There have been a lot of expected changes since Rich Rodriguez took over the Arizona Wildcat football program, but one thing hasn't changed—the blue collar work ethic that Rodriguez' successor, Mike Stoops, had tried to instill in the team.
Actually, Stoops' motto of "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard" is still painted in the team's weight room, according to the Tucson Citizen. But Rodriguez took that blue collar mentality to a new level when his coaches printed the words "Shut Up and Work" on the the backs of T-shirts.
Rodriguez is really a folksy-type of guy and despite his no-nonsense approach to football—there isn't a lot of fussy in him—that four-word motto encapsulates his coaching persona. More from the Tuscon Citizen:
Rodriguez vows nothing fancy. The coaches don’t have to spend time teaching scheme, as they had to do in 2012 when everything was new.
“This spring will be a lot more about fundamentals than it is about scheme,” he said.
While he may sound like the prototype Marine sergeant, he's not.
I had a lengthy conversation with him last year and I was surprised that his West Virginia drawl is still evident. He has a earthy charm about him that draws you in—it almost demands a request of "tell us a story about back in the days, coach."
He chuckles a lot and his tone changes when he talks about his family—there's a definite lilt in his voice when he shares some insight into his past. His character reminds you of Charles "Pa" Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie. He's a hard working man during the day but at night he'll gather the family around a kerosene lamp and tell stories with a moral attached to them.
And it's that constant instinct to nurture and teach that probably explains why Rodriguez hasn't quite given up on Ka' Deem Carey, the No. 1 running back in the nation last year. Carey has had a busy three months with plenty of bad press and disturbing headlines. From the Arizona Daily Star:
Carey was charged with misdemeanor assault and disorderly conduct in late December following an alleged incident with his pregnant ex-girlfriend.
In January, he was asked to leave McKale Center during the UA-UCLA basketball game after getting into an argument with an on-campus policeman.
According to the Star, Carey is still on the team:
"He's progressing well, and he'll be with us in the spring," Rodriguez said. "His process of making sure he shows the true person he is, is still ongoing, but he's been doing well. We've got close tabs on him, and he knows that.
"He knows he's made some mistakes and has to prove what kind of person he is."
Most football fans would roll their eyes and accuse the coach of sacrificing deserved discipline to avoid losing college football's most productive rusher—most of the time they would probably be correct in their assumptions. We've seen college football coaches routinely look the other way or suspend a player in a meaningless game for a player's bad behavior.
But Rodriguez might get a hall pass here. Remember, this is the same man who said Michigan didn't give him a fair shake.
"Of course I'm biased, but I don’t think we got the chance to finish the job," Rodriguez told me. "But somebody up there may tell you something differently."
Rodriguez wants to give players the benefit of doubt partly because he knows all too well how criticisms from the court of opinion—some deserved, some not—can be premature or devoid of all the facts. While Carey's alleged off-the-field incidents have hurt his reputation, we won't know for awhile what punishment, if any, the courts hand down to him.
In the meantime, Rodriguez is coaching a very dangerous team this season.
The Wildcats return all 11 starters on the defense but must find a replacement quarterback for Matt Scott, who is off to the NFL.
According to the Star, former USC quarterback Jesse Scroggins, who signed with Arizona this year after spending a year at El Camino College in Southern California, is not 100 percent. Scroggins had some surgery on his foot in the offseason and will "participate in some non-contact drills and will attend meetings, but that's it."
Rodriguez managed to get off a shot—whether it was intentional or not is up for debate—at USC when he said that Scroggins' foot "probably needed to get fixed earlier in his career." In his inaugural year in the Pac-12, Rodriguez is 1-0 against USC so he probably won't even hear retaliation from the Cardinal and Gold until October 10, when Arizona plays at USC.
Until then, Arizona will be ringing in the 2013 football season with a lot of fire and brimstone as the start of spring practice starts this Saturday. Smart money says most of the noise will only be coming from the coaching staff.
The players won't be saying a word.
Just shut up and work.