(AP) — Arizona continued a downward spiral that started at the end of last season, losing its coach and more games than it had in six years.
As this disaster in the desert wound down, though, there was a glimmer of hope for the Wildcats: two wins to end the season, including one over their biggest rival, and the hiring of a coach who'll bring plenty of attention to the program.
"It's a roller coaster, but I think everybody here at the end has a good feeling about themselves and can smile," said Tim Kish, who was picked as Arizona's interim coach when Mike Stoops was fired on Oct. 10.
One reason for the sunny outlook was the hiring of Rich Rodriguez on Nov. 21.
Rodriguez never lived up to the hype in three seasons at Michigan, going 15-22 while the program was cited for rules violations by the NCAA during his tenure.
Before that, though, Rodriguez was considered one of the best offensive coaches in the country after leading West Virginia to a pair of BCS bowl appearances and a 60-26 record in seven seasons. One of the innovators of the spread offense so prevalent in college football today, he should be a good fit in Tucson, even with quarterback Nick Foles headed to the NFL.
"It's a great job here," Foles said. "He's a heck of a coach and he's inheriting a very talented team so I wish him the best of luck."
Rodriguez will have his work cut out for him after the season the Wildcats had.
Arizona lost its final five games of 2010 after a strong start and the negative momentum seemed to carry over into this season, when the Wildcats opened with a win over FCS Northern Arizona and followed that with five straight losses.
On the heels of a loss to then-winless Oregon State, the team's 10th consecutive against an FBS school, Arizona fired Stoops halfway through his eighth season.
Kish, the defensive coordinator during Stoops' entire tenure, was promoted to interim coach and the Wildcats responded with a blowout win over UCLA.
Arizona still struggled at times down the stretch, but ended the season with a hard-fought win over rival Arizona State and a shootout victory over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Wildcats finished the season 4-8 and were well back in the Pac-12 South at 2-7, but were 3-3 over their final six games under Kish.
"You lose your head coach and then guys still stick together and they grow together, and we end up winning some pretty good games," Foles said. "I think it says a lot about the character of the team and the character of the coaching staff."
Arizona certainly had talent, particularly on the offensive side.
Foles, one of the nation's most prolific quarterbacks, led the way.
He set a school record with 4,334 passing yards in his senior season and matched the record with 31 touchdown passes. Foles leaves Tucson with nearly every school passing record, including yards (10,011) and touchdowns (64), along with numerous Pac-12 marks.
His favorite target, Juron Criner, caught 75 passes for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns, pushing his career total to a school-record 32.
David Douglas caught 65 passes for 666 yards, Gino Crump 65 for 610 and Arizona led the Pac-12 and was fourth in the nation with 370.3 passing yards per game.
The problem for the Wildcats was stopping anyone on defense — they were last in the conference, allowing 460 yards per game — and an almost nonexistent running game, leading to the disappointing finish.
"I think we'll be the class known for having all the talent, but didn't quite have the season we expected," said Criner, a senior. "I do know with the whole adversity with Stoops and all the different things that took place, it seemed like we handled it very well."
And, with a solid finish and a new coach onboard, the Wildcats have something to look forward to.