared himself to Arizona fans when he took to the podium and immediately started talking about Rose Bowls and national championships.
"Why not us?" he said. "Why can't we win it all?"
He also tried to allay fears that this was a stepping stone to getting back to a big-money program to prove his critics wrong.
"This is my final coaching stop," he said. "I hope to be able to do this another 12 or 15 years."
How much did he want Wildcats fans to embrace him? Apparently a lot.
Said Rodriguez, "I will not just coach Arizona football. I will live it."
That might sound like the hyperbole of a man desperate to ingratiate himself. And Rodriguez did sound like that at times. But he also knows he's no longer the hot coaching prospect he once was. There are questions about him. He's the rising star who fell.
He admitted that he has reverted back to his attitude from West Virginia, where he had his major success. He's got the chip back on his shoulder.
"I've got something to prove," he said.
Other notable points from Rodriguez.
He said that Byrne asked him a lot of questions about the NCAA issues he had at Michigan. "There were issues," he said. "The issues were fixed, cleaned up. And I assure you -- I assured him -- that there would never be one again in the future."
He said he'd hire some staff members quickly -- over the next two weeks -- but he wanted the entire staff filled out before Christmas. He said he wanted a mix of guys he's coached with and guys who know the West Coast.
He said he would consider coaches on the present staff, but he also said he's not too worried about coaches who lack Pac-12 experience: "The best coaches can recruit anywhere."
Rodriguez said he first met with Byrne in Michigan "a couple of weeks ago" and met with him two subsequent times, in New York -- the Wildcats were playing basketball there on Nov. 17 and 18 -- and El Paso, Texas, where Rodriguez was calling the UTEP-Tulsa game on Nov. 19.
As for Michigan, Rodriguez was asked what he'd learned from the experience. He didn't really answer: "It's frustrating to watch them because they are doing so well. Those are all of my guys. But I'm proud of them because they are doing so well."
He tipped his cap to former coach Mike Stoops: "Mike Stoops did some great things here. There are some good players here ... Mike Stoops is a good football coach."
He tipped his cap to interim coach Tim Kish: "I think what he's done in a difficult situation has been absolutely remarkable."
He said he spent last spring hanging out with friend and California coach Jeff Tedford: "He might be regretting that now."
Expect the Arizona offense to look a lot like Oregon's offense: "We do like to play fast. I think the huddle is the biggest waste of time in football."
He hit lots of talking points: the rivalry with Arizona State, the 'Zona Zoo, the Tucson community, how former players are welcome around the program and how much he and his family looked forward to warm weather.
And when he concluded, he said, "Bear down."