(AP) — Rich Rodriguez made his first public appearance as football coach at Arizona, standing at center court at McKale Center on Tuesday at a news conference interrupted repeatedly by hearty applause from boosters happy to have a big-name coach take over a program in dire need of a boost to compete in the expanded Pac-12.
The former West Virginia and Michigan coach reeled off a list of attributes that Tucson and the university have, then asked "Why not Arizona? Why not us? Why can't we win it all?"
Arizona is the only member of the old Pac-10 never to appear in the Rose Bowl.
"I do think I know what it takes to go to BCS bowls and be in the top 10," Rodriguez said in an informal gathering with reporters after the news conference. "The competition is obviously going to keep getting stronger because of the way the Pac-12 is committed to their programs, but we can get there because look at other schools in our league that have had great success. What do they have that we don't? I think we have some advantages over them."
Rodriguez signed a five-year, $9.55 million contract. The university pays $8.05 million and the rest comes from Nike and IMG. The deal also includes incentives — the largest being $150,000 for an appearance in the BCS championship game and $100,000 for any other BCS bowl game.
He replaces Mike Stoops, who was fired halfway through his fifth season in Tucson. Interim coach Tim Kish took over and directed the team to two of its three wins — over UCLA and, last Saturday night in Tempe, archrival Arizona State, whose coach Dennis Erickson also is on the hot seat. The Wildcats conclude their season Saturday at home against Louisiana-Lafayette.
With his trademark spread offense, Rodriguez promised "it won't be boring and they'll play as hard as any team you see in the country."
He said that there were some misperceptions about his offense. He does use a fullback and tight end at times.
"But we do like to play fast," Rodriguez said. "I do believe the huddle is the biggest waste of time in football."
Rodriguez went 60-26 in seven seasons at West Virginia. With Pat White at quarterback and Steve Slaton leading the way, the Mountaineers beat Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl and were a win away from the BCS championship game in 2007 before an upset loss to Pittsburgh.
When Rodriguez left West Virginia, his alma mater, for Michigan, the school sued him to collect on the $4 million buyout clause in his contract, a lawsuit that was eventually settled.
He was fired last year after going 15-22 in three seasons at Michigan This year the Wolverines are 9-2 and ranked 17th.
"It's frustrating to watch them, I don't mind telling you," Rodriguez said, "because those are all my guys, but I'm proud of them because they're doing so well."
This season he has worked as a television analyst for CBS.
Looking relaxed and refreshed, unlike his haggard final days at Michigan, Rodriguez said he and his family — who joined him at the news conference — had always wanted to live somewhere warm.
"This is my final coaching stop," the 48-year-old coach said. "I hope to be able to do this another 12 or 15 years."
Athletic director Greg Byrne said that when he began his discussions with Rodriguez, he initially was very concerned with the NCAA rule violations that occurred during Rodriguez's time at Michigan. The program was cited for exceeding allowed practice time and having too many assistants.
"The more I researched and looked into it, the issues that were there — once highlighted and made aware — they were dealt with and addressed," Byrne said. "Also in our conversations, he was very open, 'Put a compliance guy in every meeting. Put a compliance guy or woman at every workout. It doesn't matter. The door's wide open. We're an open book.' And I've never heard that from a coach before, and that made me feel good."
Rodriguez said Byrne questioned him thoroughly about the NCAA infractions.
"There were issues but the issues were fixed, cleaned up," Rodriguez said, "and I assured him and I assure you that there will never be another again in the future. Our guys will be compliant. I will be compliant 100 percent."
Byrne insisted Rodriguez was the only person offered the job, although he said he had extensive discussions with about 10 candidates. He said former Florida coach Urban Meyer told him Rodriguez was "one of the five greatest minds in college football."
Rodriguez clearly won over the fans who had been encouraged to attend, joking about his "hillbilly accent" and regaling them with the story of how he came up with the spread offense by necessity when he had 25 players, and he was bigger than any of them, as a rookie coach at little Glenville State.
Rodriguez said he would bring a group of assistants who have worked with him before and would add others who were more familiar with recruiting in the West. The first batch will be hired in the next couple of weeks, he said, with the entire staff in place by Christmas to get on with recruiting, considered one of Rodriguez's best attributes. Rodriguez said he would consider retaining some from the current staff.
Rodriguez said he believes he can recruit nationally and would start making calls Tuesday night.
He said he was aware of Matt Scott, the redshirt senior quarterback whose ability to run and throw fits Rodriguez's style. But he said all the returning players will get "a fresh start."
"Everybody's going to get a chance to prove themselves," Rodriguez said. "It doesn't matter where they are on the depth chart, you start all over again."