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Team remains divided

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RANDY METCALF/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Leading up to his 3:30 p.m. press conference yesterday, many speculated that John Mackovic would resign as head coach of the Arizona football team after his players complained to Pete Likins.
By Charles Renning
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday November 14, 2002

Mackovic's apology leaves UA players demanding change, but unsure if it will happen

Just hours after head coach John Mackovic held a press conference to personally apologize for his conduct toward his players, reactions were mixed from the team as it left practice last night.

Mackovic's public apology to his players came the day after more than 40 members of the team met with President Pete Likins to air their complaints about the coach.

Senior linebacker Lance Briggs said he was a main supporter of the meeting with the university's highest authority.

"As soon as I heard (players were going to talk to Likins), I said ╬Lets go,'" Briggs said. "I was one of the first guys to speak."

Not everyone on the team was aware of the meeting with Likins, however.

Freshman quarterback Ryan O'Hara said he did not hear about the meeting until reading about it this morning in the local press.

"It made me pretty mad because I never really saw it coming," O'Hara said. "It hurts me, but at the same time I can understand what's going on."

Before practice yesterday, the players held a closed meeting and everyone who wanted to speak was given an opportunity. Multiple sources said at least half of the players on the team had something to say, most of those upperclassmen.

Much of the discussion centered on Mackovic's conduct.

One of the most recent incidents came after Saturday's 37-7 loss to UCLA, when Mackovic reportedly told junior tight end Justin Levasseur that he was a disgrace to his family.

"He said something about my family that I didn't appreciate. He apologized for it," Levasseur said. "A little late, but he did apologize."

Some of the players were not so sure that Mackovic's pledge to change his behavior would be successful.

"At 59 years old, you don't change too much," Briggs said.

"I don't know if he can change, but I hope he can," said Levasseur. "I've got one year left. I'm a Wildcat, and I love to play football."

Mackovic has been criticized in the past for appearing less approachable than former Arizona coach Dick Tomey, something that may have prompted the meeting with Likins.

"I appreciate coach (Mackovic) coming in and apologizing and (the players) getting a chance to talk to him the way we haven't been able to talk to him since he's been here," Briggs said.

However, that was not a feeling that Mackovic agrees with.

"I think if any group of players had come to me and said ╬We have a problem, we need to talk to you,' I would have given them every bit as much attention as I did today," said Mackovic during his press conference yesterday.

"(Some players) perceive (Mackovic) as not a personable guy," O'Hara said. "But I think he's a real personable guy and I like the way he treats me."

Other players, like senior quarterback Jason Johnson, had a different opinion of the recent talks among the team.

"When teams start to lose, they look for someone to blame, and it easily falls on the coach," Johnson said. "Today was a good day for everyone to talk about things. We are going to work together to make things right."

Mackovic said he apologized to the entire team and regretted the controversy surrounding the incidents.

Players' opinions on whether or not Mackovic should remain head coach were mixed as well. When asked if he was hoping for a coaching change next season, Briggs said that was the whole reason for the meeting with Likins.

"My future is not here, but I want the younger guys to have a great football experience," Briggs said.

But one of the young players in question felt differently than the senior linebacker.

"I'm going to stay behind my coaches. I trust in my coaches ¸ that's why I came here," O'Hara said. "I think that's how you can have a great team, if you are behind your coaches."

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