Arizona beats Arizona State! Collectively, that is. In a subjective ranking of Division I schools’ coaches across the two major revenue sports.
OK, so the excitement is diminishing quickly, but the point here is that there is plenty of reason for Arizona fans to break out the #BearDown year-round. In a ranking by Athlon Sports of the best football-basketball coaching combinations in the country, Arizona was ranked seventh overall thanks to the duo of Rich Rodriguez and Sean Miller. ASU, meanwhile, was further back in the pack but still a respectable 37th (keep in mind that there are 124 schools with D-I programs in both sports) thanks to Todd Graham and Herb Sendek. Athlon ranked only the 40 best combinations.
The Wildcats’ appearance in the top 10 could/should be credited in large part to athletic director Greg Byrne, who hired Rodriguez (who was working as an analyst after being fired by Michigan) in late 2011 after locking up Miller with a contract extension earlier that year, when it appeared Miller might leave Arizona for the opening at closer-to-home Maryland. Rodriguez has gone 16-10 in two seasons, receiving a contract extension this offseason when rumors arose that Louisville was interested in Rodriguez for its coaching job, while Miller is now 121-45 at Arizona and has the third-ranked Wildcats among the national title favorites this year (and probably for the forseeable future).
Athlon’s analysis is as follows:
"Sean Miller’s last four NCAA Tournament appearances have resulted in either a Sweet 16 or an Elite Eight. It’s only a matter of time before he gets to the Final Four or better, especially as he’s returned Arizona to national powerhouse status. Rodriguez has made the most of his second chance in a major conference since his ill-fated tenure at Michigan. The Wildcats have back-to-back eight win seasons and back-to-back bowl wins in two seasons under RichRod."
Just think what Arizona’s ranking might be if baseball were included — or if Miller does get that "Final Four or better" this year.
ASU’s Todd Graham, left, and Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez have both posted at least eight wins in each of their two seasons.
Of course, ASU can stake its own claim to in-state dominance thanks to the results on the gridiron, where the Sun Devils have won two straight over the Wildcats since Graham’s hiring and went to the Pac-12 championship game in 2013. Graham is now 18-9 and has ASU football on a similar upward trajectory to that of Arizona basketball under Miller, albeit with some work still to do to get the Sun Devils anywhere near "national powerhouse status." And while the basketball team has been somewhat of a disappointment over the past few years, that speaks to the postseason expectations established early under Sendek, who is 138-115 overall and has this year’s squad on track for an NCAA tournament berth at 19-8 in a deep Pac-12.
"Graham’s reputation as a job jumper will follow him around, but he can coach. The Sun Devils improved from 6-7 the year before he arrived to 8-5 his first season to 10-4 in his second. Sendek is a veteran coach who is probably earning himself more time after entering the season with his future in question. Arizona State is poised for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2009."
The full rankings can be viewed here. For those wondering, Arizona is by far the highest-ranked Pac-12 school, with UCLA coming in 15th and Stanford ranking 23rd; Oregon also appears at No. 39, just behind ASU. As for No. 1, think green and white and a lot of recent Big Ten success.