These Head Coaches can bring back Rock Solid to Arizona Football

Oct 21, 2017; Berkeley, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats helmet sits on the grass in the game against the California Golden Bears during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 21, 2017; Berkeley, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats helmet sits on the grass in the game against the California Golden Bears during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports /

With Arizona Football deep in the heading coaching search already, these are a few candidates I feel the Wildcats should be heavily considering.

The pride of Arizona Football, that’s what the fans want back. After a dismal and lack-luster past three years in Tucson, the Kevin Sumlin experiment is over and it’s time to bring the pride back to Arizona Stadium and Tucson.

Who remembers the Rock Solid cover of Sports Illustrated from August of 1994? I do and I am sure every Arizona Wildcats fan wants to get back to that level of pride, and once again raise the Arizona Football program to a much higher and respected level.

Arizona Wildcats
Arizona Wildcats /

Arizona Wildcats

It won’t happen overnight, but it is time to get started and heading down the right path. But who could lead us there?

Well, here are my Top 5 Head Coaching candidates that I feel could do it!

Kalani Sitake, Head Coach BYU, 2016-Present

Head Coaching Record: 37-26
Age: 45
Bowl Record: 2-1

Sitake, born in Tonga, was a four-year letterman and played as a hard-nosed fullback at BYU. Known for recruiting Polynesian players from the South Pacific, Hawaii and the Western states, including Utah, are targeted areas that Arizona needs much-recruiting improvement.

His teams field some of the biggest and beefiest offensive and defensive lines in the country year after year.  Arizona is in desperate need of more beef particularly on the offensive line, as Arizona’s offensive line gave up over 20 sacks in a Covid-curtailed five-game season.

Quarterback Grant Gunnell went down with a shoulder injury, causing him to miss two games. Sitake’s rough edge and his ability to recruit 300-plus pound lineman could be key to Arizona achieving upward mobility in the Pac-12 South and beyond.

Rickey Hunley

Background: 16 years of coaching experience at the NFL and Collegiate level
Age: 59

Hunley played Linebacker at the University of Arizona from 1980-1983 under Larry Smith, the second, all-time wins leader in school history, only behind Dick Tomey.

Hunley earned Consensus All American honors his junior and senior years and Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 1983 as a senior.

Hunley was drafted in the First Round as the No. 7 overall pick in the 1984 NFL Draft. He played in the NFL for seven seasons, winning two AFC Championships and played in two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos.

In his career, he has been an Assistant Coach on the defensive side of the ball in the NFL and College. He had a four-year run as the Linebackers coach for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2003-2007, however, he began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at the University of Southern California in 1992-93.

He later helped the Florida Gators to win the 2002 BCS Orange Bowl as a Defensive Line coach, and in1998 Hunley was the first player in Arizona Football history to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and is also a member of the All-Time Pac-12 Football All-Century Team as a Linebacker.

Make no mistake about it, when Hunley played at Arizona, he was Mr. Arizona Football. I grew up watching him create havoc every Saturday for the offensives across the Pac-10, and he knows the tradition of the Territorial Cup/Duel in the Desert and would place the highest emphasis on beating ASU and finally getting Arizona to a Rose Bowl.

Hunley was on the 1982 team that defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On a side note, his younger brother LaMonte also played Linebacker at UofA from 1981-1984, as brothers, they were teammates for three years.

Jeff Monken, Head Coach Army, 2014-Present

Head Coaching Record: 86-54
Age: 53
Bowl Record: 3-0

Monken is showing he can coach in big games, and every year he coaches in one of the biggest games in College Football, the Army-Navy game. Having coached at the collegiate level for 31 years on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball, and he is fresh off a 15-0 win over Navy last Saturday.

Monken is no stranger to mentoring young men, instilling discipline, values, and work ethic, and let’s face it, the United States Military Academy doesn’t hire dummies or coaches mainly interested in a paycheck over a player and team development.

Army finished with 10 and 11 wins in 2017 and 2018 and won 3 consecutive bowls from 2016-2018.

He is proving he can manage players’ emotions in big games, hence the Army-Navy rivalry, and that is a skill that that lacked under Sumlin.

What he’s done at Army is nothing short of amazing, and given the recruiting restrictions, he has over there, imagine him at Arizona.

Andy Avalos, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon, 2019-Present

Background: 14 Years of coaching experience at the collegiate level
Age: 38

Avalos played Linebacker for four years at Boise State and was named first-team All-Western Athletic Conference 2003 and 2004. He was the Defensive Coordinator at his alma mater Boise State from 2016-18 before being hired as the Defensive Coordinator at Oregon.

As a DC and Assistant Coach, he has spent all of his time as a coach on the defensive side of the ball, and Avalos was a part of winning one Pac-12 Conference Title and three, Mountain West Conference Titles.

In 2019, he was a major part of the Oregon Ducks defeating the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2020 Rose Bowl, and he has been a proven recruiter in the West, and in particular, the states that Arizona Football needs improvement in recruiting wise. Avalos knows and understands the Pac-12 and has been to the Rose Bowl and won, something Arizona fans continue to hope for.

Dino Babers, Head Coach Syracuse,  2015-Present

Head Coaching Record: 61-52 
Age: 59
Bowl Record: 2-0

The 2018 ACC Coach of the year, Babers played 4 years under legendary Arizona Football coach Dick Tomey at Hawaii.

Babers and Tomey had a very close personal relationship both when Babers was a player and later as a coach. He spoke at Tomey’s memorial service in Tucson, and has direct ties to Arizona Football, and was an assistant under Tomey in various roles from 1995-2000.

He was born and raised in California, understands the targeted recruiting areas, and knows how to recruit in the Southwest and the Northeast.

Syracuse has struggled in the 2020 Covid season, so perhaps a change of scenery, sunshine, and back to the earlier roots of his career could be just what the doctor ordered for him and Arizona.
One thing is for sure, he would have no problem instilling Tomey-style values, work ethic and would make player development on and off the field a priority.

I believe Babers would bring added value to Arizona Football, and based on his past knowledge of the Arizona Football culture, and his love and respect for Coach Tomey, it could be a great match.

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Interim Head Coach Paul Rhoads will handle the immediate recruiting efforts and signing those already committed, as well as handling other administrative duties as required until the new Head Coach is announced.