Mackovic Replaces Tomey at Arizona
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ In hiring John Mackovic, Arizona gambled that the competitive fires are still burning in a 57-year-old man who has been away from coaching for three years.
It was a move in stark contrast of the Wildcats’ archrivals at Arizona State, where the Sun Devils opted last weekend for 41-year-old Dirk Koetter, a head coach for just three seasons at Boise State.
Mackovic has coached at three major colleges _ Texas, Illinois and Wake Forest, as well as a four-year stint with the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs.
He was conference coach of the year in all three collegiate jobs.
``No one else offered the impeccable credentials that John offered for the well-being of student-athletes, football knowledge _ not just X’s and O’s, although he certainly knows about that,″ Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood said. ``John has a ton of passion and a burning desire to be back in college football and coaching young people.″
At the news conference Monday to announce his hiring, Mackovic said that as he watched 20 to 30 games a week on the big bank of televisions at ESPN, the urge to get back to coaching grew stronger.
He said he thought the Arizona job was the best opening of the many that were created in the last few weeks. He returns to a program where he was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach a quarter-century ago.
``It’s been a long wait,″ he said, ``but I feel like I’m finally home.″
When he was fired at Texas after a 4-7 season in 1997, Mackovic said he was through with coaching.
``I chose to say I was retired because I was hurt,″ Mackovic said. ``I just didn’t know if I wanted to continue because I felt we had done the things that were asked of us and we had put our program at Texas in not only a competitive but a winning position, but we had an off year.″
Mackovic agreed to a five-year contract. His salary was not disclosed pending approval by the Board of Regents.
Livengood wanted an offensive-minded coach, and Mackovic fills that bill. He said he will call the plays.
``I will be vitally involved with all parts of the program,″ he said, ``but I do expect to be involved on a minute-by-minute basis with the offense.″
After 14 years as coach, Dick Tomey resigned moments after the Wildcats lost to Arizona State 30-17 in the season finale.
Mackovic said replacing Tomey was a bittersweet aspect of his decision. He and Tomey are close friends.
One of Tomey’s main failures was his inability to get Arizona to the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats are the only Pac-10 team never to make it to the Pasadena classic.
``I want us to be the best. That’s why I do things,″ Mackovic said. ``First of all, we have to get to and win the Rose Bowl. This university has not been there. That would be my No. 1 obligation to our team, our university, our fans.″
He also talked about bolstering dwindling fan support.
Mackovic said he wants the home crowd to become ``as ferocious and as fearsome and as loathed by opponents as we can make it. It can be done. It’s been done other places in the Pac-10 that at one time were not known for their home-field advantage.″
He said he turned down another offer recently and was contacted by a third school, but had already accepted the Arizona job.
Mackovic’s record in 13 seasons as a college coach is 85-64-3. He was 30-34 with the Chiefs.
He was offensive coordinator at Purdue in 1977 and was quarterbacks coach for Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys in 1981 and 1982.
Mackovic directed Texas to a 10-2-1 record in 1995 and won the Big 12 championship in 1996, but was fired after the Longhorns went 4-7 in 1997. His overall record at Texas was 41-28-2.
The warm weather was a factor in his decision. He said it also should be a major recruiting advantage.
Mackovic said he won’t be able to devote his full energy to the Arizona job until he completes his obligations to ESPN for the next few weeks. He said he will not rush to hire a staff, but wants to have some assistants in place soon to work on recruiting.
He said he had no problems going to a school where the basketball program of coach Lute Olson overshadows football.
``It overshadows only in the sense that they’ve had such phenomenal success, and they deserve every bit of the recognition,″ he said. ``That Arizona logo with the saguaro cactus sticking out of it, that is better known today than anybody could have dreamed, and that helps every team in recruiting.″