Arizona’s Rodriguez connected to Louisville opening

Rich Rodriguez has a 16-10 record in two seasons at Arizona.

TUCSON, Ariz. — All it takes is one coaching domino to fall for the rumor mill to start churning.

With the official announcement Sunday of Charlie Strong’s departure from Louisville for the head coaching job at Texas, the rumors around Arizona football coach Rich Rodriguez began.

Footballscoop.com reported that Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich has Rodriguez at the top of his "very short list" as Strong’s potential replacement "and was working on it today."

That schools might go after Rodriguez is no surprise given his success the past two seasons at Arizona in what by all accounts should have been rebuilding years, not to mention his previous successes at other programs as one of the architects of the now-ubiquitous spread-option offense. Rodriguez has gone 8-5 in each of his first two years in Tucson and won two bowl games. He also had a successful seven-year career at West Virginia, going 60-26 before being hired at Michigan, where he lasted just three years before being fired with a record of 15-22. Overall, including his stops at two lower-level schools before taking over at alma mater West Virginia, his record is 136-94-2.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne didn’t respond to a text message about the Rodriguez rumors. Reports out of Louisville on Sunday said Jurich hoped to have a coach in place by the end of this week.

"The sooner, the better," Jurich told reporters Sunday.

Jurich is already familiar with Rodriguez and his teams. While at West Virginia, Rodriguez coached against Louisville twice while both schools were in the Big East, going 1-1.

Whether Rodriguez decides to speak to Jurich about the job is anyone’s guess, but money could play a role. Louisville was paying Strong $3.7 million a year, the 10th-highest known salary among coaches, according to USA Today’s salary information (private schools typically do not disclose coaches’ salaries). Arizona is paying Rodriguez $2.25 million a year. Maximum bonuses are included in the salary totals.

But is Rodriguez ready to jump after Byrne gave him the opportunity to come back into coaching — replacing Mike Stoops — after a year away following his firing by Michigan?

There are factors that might entice him to stay in Tucson. For one, a $72 million renovation to Arizona Stadium was completed prior to this season. And Rodriguez’s recruiting classes have been remarkable, with the upcoming class slated to be one of Arizona’s best ever; Scout.com ranks it as the 12th best nationally with about a month remaining before National Signing Day. And there have been a number or talented transfers to come into the program who will be eligible next season, when the Wildcats — if they can adequately replace quarterback B.J. Denker and perhaps running back Ka’Deem Carey, a possibility for an early departure to the NFL draft — could compete for the Pac-12 South title.

On the other hand, the Louisville job would give Rodriguez and his coaching staff a chance to return to their East Coast roots. With recruiting connections in the region already in place and Louisville set to move to the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, there are aspects of the job that would likely be considered appealing for the 50-year-old Rodriguez.

Arizona took steps last year to attempt to secure Rodriguez’s services for the long term. After the Wildcats went 8-5 in his debut season, Rodriguez was awarded with a $225,000 bump in salary and a one-year contract extension. The Arizona Board of Regents does not allow for contracts longer than five years.

According the Arizona Daily Star, his revised contract includes a clause that would require him to repay the school $1 million if he were to leave between December 2013 and November 2014.