Spring football for colleges begins Friday. Really.
“Hell, the weather’s nice here year round,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said from Tucson, where his team was set to hit the practice field amidst a forecasted high of 88 degrees. “Let’s enjoy it.”
Rodriguez is not the first coach to shift his 15 “spring” practices into February. Duke opened even earlier in 2015 (Feb. 6), while Stanford, Northwestern and a couple others have moved to late February. The stated reasons include giving players that suffer injuries more time to recover and freeing them up to concentrate on academics the rest of the semester.
Practices are spread out over seven weeks (which includes spring break), concluding March 25.
But Rodriguez is taking things one step further. He’s basically decided to blow up the way his team practices altogether. The Wildcats’ 15 practices will overwhelmingly consist of individual drills and basic fundamentals. There will be only one formal scrimmage, no spring game and relatively few 11-on-11 periods.
“Spring practice from a scheme standpoint is way overrated,” he said. “From a fundamental standpoint, it’s critical, doing some of the thing you don’t have time to do in August.”
That’s all well and good for a coach entering his fifth season at the school. Surely someone taking over a new job or installing an entirely new offense needs all the teamwork he can get.
But in this case, Rodriguez himself is installing an entirely new defense. He fired longtime coordinator Jeff Casteel after last year’s disappointing 7-6 season, replacing him with Boise State’s Marcel Yates. The entire defensive staff is new.
Installing the scheme can apparently wait.
“If your scheme is so complicated you need all that time to teach it, then it’s probably too complicated,” said Rodriguez. Instead, “We’re going to teach offensive players how to have better ball security, teach defensive players how to create turnovers.”
The coaches will still be evaluating younger players contending for vacant jobs. Individual drills are competitive enough to get some sense of who is capable.
The Wildcats just won’t be donning full pads and playing an exhibition game with stats. Rodriguez is not a fan of spring games, either, calling them “two-hand touch.”
That being said, the Pac-12 Network airs all 12 schools’ spring games and has a block reserved for Arizona. Rodriguez doesn’t want to waste that opportunity in the event some recruits are watching.
“We may just do slip and slide,” he said. “We may have some sort of competition — let the fat boys mud wrestle or something. But no true spring game.”
Stewart Mandel is a senior college sports columnist for FOXSports.com. He covered college football and basketball for 15 years at Sports Illustrated. You can follow him on Twitter@slmandel and Facebook. Send emails and Mailbag questions to Stewart.Mandel@fox.com.