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Wednesday February 28, 2001

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Akina spurns Cats for smaller role at Texas

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By Maxx Wolfson

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Longtime coach gone: Is trademark defense next?

Duane Akina, a key figure from the Dick Tomey era, left the UA program late Monday to coach defensive backs at Texas.

The coach, who was contacted about the job Friday, spent the weekend in Austin, Texas, meeting with Longhorns officials and chose to leave the UA program after talks with UA head coach John Mackovic Monday night.

"It's really difficult for me to do," Akina said yesterday from his Tucson home. "There is a lot of me that is in (the UA) program."

Akina, who joined Tomey's staff in 1987, was named the Wildcats' defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach shortly after Arizona hired head coach John Mackovic.

Mackovic offered the job to former defensive coordinator Rich Ellerson, who opted instead to become the head coach at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo.

Mackovic, who replaced all but four coaches from the 2000 season, kept Akina on staff for his knowledge of the double-flex eagle defense.

The unique defensive scheme, which relies heavily on line-of-scrimmage shifting, was Arizona's defensive trademark for the past decade.

Freshman safety Clay Hardt, who said he heard of Akina's departure on the radio while driving to school yesterday, was unsure as to whether the Wildcats will keep their defensive ideology intact.

"Nobody knows how to run it," Hardt said. "It was going to be cool going into the season knowing the defense and now I'm like, 'if we change defenses, I'm not going to know it.' I'm just tripped out over the whole thing."

Akina, who said he was denied an opportunity by Mackovic to speak with his players prior to leaving, said he had job offers in December from other teams but balked at the opportunities, choosing to stay in Tucson.

"Before they hired Mackovic, I had a couple different things on the table," he said. "It just wasn't the fit that I wanted because of the guys that I was coaching. The defensive backs were a huge part for me."

Hardt, in his second year as a college student, said that many people don't understand the temporary nature of coaching.

"It's a business," he said. "You don't see it right away. That is why you attend a school for the team, not the coaches."

Sophomore cornerback David Laudermilk, who heard of Akina's departure while working out with other UA players yesterday morning, said he has no hard feelings towards the coach.

"I don't feel betrayed at all," he said. "I'm not mad. I always considered him one of the better coaches left from the Tomey era and was really happy when he was originally staying. It was a total shock to me to find out he was leaving."

The position at UT became available after Everett Withers left the Longhorns program a week ago for a similar position with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL.

Akina, who said he knew that leaving close to spring practices was poor timing, felt the Texas offer was too good to refuse.

"This is one of the jobs that I have always wanted to work at," Akina said. "I felt comfortable with the people that were down there."

Mackovic said he has already contacted one possible candidate about the vacancy and wouldn't speculate on whether UA would keep its trademark defense.

"I hired (Akina) - who was out of work - to have him coach a specific style of defense," Mackovic said. "When I was looking to hire a coach, I had a number of talented coaches and now they're all gone."

Should Mackovic want to keep the flex defense, one logical candidate for the job would be New York Giants special teams coach Larry MacDuff.

MacDuff served as defensive coordinator for the Wildcats from 1987-97 and was considered by some to be a candidate for the head coaching job at UA this December.

Akina said he hopes that his departure won't signal the end of the flex defense at Arizona.

"There are only a couple of guys who know this (defense)," Akina said. "(Current UA defensive line coach) Marty Long is one of them and myself and Ellerson (are the others). I was telling them when I left (that) there is one guy who be a perfect fit."

Akina would not disclose who he was talking about, but said he had talked with Mackovic about finding a possible replacement.

Hardt, who said he didn't believe rumors that Akina would head to Texas Monday, is upset that just finally got to know the coach, who had a reputation for being hard to understand on the field.

"I knew how he functioned," Hardt said. "At first, he's hard to deal with because you don't know if he hates you or loves you. He's the kind of guy who doesn't ask you to play hard but demands it. Now he's gone."

Akina had a previous stint as the Wildcats' offensive coordinator from 1991-1994, but had spent the previous five seasons as UA's secondary coach.

The UT job is not the first job that the coach had been interviewed for during his 14-year tenure at Arizona.

Akina said he was interviewed for a job with the NFL's Cleveland Browns in 1994. More recently, the coach said he interviewed for the head coaching job at Hawaii. The job eventually went to June Jones, who spurned an offer from the San Diego Chargers to return to the college ranks.

Mackovic, who coached at Texas from 1991-96, said he didn't dissuade Akina from talking with his former employers.

The head coach said yesterday that special teams coordinator Steve Bernstein will likely take over as the team's defensive backs coach while the search for a new defensive coordinator continues.