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2014 UA Hall of Fame inductee Dick Tomey: Rich Rodriguez ‘the right man at the right time’ for Wildcats

In his 14 years in Tucson, Dick Tomey led UA football to more wins than any other head coach in the program’s history.

Now, 14 years after he coached his final game at Arizona, Tomey will take his place alongside other former Wildcat greats when he’s inducted into the University of Arizona Sports Hall of Fame during Homecoming Weekend on Nov. 7-9.

Tomey said it’s “very flattering” to be inducted along with UA’s five other 2014 Hall of Fame selections, including Trung Canidate, who starred for Tomey at tailback from 1995-2000.

“I obviously have a lot of strong feelings about the University of Arizona, and being inducted with Trung Canidate, who was obviously a tremendous player for us for a number of years, is wonderful,” said the 76-year-old Tomey, who coached UA to a 95-64-4 record from 1987-2000.

“Those years were quite memorable for all of us, and I think to be honored along with all the others who have been honored at the University of Arizona, not just in football but in all of sports, is a tremendous honor.”

In 1993, Tomey helped usher in Arizona’s famous Desert Swarm defense that led the Wildcats to a 10-2 record and a Fiesta Bowl victory over Miami, and he guided UA to an 11-1 record and a Holiday Bowl win over Nebraska in 1998.

But the Wildcats’ ’98 bowl appearance would be UA’s last for 10 years. Tomey was succeeded in Tucson by John Mackovic, who went just 10-18 and was fired midway through the 2003 season. From 2004-11, Mike Stoops guided the Wildcats back to respectability with a 41-50 record and three straight bowl appearances from 2008-10, but 10 consecutive losses to FBS teams led to his dismissal in the middle of the Wildcats’ 2011 campaign.

After that season, UA athletic director Greg Byrne handed the program’s reins to former West Virginia and Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez. Tomey said Byrne picked the right guy.

“I just think RichRod has done a fabulous job. I think he’s the right man at the right time for the program, and I’m just very encouraged with what I see he and his staff and the team doing,” he said.

“We’re very excited about that part of it, and the other sports — I’m very close to (UA softball coach) Mike Candrea and some of the other coaches. I follow UA athletics very closely.”

The Wildcats enjoyed back-to-back eight-win seasons in Rodriguez’s first two years at the helm. But Tomey stopped short of predicting how well the Wildcats would fare this season in an ultra-competitive conference.

“The Pac-12 has become a tougher and tougher league, I think, all along,” he said. “I have no idea how they’ll finish because I think it’s so competitive. You probably play very few games in the conference that are foregone conclusions who’s going to win or lose.

“It all comes down to the same stuff it always comes down to — who wins the turnover battle, who gets penalized the most, who makes plays at the end of the half, at the end of the game, and who makes the adjustments that are necessary to win. I think it all comes down to pretty much the same thing every week.”

Tomey said UA’s athletics department was smart to schedule a soft non-conference schedule during Rodriguez’s first seasons in Tucson — something that Byrne said was done intentionally in order to ease Rodriguez into the job.

For the sake of Rodriguez and whoever he names as this year’s starting quarterback, Tomey said this year’s relatively weak non-Pac-12 slate of UNLV, Nevada and Texas-San Antonio will be to the Wildcats’ benefit.

“I think the first few years of somebody’s tenure like RichRod, I think that gives him a chance to really get their feet wet in the season,” he said. “They’re going to have a new quarterback, and I think that gives the quarterback a chance to really get his feet wet, which is good.”

Baseball players Jim Ward (1957-60) and Alan Zinter (1986-89), men’s track and field star James Frazier (1978-82), and Athletic administrator Kathleen “Rocky” LaRose (1980-2013) are the other 2014 UA Sports Hall of Fame inductees.