It’s Thanksgiving, which means people all over the country will be gathering around a table in order to give thanks for what they have.
Here’s what you can be thankful for if you’re an Arizona Wildcat.
5. 2015 in the pros – The New England Patriots would not have won the Super Bowl without Rob Gronkowski. The Arizona Diamondbacks are showing promise with new manager Chip Hale leading the way. The Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship with new coach Steve Kerr and NBA Finals MVP Andre Igoudala. American Pharoah was the first horse to win the coveted Triple Crown since Affirmed did so in 1978, and his trainer is Bob Baffert. You know what they all have in common? They’re Arizona Wildcats. Of course it’s great to see the Red and Blue accomplish great things in the Old Pueblo, but there is a certain level of excitement that comes from watching former Wildcats succeed on the biggest of stages. Bear Down, guys.
4. Greg Byrne – Would Arizona’s athletics programs be where they are without Byrne? Probably not. Since taking over as athletic director in March 2010, Byrne hired Rodriguez and baseball coach Jay Johnson, among others, and also overseen the baseball program’s move to Hi Corbett Field along with the renovation of McKale Center, the improvements to Arizona Stadium — which included the construction of the Lowell-Stevens Facility — and the rise of the University’s social media presence along with fan-friendly nature. Byrne has done an excellent job of building the UA’s brand, especially in Phoenix, and with him in charge it’s tough not to be optimistic about Arizona’s athletic prospects going forward.
3. Rich Rodriguez – Arizona’s coach since 2012 (and at least, for now), Rodriguez has elevated the UA Football program to a point of relevance it has not achieved much over the years. Though this season did not go according to plan, with a 6-6 record and a 3-6 mark in the Pac-12, it’s tough to fault the coach and his staff when the team was just ravaged by injuries. Sure, they must recruit better — a fact Rodriguez talked about following the season-ending loss to ASU — but overall, he has done a very good job. The Wildcats are 32-20 under his watch, won the Pac-12 South in 2014 and appeared in the Fiesta Bowl. The Wildcats have a win over a top-10 team in each season Rodriguez has been in Tucson, and are poised to appear in their fourth bowl game in four seasons, a feat that has never been accomplished at the school.
2. Sean Miller – One of these years he has to get his team to the Final Four, right? Miller has done everything else in his first six seasons with Arizona. The Wildcats have come painfully close the last two years, reaching the Elite 8 but falling to Wisconsin both times, and that has no doubt left a sour taste in fans’ mouths. However, Miller has guided the program to an unprecedented level of success, with three Pac-12 championships and three 30-plus win seasons in the last five years, and a 67-9 record over the last two full campaigns. His recruiting classes are routinely ranked near the top of the charts, and his coaching ability is regarded to be among the very best in the game. Given where the Wildcats were during the tumultuous Lute Olson retirement saga, with interim coaches in back-to-back years, that they landed Miller was huge because not only has he been able to restore UA to its rightful place among the elites, but has improved their standing, too.
1. Basketball – The football team is improving. Baseball won a championship in 2012. There has been success in other sports, too. But no matter what, Arizona fans can always rely on basketball season to provide something to be excited for. One NCAA title, four Final Fours, 11 Elite 8 appearances and 32 trips to the NCAA Tournament is nothing to sneeze at, nor is the NCAA-best 42-game win streak at the McKale Center. The Wildcats draw more fans for their annual Red & Blue Game (a scrimmage) than many of their Pac-12 counterparts do for real games. You know how some schools like to claim they are “a football school” because they’re not so good at basketball? Well, Arizona actually is a basketball school, as would be evidenced by all the program has achieved and seems poised to accomplish in the future.