TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — Rich Rodriguez inherited a program in need of a pick-me-up when he arrived at Arizona in 2011.
The roster was thin, the players woefully out of shape. The winning tradition had taken a hit with a disastrous start the previous season. The facilities were close to being on the embarrassing side, some of them hidden from recruits.
Heading into his third round of spring practices, Rodriguez has Arizona headed back in the right direction.
Bolstered by a second straight bowl victory and upgraded facilities that are state-of-the-art, not hide-in-the-dark, Rodriguez landed one of the best recruiting classes in the country this year and has kept expectations rising.
"Everything is on the upswing," Rodriguez said. "It's like, OK, they're winning, they have this new facility, the coaching the staff is stable and the chemistry on the team has been good since I got here. Guys can sense that when they're around us and I think that has helped."
Arizona has been building toward this since Rodriguez returned to coaching to lead the Wildcats.
Coming off a 4-8 season that led to the firing of coach Mike Stoops, Arizona had a solid first season under Rodriguez in 2012. Despite having to scramble in pulling together an initial recruiting class, Rodriguez led the Wildcats to eight wins, including a regular-season victory over No. 10 USC and a thrilling win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl.
Arizona's roster was still a little thin heading into last season, particularly on defense, yet the Wildcats put together another solid season, winning eight games and rolling over Boston College in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
Arizona also completed work on a $72 million expansion and renovation of Arizona Stadium that includes ventilated seats in an expansive locker room, a cafeteria and a lounge for the players and even underwater treadmills in the training room.
The combination of winning and no-longer-subpar facilities gave Rodriguez, already a stellar recruiter, the extra boost he needed to land a recruiting class that was rated 28th nationally by Rivals, 29th by Scout.
"Not that facilities are the be-all, end-all, but you've got to have something that at least shows a commitment inward from the school standpoint," Rodriguez said. "And now they can see that. We're not just talking, hey, we're committed to football, they can physically see that when they show up to the building, we're ready to play on the big stage."
Now Rodriguez is ready to see what all the young talent he has can do.