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This is not Arizona’s first rodeo with an interim coach

Mid-season coaching changes may not be the norm for
college sports, but it’s not exactly foreign territory for
the Arizona Wildcats.

You see, the last time UA fired its head football coach
was September 28, 2003, as they said goodbye to John
Mackovic and hello to interim coach Mike Hankwitz.

The defensive coordinator, Hankwitz took over with a 1-4
team. The Wildcats finished 2-10.

That team, though, was light in terms of talent. Kris
Heavner took the bulk of the snaps at quarterback, and the
freshman completed just 51 percent of his passes with
eight touchdowns against 15 interceptions.

The only bright spot, really was running back Mike Bell,
who ran for 920 yards and six scores.

So, to put it mildly, that team stunk, and the fact that
Hankwitz took over really had nothing to do with their
lousy finish.

That’s not exactly the case this time.

The team is still led by Nick Foles, Juron Criner and host
of other talented players, and athletic director Greg
Byrne has made it clear that the timing of the coaching
change was made in part because he thinks the team can
still play in a bowl game.

“We believe they can play in a bowl game this year,” Byrne
said of the team’s 22 seniors. “We’ve got a lot of work to
do to make that happen and we wanted to give them every
opportunity to do that.”

At 1-5 the Wildcats will be hard pressed to make a fourth-
straight bowl game, but it’s still mathematically
possible.

The key, of course, will be the team not going into the
tank from here. It would be easy to quit on the season now
that their coach is gone, but Kish’s schedule is much
easier than the one Hankwitz dealt with eight years ago,
where his only win was a 27-22 victory over Washington in
his fifth game at the helm.

Back then the Wildcats finished out their season with a
pair of ranked teams, including No. 14 Washington State in
the first game post-Mackovic, and also lost games to an
Aaron Rodgers-led Cal team, Steven Jackson and the Oregon
St. Beavers and Matt Leinart’s USC Trojans.

Standing in Arizona’s way this time is a host of mediocre
to bad teams, starting with a home game against UCLA and
then having dates with Utah, Colorado and Luisiana-
Lafayette. Road games at Washington and Arizona State
represent the toughest challenge, and the Wildcats will
have to win at least one of them to have a chance at
postseason play.

So, will the players rally around their temporary coach,
proving the decision to fire Stoops mid-season was the
right one? Or will Arizona continue its descent and hit
rock bottom, finishing out the season as one of the worst
teams in college football.

We’re about to find out.