Rodriguez introduces 'Plan A' Arizona staff
By Matt Swartz
Rich Rodriguez sat at the center of a podium Friday at a press conference to introduce his new coaching staff at Arizona. His literal right-hand man was offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, who worked with Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan and has been closely involved in the development of the "spread 'n' shred" offense. Magee was part of Rodriguez's first group of hires after taking the Arizona job nearly six weeks ago.
The man seated to Rodriguez's left, new defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel, was one of his last hires -- the final additions to the staff were just announced Wednesday -- but might have been the most important of all.
Rodriguez, looking visibly satisfied Friday while sitting between old friends, said Casteel was part of his "Plan A" and was someone he was willing to wait 53 days for -- even if there were some nervous nights in the interim while Casteel helped West Virginia win the Orange Bowl and Rodriguez wondered whether he'd get the defensive coordinator he'd worked with so closely and experienced so much success with during his own stint in Morgantown.
"I always had (concerns) because there was so much time in between, and because of the Orange Bowl and all that, we couldn't really get into the hot and heavy (negotiations)," Rodriguez said.
"I didn't know exactly how the staff would work out. I had plenty of time the last nine months (while not coaching) to think about how it might go, and fortunately it worked out for me."
Casteel's hiring has been heralded perhaps not so much for what he was at West Virginia as for what Rich Rodriguez was without him. West Virginia became a national title contender with Rodriguez calling plays on offense and Casteel running a defense that finished in the top 15 nationally twice from 2005-07. Rodriguez left for Michigan after the '07 season and took his offensive prowess with him, but Casteel turned down the chance to go to Ann Arbor, instead taking a pay raise and contract extension to stay at West Virginia.
Rodriguez's defenses at Michigan were a disaster under two coordinators he had never worked with before (Scott Shafer in 2008 and Greg Robinson in 2009-10), getting progressively worse in three years and culminating in his firing after a 2010 season in which Michigan's defense allowed the most points and yards in school history.
Casteel, meanwhile, continued producing quality defenses at West Virginia, with his units finishing 33rd, third and 36th nationally after Rodriguez's departure. In eight years at West Virginia, his defenses finished in the top 40 in total yardage six times and the top 15 three times.
The obvious question for Casteel popped up at Friday's introduction: Why would he leave West Virginia now when he wasn't willing to leave four years ago?
"I thought it was time for another challenge," he said. "I just felt it was an opportunity to get back with Rich and Calvin and these guys."
He added, "Things had changed a little bit. I just thought this was the right time to move away from West Virginia."
Casteel had spent 11 years as an assistant at West Virginia and said he had never been in Tucson prior to this week. His only previous visits to the state were to the Phoenix area for West Virginia's visit to the Fiesta Bowl in 2008 and this year. He was set to make $450,000 at West Virginia next season; his salary at Arizona has not been disclosed.
While he didn't specify as to what "things" had changed, there was much speculation that Casteel desired the head coaching job at West Virginia, which was given last year to recently hired offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen following the resignation of Rodriguez replacement Bill Stewart.
Whatever the reason, Rodriguez said getting the gang back together has given him great peace of mind in terms of "the fact that we know each other, know how a program is supposed to operate."
Magee, Rodriguez's old-turned-new offensive coordinator who spent last year at Pitt (under new Arizona State coach Todd Graham, coincidentally), pointed out that the familiarity among the staff allows for improved dialogue and the exchange of ideas.
"It doesn't happen everywhere where the two staffs (offense and defense) work together so closely," Magee said.
He added, "It's like old times really quick. ... Just the fact that we're back together as a family. It's huge."
Whether that comfort produces an improved defense at Arizona remains to be seen. The 2011 unit plunged to 110th nationally -- "I didn't tell him that," Rodriguez jokingly said during Casteel's introduction -- and loses multiple starters. Casteel said he hasn't seen tape of the current players but isn't concerned about turning things around.
"I'm really just trying to get my feet wet. I think the kids are willing to work, so we'll just roll our sleeves up."
As for specifics, Casteel talked about his extensive experience with the 3-3-5 scheme at West Virginia and some misunderstandings about the strategy involved.
"The more you do it, you learn more about it," he said of the unusual alignment. "And the kids dictate what it is that you do. Our job is to highlight their strengths and put them in position to make plays. ...
"The thing is, you can really get into some multiple looks. I think a lot gets made out of it -- 'it's a 3-3-5' -- but it's based on speed and being physical and just basic football."
Asked if he had watched tape of some of the Pac-12 offenses to get an idea about how the 3-3-5 might fare, Casteel said he had not. Rodriguez answered for him: "It's not easy to be a defensive coordinator in this league."
With his staff complete, Rodriguez said he and his assistants are now turning their full attention to recruiting. National signing day is Feb. 1, and UA has a small class thus far with just 11 verbal commitments.
Rodriguez has stated many times in the past that he values system fit over recruiting-site rankings, and he reiterated that philosophy as well as the importance of having trust in his assistants to properly evaluate high school talent.
"One of the most overlooked aspects of recruiting is evaluation. ... As a head coach, you want guys on your staff you can trust in evaluation. You want to have a staff that's on the same wavelength as far as evaluating, and I know this staff will do that."
And while that staff is largely built of coaches who worked with him at West Virginia and therefore have primarily East Coast recruiting experience, Rodriguez said he intends to recruit Arizona first and foremost.
"My primary recruiting is going to be the state of Arizona. Will we still recruiting California? Yes. Will we still recruit Texas? Yes ... but we want to blanket the state of Arizona and go from there."
Rodriguez said Casteel and the other new additions to the staff this week -- defensive backs coach David Lockwood, defensive line coach Bill Kirelawich and tight ends coach Spencer Leftwich -- have already delved into recruiting for UA.
He also repeated that while he believes Arizona can become a national power, it will require more than a quick fix.
"It's not going to happen overnight. Our problems that we have -- and I don't know all our problems -- but they didn't occur overnight," Rodriguez said, adding, "Our mission is to get there, and we will -- at some point."
Magee agreed with the last statement, saying he senses an excitement building in Tucson around the UA football program, and Casteel backed up his co-workers by aptly summarizing the staff's belief in each other and their expectations.
"It's about winning. That's the bottom line," Casteel said. "And we're all on the same page about what we hope to do to win."