Arizona Wildcats football

The Arizona Wildcats football program represents the University of Arizona (UA) in the sport of American college football. Arizona competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and the South Division of the Pac-12 Conference (Pac-12). They play their home games at Arizona Stadium, which opened in 1929 on the university's campus in Tucson, Arizona, and has a capacity of 50,782. The team is coached by Jedd Fisch.

Arizona Wildcats football
2023 Arizona Wildcats football team
First season1899
Athletic directorDave Heeke
Head coachJedd Fisch
3rd season, 15–21 (.417)
StadiumArizona Stadium
(capacity: 50,782)
Year built1929
Field surfaceFieldTurf
LocationTucson, Arizona
NCAA divisionDivision I FBS
DivisionSouth (2011–2021)
Past conferencesIndependent (1899–1930)
Border (1931–1961)
WAC (1962–1977)
All-time record629–499–33 (.556)
Bowl record9–11–1 (.452)
Conference titles6 (1933, 1934, 1941, 1964, 1973, 1993)
Division titles1 (2014)
RivalriesArizona State (rivalry)
New Mexico (rivalry)
Texas Tech (rivalry)
Consensus All-Americans16[1]
ColorsCardinal and navy[2]
Fight songBear Down, Arizona
MascotWilbur and Wilma the Wildcat
Marching bandThe Pride of Arizona

Arizona's inaugural season was in 1899. The school first played as an independent before joining a conference in 1931, when they became a member of the now-defunct Border Conference. They, alongside rival Arizona State (ASU), would became part of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC) in 1962. In 1978, both Arizona and ASU joined the Pac-12 Conference (then known as the Pac-10). They would be placed in the Pac-12 South Division when the conference realigned in 2011. Divisions within the Pac-12 were removed starting in the 2022 season, with the teams with the two best records in the conference making the conference title game.[3]

On August 4, 2023, Arizona announced it would join the Big 12 Conference beginning in the 2024–25 academic year.[4]

The Wildcats have won at least a share of six conference championships, as well as a Pac-12 South division title in 2014, and made 21 bowl appearances, one of which are among the “New Year's Six” bowls.

History edit

Arizona has had a long football history since it first played in 1899. Although the football program has been mostly playing in the shadow of the Wildcats’ elite basketball program in terms of winning and recruiting which has been leading to many mediocre and losing seasons,[5] it has, however, had successful winning seasons sporadically over the years, primarily during the early part of the 1990s when it had a dominant defense that was known to fans as the “Desert Swarm”.[6]

1899–1950s (Early history) edit

Coach Skinner

The varsity football program at the University of Arizona began in 1899, though the Wildcats nickname was not adopted until later.[7][8] Stuart Forbes became the first head coach of Arizona football history and the team compiled a 1–1–1 record.[9] From 1900 to 1901, William W. Skinner served as head football coach at the University of Arizona.[10] While there, he also studied geology. He guided Arizona to 3–1 and 4–1 records, respectively.[10] On November 7, 1914, the team traveled to the west coast to play Occidental, then one of the reigning gridiron powers in California. Occidental won 14–0. Arizona later received the name "Wildcats" after a Los Angeles Times correspondent, Bill Henry, wrote that "The Arizona men showed the fight of wildcats".[citation needed]

Pop McKale was a very successful high school coach in the Tucson area when he was hired at UA.[11] In 1921, Drop-kicker/receiver Harold "Nosey" McClellan led the nation in scoring with 124 points. Wildcats finished the regular season 7–1, and were invited to UA's first bowl game, the East-West Christmas Classic in San Diego, to play powerhouse Centre College of Kentucky; Arizona lost the game 38–0. The Wildcats did not compete in football in 1918 due to World War I. On October 18, 1926, UA quarterback and student body president John "Button" Salmon died from injuries sustained in a car wreck. His final words, spoken to coach "Pop" McKale, were: "Tell them.....tell the team to Bear Down."[12] Soon thereafter, the UA student body adopted "Bear Down" as the school's athletic motto.

On October 18, 1929, Arizona opened up Arizona Stadium for college football play. They won their first game against Caltech with a shutout score of 25–0. McKale retired after sixteen seasons at Arizona. The McKale Center, the Wildcats’ home basketball venue, was opened in 1973 and named in McKale's honor.[11] In 1931, Arizona joined the Border Conference and Fred Enke replaced McKale as coach and in one season as the head coach, he posted a record of 3–5–1[13] before getting demoted to assistant coach. Gus Farwick served as the head football coach at Arizona in 1932, compiling a record of 4–5[14] before his resignation. Tex Oliver coached the Arizona Wildcats to a 32–11–4 record in five seasons.[15] During that stretch, his teams never had a losing season.[15] Oliver's "Blue Brigade" played an expanded, more nationwide schedule, and Arizona produced their first All-Americans under Oliver. The team's 1938 record of 8–2 was a school best to date.[15] Oliver resigned after the 1937 season to accept the head football coach position at Oregon.[16] Orian Landreth replaced Oliver and struggled in his one season as head coach, compiling a 3–6 record[17] before he was fired. That season was the first losing season for the Wildcats in several years.

Mike Casteel came to Arizona from his post as an assistant coach at Michigan State. In his eight seasons (Arizona did not field football teams in 1943 or 1944 due to World War II), Casteel compiled a 46–26–3 record and led the Wildcats to the first bowl berth in three decades in his final season, a loss in the 1949 Salad Bowl to Drake.[18] Bob Winslow served as Arizona's head football coach for three seasons, posting a record of 12–18–1, with the team improving every year under his tutelage, going 2–7–1, 4–6 and 6–5 in Winslow's three years.[19] Winslow resigned after three seasons.

In 1954, under coach Warren Woodson, who came to Arizona from Hardin–Simmons, the Wildcats were led by starting halfback Art Luppino. He went on to lead the nation in rushing, scoring, all-purpose running, and kickoff returns.[20] Luppino became the first player in NCAA history to lead the nation in rushing twice.[20] He also tied for the national title in all-purpose running and was third in scoring.[20] Woodson was replaced after five seasons and a 26–22–2 record[21] and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1989. Ed Doherty came to Arizona from his post as an assistant coach for the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles.[22] In two seasons, Doherty compiled a record of 4–15–1[23] before getting fired. Doherty is the only person to serve as head football coach at both Arizona and archrival Arizona State.[24] Jim LaRue, formerly running backs coach at Houston, was hired to take over the program as head coach after Doherty's firing. LaRue's 1961 team finished 8–1–1 and finished the season ranked No. 17 in the final AP Poll.[25]

1960s–1977 (The WAC era) edit

In 1962, Arizona (and rival Arizona State) left the Border Conference and joined the Western Athletic Conference, and LaRue posted records of 5–5, 5–5, 6–3–1, 3–7 and 3–7 before being was fired due to poor results as well as pressure from fans and alumni.[25][26]

Coach Mudra

Darrell Mudra came to Arizona from North Dakota State in 1967 to lead the team after LaRue’s dismissal.[27] His first team posted a record of 3–6–1 but in his second year, Mudra's Wildcats posted a record of 8–3, capped with a loss to Auburn in the Sun Bowl, only the Wildcats third bowl appearance in school history and first since 1949.[28] Mudra left Arizona after two seasons to accept the head football coach position at Western Illinois.[29] His final record is 11–9–1.[27] Mudra was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2000.[27] In 1969, Bob Weber was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach following Mudra's departure.[30] Under Weber, the Wildcats were 16–26, with their best season being a 5–6 1971 season.[31] Weber failed to post a winning season as Arizona's head coach and was fired after four seasons.

In 1973, Jim Young, formerly defensive coordinator at Michigan, was hired to turn around the downtrodden Wildcats football program.[32] Improvement came immediately, as Young's team surprised the nation with an 8–3 record in his first season and shared the WAC title with Arizona State, Unfortunately, the Wildcats did not go to a bowl game due to losing the head-to-head rivalry game to ASU that season (at the time, only the outright conference winner earned a bowl since there were fewer bowl games available, unless a team from the same conference appears in a major bowl).[33] Young's Wildcats went on to post records of 9–2 in 1974 and 1975, the latter ending with a No. 13 and No. 18 ranking in the Coaches and AP polls, respectively (like in 1973, both seasons ended in no bowl appearances for the Wildcats due to them finishing second in the WAC).[33] In a rebuilding year, Young's team posted a 5–6 record in 1976 to cap Young's mark of 31–13 in four seasons.[33] Young departed Arizona after the 1976 season to accept the head football coach position at Purdue.[34] He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 1999.[35]

By 1977, Arizona hired Tony Mason from Cincinnati to replace Young.[36] Under Mason, the Wildcats went 5–7, 5–6 and 6–5–1 for a combined record of 16–18–1.[37] The 1977 season was the last for Arizona as a member of the WAC.

1978–1980s (The early Pac-10 years) edit

Before the 1978 season, both Arizona schools accepted an invitation to join the Pacific 8 Conference (which became the Pac-10).[38] After a mediocre inaugural Pac-10 season, the Wildcats would rebound in 1979, and played in the Fiesta Bowl, ultimately losing to Pittsburgh.[37] Mason was let go as head coach after the season due to an alleged slush fund scandal involving him and the program during his tenure.[39]

Prior to the start of the 1980 season, Arizona hired Tulane coach Larry Smith, to replace Mason.[40] His first season was Arizona's third in the Pac-10. Smith put great emphasis on in-state recruiting, built up the rivalry with ASU, and focused the team on what he called "running and hitting". His first team went 5–6, including a 44–7 blowout loss to ASU; it would be his only losing season at Arizona. The highlight of the season was a 23–17 upset of second-ranked UCLA (the Bruins were poised to become No. 1 as top ranked Alabama had lost earlier in the day).[41] The team improved to 6–5 during his second season, highlighted by a major 13–10 upset of #1 USC on the road. It was Arizona’s first victory over a top-ranked team in program history.[42]

In 1982, the Wildcats improved and finished with a record of 6–4–1, which included upset victories over Notre Dame and rival ASU (with the latter being knocked out of the Rose Bowl as a result). However, Arizona was ineligible for a bowl game due to self-imposing a postseason ban prior to the start of the season as a result of the scandal under Mason’s watch. The NCAA would eventually punish the Wildcats by placing them on probation and barred them from bowl eligibility in the 1983–84 seasons.[43]

Despite the NCAA sanctions, Arizona continued to become competitive in the Pac-10 under Smith’s leadership, and began to dominate Arizona State, and by 1985, their bowl ban was lifted. They played in the Sun Bowl, where a tie with Georgia gave the Wildcats an 8–3–1 record. In 1986, they defeated ASU yet again and defeated North Carolina in the Aloha Bowl for their very first bowl victory and finished with a 9–3.[41] Seven Arizona players earned All-America honors during his tenure, including two-time consensus All-American linebacker Ricky Hunley and All-Americans linebacker Lamonte Hunley (Ricky's younger brother), Morris Trophy-winning center Joe Tofflemire, safety Allan Durden, placekicker Max Zendejas (who is known for kicking game-winning field goals against Arizona State in 1983 and 1985), linebacker Byron Evans, and safety Chuck Cecil (who is known for returning an interception for a touchdown in the win against ASU in 1986). Over twenty of Smith's Wildcats players went on to play professionally.[41] Smith departed after the season to accept the head football coach position at conference foe USC.[44] Smith ended has Arizona tenure with a 48–28–3 record. He died in 2008 and was voted as the second-best Wildcat football coach only behind his successor, Dick Tomey.

1990s–2000 (Tomey and the “Desert Swarm”) edit

Coach Tomey circa 1973

In 1987, Tomey arrived in Arizona from Hawaii to replace Smith.[45] During his 14-season tenure with Arizona, he coached five future NFL first-round draft choices, 20 All-Americans, and 43 Pac-10 first team players.

His best teams were in the 1990s, highlighted by a tenacious defense nicknamed the "Desert Swarm." He led Arizona to at least ten wins in 1993 and 1998. Tomey resigned after the 2000 season.[46]

In Tomey’s first year, the Wildcats seemed to miss Smith’s presence and had to rebuild, leading to a season where they had three ties. However, Arizona would improve from 1988–90 as they started to win under Tomey, and won against North Carolina State in the Copper Bowl in 1989 (which was played at Arizona Stadium, the first time that the Wildcats played a bowl game on their home field). In 1990, the Wildcats would lose to Syracuse in the Aloha Bowl.

After missing the postseason in 1991, Arizona entered the 1992 season with Tomey on the hot seat due to the team’s poor record during the previous year. However, the so-called "Desert Swarm" defense began to dominate and was characterized by tough, hard-nosed tactics. Arizona led the nation in scoring defense and nose guard Rob Waldrop was a consensus All-American. The season included an upset victory over top-ranked Washington, which fans called the biggest Arizona win in the decade and the turning point for the program at the time.[47] It was also Arizona’s second win over a #1 team. The Desert Swarm would ultimately lead Arizona to a winning record. However, Arizona’s offense seemed to be overshadowed by the dominant performance by the “Swarm” and it led to them scoring fewer points, and lost to Baylor in the Sun Bowl (then known at the time as the John Hancock Bowl). Tomey was awarded the Pac-10 coach of the year for the team’s efforts.

In 1993, the Swarm continued its dominance and it led to Arizona winning nine games in a season for the first time since 1975, and won a share of the Pac-10 title with UCLA and USC. However, the Wildcats split the two games against the two during the season, winning against the Trojans and losing to the Bruins, and it prevented Arizona from earning a trip to the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats would be invited to the 1994 Fiesta Bowl and the Desert Swarm led the way to a victory over Miami by a score of 29–0. It was the bowl game's first shutout in its history. Arizona ended the year with a 10–2 record, which was the first time in school history that the Wildcats won at least ten games or more in a season. The dominant Swarm, led by Waldrop and linebacker and future Super Bowl champion Tedy Bruschi, led the nation in total defense and rushing yards allowed. Waldrop would be named the Pac-10 defensive player of the year.

Arizona entered the 1994 season ranked sixth and were top contenders for the Rose Bowl and a possible national championship. Despite the continuation of the Desert Swarm’s dominance, Arizona’s offense, however was below-average at times and it led to Arizona dropping out of the Rose Bowl picture. The season ended with an 8–4 record and a loss to Utah in the Freedom Bowl.

After mediocre seasons from 1995-96, despite Bruschi winning the 1995 Pac-10 defensive player of the year award, Arizona ended the 1997 season with a win over old rival New Mexico in the Insight Bowl in only their second bowl game played at home.

By 1998, Arizona’s offense began to improve and started to dominate in the Pac-10, with fans nicknaming it the “Desert Storm” due to their performance and as a pun on the Desert Swarm name.[48] It led the team to a near-perfect record of 11–1, with the Wildcats being defeated by UCLA midway through the season that denied an outright Pac-10 title and Rose Bowl berth. A major highlight occurred earlier in the season when Arizona scored a memorable touchdown in the closing seconds against Washington, which led to a road victory. They would play in the Holiday Bowl and defeated Nebraska to end the year with 12 wins, eclipsing the 1993 record.[49] Arizona ended the season ranked fourth nationally in both the coaches and AP polls.

In 1999, the Wildcats were Rose Bowl and possible national title contenders. However in the season opener, they were humiliated by traditional powerhouse Penn State and never recovered after that. By the 2000 season, Arizona’s offense became inconsistent and suffered a rivalry loss to Arizona State.[50] Tomey resigned under pressure after the season and it was mostly due to team’s inability to accomplish their goal of making it to the Rose Bowl.[51] He finished his tenure with a record of 95–64–4, with the 95 victories being the most by an Arizona coach. The Wildcats would decline in wins and went on a bowl game drought over the next several years, as well as consistently becoming overshadowed by Arizona’s basketball team. Tomey would become rated as the best coach in Wildcat football history and he died in 2019, eleven years after his predecessor, Larry Smith.

2000s (Decline and rebuild) edit

After the 2000 season, former Illinois and Texas head coach John Mackovic was hired to replace Tomey for the 2001 season.[52] Mackovic was a college football analyst at ESPN at the time of his hiring.

Mackovic's tenure became a disaster, as he alienated his players and failed to post a winning record in two and a half seasons in Tucson.[53][54] Also, he finished with a 10–18 record and never had a winning season or went to a bowl game.[55] In his first season, which was affected by the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Wildcats narrowly missed a bowl game.

Midway through the 2002 season, Mackovic told one of his players that he was a disgrace to his family due to his poor performance (the player would later be arrested possessing 87 pounds of marijuana).[56][57] He also told another player to quit therapy or he would be kicked off the team. This and other incidents led 40 players (including future Pro Bowler Lance Briggs) to hold a secret meeting with school president Peter Likins. The players complained about Mackovic's constant verbal abuse, such as ugly tirades after losses. Mackovic offered a public apology to his players, the university, and fans.[58][59]

In 2003, however, whatever goodwill that he'd managed to restore quickly evaporated. Many players had lost their love for the game due to Mackovic's brusque manner and fans chanted “Fire Mackovic” during games. Five games into the season, Mackovic was fired and replaced on an interim basis by defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz for the rest of the season.[60] School officials said they had to act because it was obvious that the Wildcats would not win with Mackovic at the helm.[61] Mackovic was known as the worst Arizona coach in history (his predecessor, Dick Tomey, was the best). Arizona also had poor recruiting during Mackovic’s tenure that led to bad results, and were embarrassed by their opponents in most of their losses. The 2003 season was the worst in program history with a record of 2–10, with the ten losses being a school record at the time. Wildcat fans and nearly all of Tucson had seen enough of Mackovic and shifted their attention to basketball after the season ended.

In 2004, Arizona hired Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, brother of famed Oklahoma head football coach Bob Stoops, to become the Wildcats’ next coach. Stoops was hired to rebuild the team and to clean up the program's mess caused by Mackovic's troubles.[62] Arizona began rebuilding and went 3–8 in Stoops’ first two seasons, which included November upset victories over Arizona State in 2004 and UCLA in 2005.[63] However, due to his record at the time, Stoops’ job was in critical danger and his margin for error was very thin. In 2006, Stoops led the Wildcats to an improved 6–6 record,[63] the first non-losing season for the school since 1999 when the Wildcats also went 6–6.[64] The Wildcats upset California and became bowl-eligible. However, a rivalry loss to Arizona State and a losing conference record prevented them from earning a bowl bid.

Arizona entered the 2007 season with high expectations, but a sputtering offense early in the season and close losses put them at 2–6 and were in danger of missing yet another bowl and Stoops being placed on the hot seat. However, the Wildcats would rebound and go on a winning streak, which included an upset win over then-#2 Oregon. It was the fourth consecutive season that Arizona upset a ranked team at home in the month of November. Unfortunately, the Wildcats would lose to ASU in the season finale yet again with a 5–7 record and missing out on a bowl once more.

By 2008, the Wildcats told Stoops that he needed to make a bowl game or he would lose his job. However, Arizona improved and became bowl-eligible by defeating ASU for the first time since 2004, which saved Stoops’ job. With a 7–5 record, Arizona was invited to a bowl game for the first time since 1998 when Tomey was still the coach, and erased most of the memories of the Mackovic era. The Wildcats ultimately defeated BYU in the Las Vegas Bowl by a score of 31–21.[65]

In 2009, Arizona finished 8–5 for the second straight season.[63] However, the Wildcats would be embarrassed by Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, which was a rematch of the 1998 meeting.[63][66] After the season ended, offensive coordinator Sonny Dykes left the Wildcats to become the head coach at Louisiana Tech (Dykes is currently the coach at TCU).[67] and defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, brother of both Mike and Bob, became the defensive coordinator at Florida State (he is now the head coach at Kentucky).[68] To replace them, Stoops promoted Bill Bedenbaugh and Seth Littrell to co-offensive coordinators, while promoting Tim Kish to be co-defensive coordinators with Greg Brown, who was hired from Colorado.

2010s (The Pac-12 era) edit

Arizona began the 2010 season with a possible shot at a Rose Bowl berth. However, they collapsed late in the season and lost to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl by a score of 37–10.

Before the 2011 season began, the Pac-10 was renamed the Pac-12 after Utah and Colorado joined membership. The Wildcats began the year hoping to rebound and Stoops coaching for his job. After starting off with a win against Northern Arizona in the opener, Arizona would lose to a series of ranked teams and fans became incensed by the team's poor performance and began calling for Stoops to be fired. After the Wildcats continued to lose, Stoops was fired for good in early October, finishing with a 41–50 record in his seven and a half seasons as Arizona coach.[69] Arizona said that Stoops’ firing was a result of “the inability to win more games, below-average recruiting, and being unable to achieve the team’s goal to make a Rose Bowl appearance”, as well as Stoops’ frequently misbehavior towards officials on the sidelines (which was often seen during TV broadcasts of Arizona games). Kish, the team's defensive coordinator, was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season.[70] (Stoops returned to the Sooner program soon thereafter as defensive coordinator; Kish, who had known the Stoops brothers for many years, followed Stoops and joined the Sooner staff as the linebackers coach.)[71] Under Kish, the Wildcats partially rebounded and won three of the final six games to finish with a 4–8 record. The later years of the Stoops era featured quarterback Nick Foles breaking Arizona records, including the single-season and career records for most passing yards and touchdowns. Foles would later win a Super Bowl in 2017 for the Eagles.

Coach Rich Rodriguez

After the conclusion of the 2011 season, Arizona hired Rich Rodriguez, former coach at Michigan and West Virginia, to become the Wildcats’ new coach for the 2012 season.[72] Rodriguez is considered a pioneer of a no huddle, run-oriented version of the spread offense, although a pass-first version was already being implemented by others.[73][74][75] Rodriguez hired Jeff Casteel, who served under him during his tenure at West Virginia, as the new defensive coordinator for Arizona.[76] Casteel is considered one of the top defensive coaches in the nation, and considered master of the 3–3–5 "odd stack" defense.[77]

In his first two seasons, Rodriguez took the Wildcats to 8–5 records, both of which ended in bowl victories, defeating Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl in 2012 after a wild comeback,[78] and winning the Independence Bowl over Boston College in 2013.[79] Major highlights of the 2012–13 seasons were big upset victories over ranked opponents, with Arizona defeating USC in the former year and Oregon in the latter. Also, in both seasons, the performance of running back Ka’Deem Carey led the Wildcat offense, and set Arizona records for rushing yards and touchdowns scored.

In 2014, the Wildcats completed a 10–2 regular season, only the third time in Arizona history that they won ten games in a season and the first since 1998. The solid performance, led by quarterback Anu Solomon, linebacker Scooby Wright III (who earned Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year among other honors), and running backs Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson, led the Wildcats to the Pac-12 South Division title, which was the first divisional championship in program history, and advanced to the conference title game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where they were dominated by Oregon, 51–13, and led to Oregon clinching a spot in both the Rose Bowl and the inaugural College Football Playoff (Arizona had upset the Ducks earlier in the season for the second year in a row).[80] The Wildcats earned a berth in the Fiesta Bowl, the school's third major-bowl appearance, where they fell to Boise State. It was Arizona’s first appearance in a Fiesta Bowl since the 1993 season. They finished the season ranked 17th in the USA Today Coaches Poll]] and 19th in the AP poll. In addition to the upset of Oregon, highlights of the regular season included a comeback win over California on a Hail Mary touchdown pass on the final play, a win over Washington on a last-second field goal, and outlasting Arizona State for the division championship. In addition, Rodriguez was named the Pac-12 coach of the year, becoming the second Arizona coach to win the award (Dick Tomey won it in 1992).

In 2015, with most of their roster returning, Arizona started off as Pac-12 title contenders. However, they faltered during the second half of the season but still managed to earn a bowl bid. They finished with a record of 7–6 and defeated New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl, which was played on New Mexico’s campus in Albuquerque, similar to the Wildcats playing the Lobos in the Insight Bowl in 1997 that was played in Tucson.[81] Arizona did manage to pull off an overtime win against then-#10 Utah in the regular season in yet another November upset victory, mirroring the accomplishments that occurred during the early Stoops era.

After an injury-plagued 2016 season that kept them out of a bowl, the Wildcats recovered in 2017, becoming bowl-eligible with seven wins before falling short against Purdue in the Foster Farms Bowl.[82] The Wildcats finished with a record of 7–6. After a 2–2 start to the season, Arizona turned things around under the performance of dual-threat option quarterback Khalil Tate, which became especially impressive. In an early October game against Colorado, Tate proceeded to run for 327 yards, an NCAA single-game record for quarterbacks, breaking the previous record of 316 set by Northern Illinois' Jordan Lynch in 2013. Arizona went on to win the game, 45–42.[83] Tate was awarded the Pac-12 offensive player of the week and would lead the Wildcats on a winning streak. In addition, Tate was named Pac-12 offensive player of the week for four consecutive weeks – setting a conference record, and leading to him briefly being spoken of as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy.[84] However, Arizona’s defense would let the team down in November, and led to them losing their bowl game. Also, the Wildcats’ late-season collapse may have likely cost Tate the Pac-12 offensive player of the year award.

Rodriguez was dismissed as head coach on January 2, 2018, in the wake of an internal university investigation of sexual harassment claims made by Rodriguez' former administrative assistant.[85] Other factors in Rodriguez being fired was the lack of winning enough games that mattered as well as not bringing in elite recruiting classes to the program. Arizona was forced to find a new coach to rebuild the program.

To replace Rodriguez, Arizona hired Kevin Sumlin to take over the team. Sumlin was previously head coach at Texas A&M University and Houston.[86][87] Sumlin also became the first black football coach to lead the Wildcats.[88]

In his first season in 2018, Sumlin instituted a new offensive scheme and the Wildcats struggled to a 5–7 record. As the offense went in a new direction, Tate was unable to repeat his 2017 performance. After a poor start, the Wildcats would find their rhythm and started to win again. A low point of the season occurred in the finale in the rivalry game against Arizona State. With a potential chance at bowl-eligibility at stake, the Wildcats entered the final quarter thinking the game was over with a large lead, which led to a collapse and ultimately losing. In 2019, with Tate returning, Arizona started 4–1 early in the season but played poorly on both offense and defense and finished the year on a seven-game losing streak that included another rivalry loss to ASU for a 4–8 record.

2020s–present (Future and Big 12 move) edit

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic put an effect on the Wildcats as well as the entire college football season. Prior to the start of the year, Arizona announced that Sumlin would return as coach after fans called for him to be fired late in the previous season. It followed an offseason of poor recruiting and players taking COVID-19 opt-outs. The year began with Sumlin being placed on the hot seat, meaning that he needed to take the team to the postseason in order for him to keep his job.[89] The COVID-19 outbreak would cause several cancellations of games and leading schedules to be shortened and truncated, with the Pac-12 being affected and playing only conference games for each team.

Arizona, unfortunately, continued to lose and was destroyed by Arizona State by a 70–7 score in the finale. Sumlin was fired after the conclusion of the season, with Arizona citing wins and losses and Sumlin finishing with a 0–3 record against ASU.[90] Fans expressed disapproval with Sumlin's leadership, including lack of winning, poor coaching decisions, weak recruiting, and an overall decline in the reputation of the program, all of which were major factors for Sumlin’s firing.[91][92]

Soon after Sumlin was fired, Arizona conducted a national coaching search. Former college and NFL coach Jedd Fisch was chosen as the Wildcats’ next head football coach, as announced on December 23, 2020.[93] Fisch and San Jose State coach Brent Brennan (a former assistant under Wildcat coach Dick Tomey in his final year in Tucson, as well for a few seasons at San Jose State) were the two finalists for the opening. Fisch has previous ties to Arizona president Dr. Robert Robbins,[94] and has extensive NFL assistant coaching experience (for five different franchises) and was previously was a collegiate assistant at UCLA, Minnesota,[95] and Miami.[96]

In Fisch's first season in 2021, the Wildcats played an average defense that kept them in most of their games. However, injuries and inexperience on the offense led to scoring fewer points and would cost them a chance at wins. After an 0–8 start, Fisch would finally earn his first victory as Arizona coach when the Wildcats defeated California in early November, with several players and coaches for the Golden Bears were out because of COVID-19.[97] It turned out to Arizona’s only win of the season, as they finished with a 1–11 record, including a loss to Arizona State for the fifth straight year. The eleven losses are the most in a single season for Arizona, surpassing the record of ten set in 2003.

In 2022, Fisch would capitalize on recruiting and player transfers to turn around the program. The Wildcats rebuilt their offense and took down Division I (FCS) powerhouse North Dakota State and upset UCLA despite a poor defense. Arizona would conclude the season on a high note by defeating ASU to end their futility against their rival.[98] They would finish the year with a 5–7 record, which was a four-game improvement from the previous season.

The Wildcats began the 2023 season hoping to get to a bowl game as they would continue to improve. With a fixed defense and a dynamic offense led by a change at quarterback, Fisch began to take the team on a winning run. From mid-October to early November of the season, Arizona would compete a rare accomplishment by defeating three straight ranked teams, which led to them becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 2017.

After the 2023 season, Arizona, along with Arizona State, Utah, and Colorado, with join the Big 12 Conference for 2024 and beyond, ending a 45-year run in the Pac-12.

Conference affiliations edit

Head coaches edit

The following are the head coaches of the Arizona Wildcats.[99]: 101 

No. Season Names Record Pct
No. 1 1899 Stuart Forbes 1–1–1 .500
No. 2 1900–1901 William W. Skinner 7–2 .778
No. 3 1902 Leslie Gillette 5–0 1.000
No. 4 1903–1904 Orin A. Kates 5–1–2 .667
No. 5 1905 William M. Ruthrauff 5–2 .714
No. 6 1908–1909 H. B. Galbraith 8–1 .889
No. 7 1910–1911 George F. Shipp 8–1–1 .850
No. 8 1912 Raymond L. Quigley 2–1 .667
No. 9 1913 Frank A. King 2–2 .500
No. 10 1914–1930 Pop McKale 80–32–6 .703
No. 11 1931 Fred Enke 3–5–1 .389
No. 12 1932 August W. Farwick 4–5 .444
No. 13 1933–1937 Tex Oliver 32–11–4 .723
No. 14 1938 Orian Landreth 3–6 .333
No. 15 1939–1948 Mike Casteel 46–26–3 .633
No. 16 1949–1951 Bob Winslow 12–18–1 .403
No. 17 1952–1956 Warren B. Woodson 26–22–2 .540
No. 18 1957–1958 Ed Doherty 4–15–1 .225
No. 19 1959–1966 Jim LaRue 41–37–2 .525
No. 20 1967–1968 Darrell Mudra 11–9–1 .548
No. 21 1969–1972 Bob Weber 16–26 .381
No. 22 1973–1976 Jim Young 31–13 .705
No. 23 1977–1979 Tony Mason 16–18–1 .471
No. 24 1980–1986 Larry Smith 48–28–3 .627
No. 25 1987–2000 Dick Tomey 95–64–4 .595
No. 26 2001–2003 John Mackovic 10–18 .357
2003 Mike Hankwitz (interim) 1–6 .143
No. 27 2004–2011 Mike Stoops 41–50 .451
2011 Tim Kish (interim) 3–3 .500
No. 28 2012–2017 Rich Rodriguez 43–35 .551
No. 29 2018–2020 Kevin Sumlin 9–20 .310
No. 30 2021–present Jedd Fisch 15–21 .417

Coaching staff edit

Arizona Wildcats
Name Position Consecutive season at Arizona in current position Previous position
Brennan Carroll Offensive coordinator / offensive line 3rd Seattle Seahawks – Offensive line (2020)
Johnny Nansen Defensive coordinator / Inside linebackers 2nd UCLA – Defensive line (2020-21)
Scottie Graham Associate head coach for offense / running backs 3rd Arizona State – Assistant athletic director (2014–2020)
John Richardson Assistant head coach for defense / cornerbacks 1st Washington State (2021-2022)
Jimmie Dougherty Assistant head coach for offense / quarterbacks/pass game coordinator 3rd UCLA - (2017–2020)
Kevin Cummings Assistant head coach for offense/Wide receivers 3rd

San Jose State – Wide receivers (2017–2020)

Jordan Paopao Assistant head coach for offense/Tight ends/Co-Special teams coordinator 3rd UNLV – Tight ends (2020)
Ricky Hunley Assistant head coach for defense/ defensive line 3rd

Memphis – Defensive line (2014–2015)

Chuck Cecil Assistant head coach for defense/safeties 3rd Arizona – Defensive analyst (2018–2020)
Tyler Owens Associate head coach / director of football strength & conditioning 3rd Alabama – Assistant of football strength & conditioning (2015–2020)

Championships edit

Conference championships edit

Arizona has claimed at least a share of six conference titles.[101]: 149–150 

Season Conference Coach Conference Record Overall Record
1935 Border Conference Tex Oliver 4–0 7–2
1936 Border Conference Tex Oliver 3–0–1 5–2–3
1941 Border Conference Miles W. Casteel 5–0 7–3
1964 Western Athletic Conference Jim LaRue 3–1 6–3–1
1973 Western Athletic Conference Jim Young 6–1 8–3
1993 Pacific-10 Conference Dick Tomey 6–2 10–2

† Co-champions

Division championships edit

The Wildcats claimed the South Division title of the Pac-12 in 2014.

Season Division Coach Conf Record Overall Record Opponent Pac-12 CG Result
2014 Pac-12 South Rich Rodriguez 7–2 10–2 Oregon L 13–51

Bowl games edit

Arizona has appeared in 21 bowl games, posting an overall record of 9–11-1. The team's most recent appearance in a bowl game was a 45–37 win against New Mexico at the 2015 New Mexico Bowl.

The team's first bowl game was the 1968 Sun Bowl, under coach Darrell Mudra. The Wildcats lost to the Auburn Tigers 34–10 in that contest. The team's next bowl game came in 1993 when Arizona began a streak of 5 straight bowl appearances under coach Dick Tomey that lasted through the 1998 season. This is the 5th-longest bowl streak in college football history.[102]

Arizona has been invited six times to one of the "New Year's Six" major bowl games (the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton, and Peach Bowls), including two appearances in CFP in 2014 and Bowl Coalition game in 1993.

Not included in this tally of bowl games is Arizona's first "post-season" game, played in 1921 against the Centre Colonels during the San Diego East-West Christmas Classic. Arizona lost that game 38–0. Also not included is the 1992 "Salad Bowl", against the Drake Bulldogs, Arizona lost that game 14–13.

Bowl game No. of appearances First year Last year Bowl record
Sun Bowl 3 1968 1992 0–2–1
Fiesta Bowl 3 1979 2014 1–2
Cactus Bowl 2 1989 1997 2–0
Holiday Bowl 2 1998 2009 1–1
New Mexico Bowl 2 2012 2015 2–0
Alamo Bowl 1 2010 2010 0–1
Aloha Bowl 2 1986 1990 1–1
Independence Bowl 1 2013 2013 1–0
Las Vegas Bowl 1 2008 2008 1–0
Foster Farms Bowl 1 2017 2017 0–1
Freedom Bowl 1 1994 1994 0-1

All-time series records edit

Arizona's season records are from the record books of the university's athletic association. Through November 27, 2023, Arizona has compiled an overall record of 632 wins, 499 losses, and 33 ties (including post-season bowl games).

All-time record against current Pac-12 teams edit

Opponent W-L-T (Percentage) Streak (W/L) First Year Last Year Next Year
Arizona State 51–45–1 (.531) W2 1899 2023 2024
California 19–15–2 (.571) L1 1978 2022 TBD
Colorado 10–16–0 (.385) W2 1931 2023 2024
Oregon 17–29–0 (.370) L3 1937 2022 TBD
Oregon State 25–16–1 (.607) W2 1966 2024 TBD
Stanford 15–17–0 (.452) W1 1978 2023 TBD
UCLA 19–27–2 (.417) W2 1927 2023 TBD
USC 8–38–0 (.174) L10 1916 2023 TBD
Utah 20–25–2 (.447) W1 1924 2023 2024
Washington 11–25–1 (.311) L6 1978 2021 TBD
Washington State 28–18–2 (.600) W1 1963 2023 TBD
Totals 221-271-9(.450)

Arizona plays Pac-12 North opponents California, Oregon, Oregon State, Stanford, Washington, and Washington State along with Pac-12 South foe Arizona State on an annual basis. The other Pac-12 North teams are played on a six-year rotation, with the added possibility of meeting in the PAC-12 Championship Game.

All-time record against future Big 12 teams edit

Opponent W-L-T (Percentage) Streak (W/L) First Year Last Year Next Year
Arizona State 51–45–1 (.531) W1 1899 2023 2024
Baylor 0–1–0 (.000) L1 1992 1992 2025
BYU 12–12–1 (.500) L3 1936 2021 2024
Colorado 10–16–0 (.385) W2 1931 2023 2024
Cincinnati 0–0–0 (–) 2025
Houston 1–3–0 (.250) L2 1969 2018 2024
Iowa State 4–1–1 (.750) W2 1948 1968 2025
Kansas 2–3–1 (.417) L1 1937 1966 2025
Kansas State 5–1–1 (.786) W1 1947 1978 2024
Oklahoma State 4–5–0 (.444) W1 1931 2012 2025
TCU 1–1–0 (.500) L1 1999 2003 2024
Texas Tech 5–26–2 (–) W1 1932 2019 2024
UCF 0–0–0 (–) 2024
Utah 20–25–2 (.447) W1 1924 2023 2024
West Virginia 0–0–0 (–) 2024
Totals 100-139-9(.421)

All-time record against in-state opponents edit

The University of Arizona's athletic program operated with a limited budget for the first several years after its establishment in 1899. To reduce travel costs, early Arizona football teams played limited slates of games, mostly against squads from nearby schools. Local scheduling resulted in the development of gridiron rivalries with several in-state private colleges, most notably Arizona State and Northern Arizona.

Opponent W-L-T (Percentage) Streak (W/L) First Year Last Year Next Year
Arizona State 51–45–1 (.526) W2 1899 2023 2024
Northern Arizona 16–2–0 .889 W1 1932 2023 2024
Totals 67-47-1(.587)

All records accurate as of the conclusion of the 2023 season

College Football Playoff rankings and polls edit

College Football Playoff rankings
Preseason polls
Final polls

Rivalries edit

Arizona State edit

The primary rival of the Wildcats is Arizona State. Both teams are members of the South Division of the Pac-12. The annual matchup the two schools is known as the "Duel in the Desert." The winner receives the Territorial Cup trophy. Originating in 1899, the Wildcats lost the first game by a score of 11–2. Arizona leads the series at 51–45–1 through the end of the 2023 season.[103]

New Mexico edit

A major rival of the Wildcats in the 1900s was against the New Mexico Lobos. The series was intense until the annual matchup was canceled after the 1990 season. Both teams have met twice in bowl games, with Arizona winning both, as they won the 1997 Bowl and the 2015 New Mexico Bowl. Arizona leads the head-to-head series at 44–20–3 with the most recent game played in 2015.[104] They have a non-conference game scheduled in Tucson for 2024.[105]

Texas Tech edit

Historically, Arizona and Texas Tech were rivals in the now-defunct Border Conference, playing every year from 1946 to 1959.[3] In 1932, Texas Tech won the first ever meeting, which was played on their campus in Lubbock, 21–0.[4] Arizona won their first match up in the series on November 11, 1936, 7–6 (their only win in Lubbock to date).[5] Texas Tech has been mostly dominant in the series, including winning 15 straight games from 1937 to 1958, with games not being played in 1943 or 1944 due to World War II. The first 18 match-ups occurred while both programs were members of the Border Conference. Following 16 games were non-conference matchups with Texas Tech joining the Southwest Conference, in 1956, and later the Big 12 Conference, in 1996. Arizona stayed in the Border Conference until it joined the Western Athletic Conference, in 1962, and then the Pac-10 Conference, in 1978.

Home Stadium and facilities edit

Arizona Stadium edit

Arizona plays its home games at Arizona Stadium, located on the campus in Tucson, Arizona. The stadium capacity is 50,800 as of 2022.[99]

Lowell-Stevens Football Facility edit

The 187,000 square foot facility houses the football programs weight room, locker room, medical treatment room, players lounge, cafeteria, coaches' offices, auditorium for team meetings, as well as a media room.[106] The facility also offers 4,200 chair seating, as well as 500 premium seating.[107]

Traditions edit

Logos and uniforms edit

Starting in the 2010 season, Arizona wore new uniforms. They are simplified versions of the uniforms worn from 2005 to 2009, with the addition of a white helmet with a red-white-blue stripe. The team may use any combination of its two helmets, three jerseys and three pants. On September 29, 2012, the Wildcats unveiled a new copper helmet and for the Territorial Cup game later that season, they unveiled an all-red helmet.

On September 20, 2015, the Wildcats unveiled a new "chrome red" helmet which they wore on September 26, 2015, against the UCLA Bruins.

On August 4, 2021, Arizona announced it would be going back to an updated version of their "Desert Swarm" uniforms worn during the Dick Tomey era.[108]

Individual accomplishments edit

National winners edit

Conference awards edit

Heisman voting edit

Arizona has had two players finish in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting as of 2017.

Year Name Pos Finish Ref.
2013 Ka'Deem Carey RB 10th [115][116]
2014 Scooby Wright III LB 9th [117][118]

All-Americans edit

Hall of Fame inductees edit

Canadian Football Hall of Fame edit

There are two former Wildcat players inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Player Pos. Years CFL Team(s) Inducted Ref.
Ted Urness C 1958–1960 Saskatchewan Roughriders (1961–1970) 1989 [119]
Terry Vaughn WR 1990–1993 Calgary Stampeders (1995–1998)
Edmonton Eskimos (1999–2004)
Montreal Alouettes (2005)
Hamilton Tiger-Cats (2006)
2011 [120]

College Football Hall of Fame edit

Arizona has four former players and three former coaches who have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame as of 2017.[101]: 63 

Player Pos. Career Inducted
Warren B. Woodson Head coach 1952–1956 1989
Ricky Hunley LB 1980–1983 1997
Jim Young Head coach 1973–1976 1999
Darrell Mudra Head coach 1967–1968 2000
Chuck Cecil DB 1984–1987 2009
Rob Waldrop DL 1990–1993 2011
Tedy Bruschi LB 1991–1995 2013

Future opponents edit

On November 1, 2023, Arizona's Big-12 opponents from 2024 through 2027 were revealed, with their rivalry game against Arizona State being a protected annual game. [121]

Future Arizona Wildcats Football Schedule
2024 2025 2026 2027
vs Arizona State vs BYU vs Arizona State vs Colorado
vs Colorado vs Baylor vs Utah vs Houston
vs Texas Tech vs Oklahoma State vs TCU vs Kansas State
vs Houston vs Kansas vs Iowa State vs UCF
vs West Virginia at Arizona State vs Cincinnatti at Arizona State
at BYU at Colorado at BYU at Utah
at Utah at Houston at Texas Tech at Baylor
at TCU at Iowa State at Kansas State at Oklahoma State
at UCF at Cincinnatti at West Virginia at Kansas

Non-conference opponents edit

Announced non-conference schedules as of November 19, 2023.[122]

2024 2025 2026 2027 2028 2029 2030 2031 2032 2033 2034
New Mexico (G5)
Aug 31
Hawaii (G5)
Aug 30
Northern Arizona

Sep 5

at Colorado State (G5)
Sep 4
Colorado State (G5)
Sep 2
at Hawaii (G5)
Aug 25
at Virginia Tech (P5)
Aug 30
Northern Arizona (FCS)
Aug 30
at Alabama (P5)
Sep 4
Alabama (P5)
Sep 3
at Texas Tech (P5)
Sep 9
Northern Arizona(FCS)
Sep 7
Weber State (FCS)
Sep 6
Northern Illinois (G5)
Sep 19
Northern Arizona (FCS)
Sep 18
Prairie View A&M

Sep 9

Virginia Tech (P5)
Sep 8
Northern Arizona

Sep 7

at Air Force (G5)
Sep 6
Northern Arizona (FCS)
Sep 11
Northern Arizona (FCS)
Sep 10
at Kansas State (P5)
Sep 14
Kansas State (P5)
Sep 13
at Nebraska (P5)
Sep 16
Air Force (G5)
Sep 15
Wyoming (G5)
Sep 14
Nebraska (P5)
Sep 13
at Wyoming (G5)
Sep 17

Recruiting edit

Since 2002, Arizona has been ranked in the Top 25 in recruiting ranking by multiple ranking services.

Year National rank Commits
2023 26
2022 25
2021 17
2020 22

Media edit

  • Radio flagship: KCUB (AM) - 1290 AM in Tucson, Arizona
  • Spanish-language radio flagship: KTKT (990 AM) – branded La Buena 94.3 1020-AM in Tucson, AZ
  • Broadcasters: Brian Jeffries (play-by-play) and Lamont Lovett (color analyst)
  • Spanish-language broadcasters: Francisco Romero (play-by-play) and Luis Hernandez (analyst)
  • Past broadcasters:

The current flagship radio station for Wildcat football and men's basketball is Tucson sports radio station KCUB, branded as “Wildcats Radio 1290”. From 1983 until 2004, the flagship station was news/talk radio station KNST. The primary play-by-play voice of Wildcat football, baseball and men's basketball, since 1987, is Brian Jeffries (after starting out as the color commentator for former CBS Sports announcer Ray Scott, who called Wildcats games from 1984 through the spring of 1987). The Phoenix radio affiliate for Arizona Wildcats football and men's basketball is KGME, branded as "Fox Sports 910."

  • Public address announcer: Jeff Dean

Previously: Jimmy Zasa

See also edit

References edit

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External links edit