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Mackovic gets midseason ax

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Former Arizona head coach, John Mackovic surveys the field during Saturday's 13-10 loss to TCU. Mackovic was fired yesterday after starting the season 1-4 and compiling a 10-18 record in his two-plus seasons as head coach.
By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, September 29, 2003

Coach fired with 2 years left on contract, 10-18 record at UA

Arizona head football coach John Mackovic was fired yesterday, athletic director Jim Livengood announced at a press conference after speaking with President Peter Likins and holding separate meetings with Wildcat players and Mackovic.

Mackovic led the UA program to an overall mark of 10-18, failing to take the Wildcats to a bowl game or produce a winning record in his 2 1/2 seasons at the helm. Arizona won just three of 17 Pacific 10 conference games during that span.

"John Mackovic is a good man and a good football coach, but, for whatever reason, has not been a good fit for the University of Arizona football program," Livengood said.

Wildcat defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz, a 33-year coaching veteran in his first year at the UA after spending the previous six at Texas A&M, will replace Mackovic on an interim basis, according to Livengood.

Mackovic, who replaced longtime head coach Dick Tomey following the 2000 season, was in the third year of a five-year, $4 million contract. The buyout of the remainder of Mackovic's contract will give him $909,000.

Audio from the press conference:
  • Livengood's announcement [MP3 - 3 mins - Download | Stream]
  • Entire press conference [MP3 - 18 mins - Download | Stream]

    Audio provided by KAMP Student Radio
  • The coach was seen leaving his office on the south side of McKale Center minutes before the press conference was scheduled to start.

    Mackovic's exit came just hours after the program's fourth straight defeat, a 13-10 overtime loss at the hands of Texas Christian University that sent the team's record to 1-4 on the season.

    "It's my responsibility to provide the best collegiate experience possible for each of our almost 500 student athletes," Livengood said. "It's not and it never will be totally about winning. It is about the experience."

    CHRYSTAL McCONNELL/Arizona Daily Wildcat
    Former Arizona head football coach John Mackovic addresses questions during a press conference Saturday after the Wildcats' 13-10 overtime loss to TCU.

    After outlasting a near-mutiny last November, in which players complained to Likins about the way Mackovic was treating them, the third-year head coach's tumultuous stint in Tucson was no easier of late. The Wildcats were outscored by a punishing margin of 166-30 during a three-game stretch earlier this season.

    "I made a decision two and a half years ago that I truly believed, at that time, was in the best interest of our program," Livengood said. "It has proved not to be. That's in hindsight, but sometimes hindsight does have 20/20 vision."

    Fan unrest became common in recent weeks, as fans seated in the Zona Zoo student section of Arizona Stadium could be heard chanting "Fire Mackovic" as early as the opening kickoff.

    On Sept. 8, a UA fan launched the Web site, where he demanded that the UA terminate the head coach and refund UA football ticket purchases this season. As of yesterday's announcement, the site had registered approximately 24,000 hits in just over two weeks.

    Livengood said he talked with Wildcat players yesterday morning prior to his meeting with Mackovic, in which the embattled coach learned of his fate.

    On top of the team's troubles between the sidelines, the young Wildcat squad was also forced to endure off-field scrutiny, especially after news surfaced that Mackovic locked nearly 20 players out of a team meal Friday night for violating a team rule.

    Despite the events of the past week, Livengood said a number of factors played a role in his decision.

    "I've thought about this for a long time, in trying to look in the mirror and think about what is the best interest of our football program and our players," Livengood said. "The decision (yesterday) morning was pretty evident to me."

    After consulting with Likins yesterday morning, Livengood ultimately came to the decision to relieve Mackovic of his coaching duties.

    "Jim and I have discussed our options on a continuous basis," Likins said. "He has gone through a process of trying to determine what is in the best interest of the students. He took the initiative to meet with the team today and came to the conclusion that this was the best thing to do for them."

    After Saturday's nail-biter loss, Arizona senior safety Clay Hardt said he hopes the recent media circus surrounding the team will come to an end soon. Hardt also said, despite the loss, the team made great strides against TCU.

    "This is the first time all year we have played like a team for the whole game," Hardt said.

    Junior tight end Steve Fleming, who scored the Wildcats' only touchdown during what would be Mackovic's final game at the UA on Saturday, said the team needs to put the past behind it and look ahead to next week's game at Washington State.

    "(The loss to TCU) was a real spark of confidence," said Fleming following Livengood's announcement that the players still didn't officially know whether or not Mackovic remained the team's head coach. "Any more turmoil we have to go through is just going to help us come together more as a team."

    Livengood said he will launch an extensive national search to find a permanent replacement.

    The Associated Press contributed to this report

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