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Commentary: Livengood can learn from ASU's

Branden Lombardi
staff writer
By Branden Lombardi
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday September 22, 2003

Three years ago, Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood and his counterpart at Arizona State, Gene Smith, found themselves in the same, unenviable position being without a head football coach.

Both athletic directors realized they needed to bring in a coach that would breathe life into programs that had enjoyed success in the past, but that recently were mired in mediocrity.

However, that is where the similarities in the situations at the two schools stop, as ASU and the UA went in decidedly different directions to fill their head coaching vacancies.

ASU decided to take a chance on a young coach with a limited amount of head coaching experience when they brought in Boise State head coach Dirk Koetter as the 21st head coach in the history of the program.

Koetter, unknown to many, had enjoyed his own share of success in the three years he spent as head coach at Boise State, compiling a 26-10 record while being named Big West Conference coach of the year twice.

Although Koetter was viewed as young and inexperienced compared to several of the coaching candidates available for the job, his success and youthful energy outweighed any negatives that his limited experience might bring.

Jim Livengood had a slightly different criterion in mind when hiring a new coach to lead the Wildcat football program. Livengood wanted a coach that would bring offensive prowess something that was missing from the Dick Tomey-led Wildcats of the past few years and ultimately led to his firing.

Tomey's offense was seen as archaic, as many believed that the quarterback draw was not the way for the Wildcats to succeed in the pass-happy Pacific 10 Conference of the 21st century.

Days later, Livengood believed he had found a coach that embodied those qualities as he named ESPN analyst and former coach John Mackovic the 26th head coach of Arizona football. Mackovic, unlike Koetter, came to the UA with plenty of experience as a college head coach, with previous coaching stops at Illinois, Texas and Wake Forest.

At each of these schools, Mackovic built his reputation as an offensive genius, but more importantly as a winner.

Mackovic was rewarded for his ability to rebuild a program as he was named coach of the year three times in three different conferences the Atlantic Coast Conference while at Wake Forest, the Big Ten while at Illinois and the Big XII while at Texas.

Once hired, Mackovic said his number one goal as coach at the UA was to do something no other Wildcat coach had been able to do go to the Rose Bowl.

As the college football community finds itself one-third of the way through the 2003 campaign, those two programs and those two coaches find themselves headed in opposite directions.

The question is, while Mackovic has been a successful coach in the past, has his time finally passed him by?

Koetter and the Sun Devils suffered through a 2001 campaign in which they finished 4-7. Last season, however, Koetter was able to get his players to believe in his philosophy, as ASU turned into an offensive juggernaut. Its defense followed suit, beginning to strike fear in opponents all over the country as the team finished 8-6, earning itself a berth in the Holiday Bowl.

Mackovic, on the other hand, has coached the Wildcats to two consecutive losing seasons while posting records of 5-6 in 2001 and 4-8 last year, which included going 1-7 over their last eight games and a player revolt that put the national spotlight on Mackovic's coaching ability.

The question is, while Mackovic has been a successful coach in the past, has time finally passed him by?

Koetter has gone out and brought in strong recruiting classes that feature players making immediate impacts on the ASU program.

Mackovic, while still able to bring in a few top recruits, has not seen any of his players step up and become impact players for the Wildcats. Some of his recruits have not even stepped foot on the field at Arizona Stadium, including this past year's top recruit, Marcus Thomas.

Thomas the top recruit in the state picked the UA over ASU but was declared academically ineligible and may not ever play for the Wildcats.

Mackovic, highly touted as an offensive genius, has struggled this year without Jason Johnson, Bobby Wade and Andrae Thurman, all players recruited by Dick Tomey.

While Koetter seems to be in touch with his players and recruits, it is questionable as to whether Mackovic is able to relate to today's players.

Last year's player revolt highlighted the poor communication taking place between Mackovic and his players, something that hasn't been seen in Tempe. This week, sophomore quarterback Nic Costa questioned his lack of playing time to the media, stating he was unsure as to why he was benched.

While many of Mackovic's players are young, he has not been able to get them to produce, as evidenced by the fact that the UA has been outscored 159-30 over the past three games.

One would think that Mackovic would be fed up with these poor performances and that a bit of an outburst would not only be appropriate, but necessary.

However, that just wasn't the case, as Mackovic tried to keep a positive attitude in his post-game comments.

"We have a lot of young players, and they're learning," he said. "We're looking at what improvement we can make. If we continue to make that improvement, then that's an important part of the season."

On the other hand, following his team's poor performance in a 21-2 loss on the road to Iowa, Koetter did what successful coaches do: They take the blame.

"We stunk. Our offense stunk, and that starts with me," Koetter said.

While it is definitely hard to admit, it seems that for once, the Sun Devils got it right.

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Commentary: Livengood can learn from ASU's


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