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Arizona AD Byrne tasked with keeping coaches happy, in Tucson

LISTEN: Greg Byrne, UA Athletic Director

A friend asked how I felt about the Arizona Wildcats extending Rich Rodriguez’s contract after just one season.

The move, he felt, was a bit premature. Sure, Rodriguez led the Cats to an 8-5 record that included a bowl victory, but did he really deserve a raise?

Not really, but the move had to be made. Why risk losing such a good thing?

A guest of Arizona Sports 620’s Doug and Wolf Tuesday, Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he wouldn’t trade his group of coaches for anyone’s.

“If Texas or Florida or A&M or Ohio State called us tomorrow and said ‘hey let’s trade our coaching staffs across the board’, I wouldn’t do it.”

Rich Rodriguez for football. Sean Miller for men’s basketball. Andy Lopez for baseball. Mike Candrea for softball.

It’s a hell of a lineup, and other schools know it. Other schools want it.

Miller flirted with Maryland two years ago. Rodriguez was linked to the Tennessee job this year. Lopez and Candrea have certainly had chances to leave, too. Byrne knows it, and he said an effort is made to prevent defections.

“We’re trying to be proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “What we’ve done, as with Coach Rodriguez, the most we can do in the state of Arizona is have a five-year contract,” Byrne said. “I understand why we do that, so what we did at the end of this year is we extended it back to five years to keep it at five.”

Byrne said University of Arizona president Ann Weaver Hart and the Arizona Board of Regents supported the move. It’s the best the school can do with its coaches.

It’s an ABOR policy that no coach can be under contract for more than five years at a time. In theory, that mandate could inhibit the quality of coach the school is able to hire and keep around. Over at Texas, Mack Brown signed a 10-year deal, and Kentucky’s John Calipari is currently working under an eight-year contract.

Quite literally, Arizona cannot compete with that. But Byrne and the school do what they can.

“Then with Coach Miller we’ve done the same thing…it’s something that we’re saying ‘hey we really like you as our coach, we believe in what you’re doing,'” he said. “We’ll have bumps along the way, it’s not always going to be smooth sailing, but that you believe in who they are as coaches and you believe in their commitment to academics, their commitment to compliance, their commitment to doing things that give us a chance to be as successful as we can be in those sports.”

And therein lies the rub.

The more successful a program is, the more likely other schools are to come looking to poach a coach. And the Wildcats have been successful of late. Just take the events of December 15, 2012 as proof.

A thrilling football victory in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl was followed up by an equally exciting win over Florida. Both games were on national TV, giving the rest of the country a glimpse of what is being built in Tucson. It was a big day for the school, which it commemorated with t-shirts. The shirt may have been a bit much, but the message was loud and clear: Good things are happening in the Old Pueblo.

“That was a special day,” Byrne said. “That can continue to grow and build, and when everybody continues to understand the impact that they make by being engaged and involved in helping out our university however they can, it’s going to allow us to be strong across the board.”

The baseball team moved to Hi Corbett Field and went on to win the College World Series last June. The football team surprised everyone in a good way in Rodriguez’s first year. The men’s basketball team, as expected, is one of the best in the nation.

Arizona’s momentum is very real. But momentum can be very, very fickle.

A bad season will cost fans, and losing a top-notch coach will likely cost wins. And while the Wildcats are better off now than they were when a certain columnist was attending school there from 2002 to 2006, it wouldn’t take much for things to turn south.

And for his part, Byrne is doing what he can — all he can — to make sure they don’t.