By Brett Fera
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
Not much the same for Wildcat football one year after coach's firing
Mike Stoops isn't John Mackovic. It may be true that for the second straight season - the first under Mackovic last fall, the second right now under Stoops - the Wildcats are 1-3, desperately trying to pick up that seemingly impossible second win.
It's true that for the second consecutive year, Arizona was sent back to the drawing board after a heartbreaking third loss in row, both games the Wildcats had all but won, only to see a .500 record disappear as quickly as the games' attendance has shrunk.
But is it true that things truly are the same for the Wildcats, even with defensive guru Stoops at the helm?
Don't bet on it.
It's been one year to the day since UA athletics director Jim Livengood announced the firing of embattled football coach John Mackovic, and players agree the team couldn't look much different - and no, it has nothing to do with new blue helmets.
"The attitude's different. Nobody here's quit," said senior offensive lineman Brandon Phillips.
Phillips should know a thing or two about adjusting to new coaches. He's playing in his sixth season at the UA after receiving a medical redshirt from the NCAA last season. Stoops is the third head coach Phillips has played for, depending on how the total is determined.
"Three or four, depends on what you count," said Phillips, who was recruited by Dick Tomey before playing for Mackovic and Stoops.
Philips never played for interim head coach Mike Hankwitz last season, because he was nursing an injury that happened while Mackovic was still in charge.
But to Phillips and UA junior defensive back and co-captain Darrell Brooks, the events of last year are nothing but a distant memory.
"I don't think about last year at all," Brooks said, adding how happy he is with Stoops and his staff. "Now we have a high energy coaching staff and we can go out there knowing we can hang with anybody we play against. We don't feel there's anybody out there we can't play against."
Brooks said the confidence surrounding the team since Stoops arrived is high, even though he wouldn't go as far as saying last year's team thought any different.
"I really can't tell you that," he said. "All I can say is that the guys here right now know what it takes."
To Phillips, the change is more obvious.
"It's a night and day difference," he said.
Phillips said none of his teammates are satisfied with where the team is at, but that, if nothing else, the Wildcats' recent stint of close losses proves they are capable of winning any given week.
"It's tough because 1-3, as I said, is 1-3," Phillips said, "but really we're about six plays from being 4-0."
"I think Coach Stoops has got the players and everybody else around him to buy into what he's doing," Phillips added. "Just the attitude of the team. That's the biggest difference - the attitude and the willingness to listen."
As for Mackovic and Hankwitz, their departures couldn't have been more different - Hankwitz with plenty of respect, Phillips said, for admirably making the best of a bad situation as interim head coach, and Mackovic rather unceremoniously.
Hankwitz has since returned to his Big XII roots, as defensive coordinator at Colorado, while Mackovic will be back in homes around the nation as early as this week, when he steps into the studio to assist with on-air coverage of TBS network's college football programming. The network announced Mackovic's appearance Saturday during one of its telecasts.
Back in the Old Pueblo the focus has already turned to UCLA, the Wildcats' opponent in two weeks, after this weekend's bye.
"We're going to come out and play even harder against UCLA than we did these last games," Phillips said, adding that it's still disappointing to have just one win.
"It's hard. We're all so passionate about it," Brooks said. "But we're all having fun out there."