FanPost

The Avezzano Cup, Round 1, Game 5: #8 2003 Arizona vs #9 2002 Arizona, or, The One Where John Mackovic Returns To Play With Himself On The Sideline One More Time

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In a way, it's a shame that Arizona fired John Mackovic halfway through the 2003 season. He shouldn't have to share credit for qualifying two teams for the Avezzano Cup with anyone. Mike Hankwitz, a lifetime assistant coach who is otherwise the answer to a trivia question (we will get to that later), shepherded the team through the rest of a dismal season that saw the Mildcats set a conference record for most consecutive home losses (13, from mid-2000 to late 2003, when UA pulled off one of the bigger upsets of the conference season by knocking off Washington 27-22 as 16 point underdogs). Yes, it's true -- not even the worst OSU teams of their dreadful era managed to lose 13 straight conference games at home.

Since I make the rules, Mackovic is returning to the scene of the crime to coach two of the teams he ran into the ground into the Avezzano Cup: Worst Pac10/12 Team Of All Time* playoffs. Hankwitz is off the hook, and thanks to the miracle of somewhat arbitrary seeding, Mackovic is guaranteed a slot in the quarterfinals, facing Ty Willingham's greatest underacheivement..

The short, sad story of John Mackovic at Arizona, and the Game 5 results, after the jump.

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How They Got Here

#9: 2002 Arizona

PTS/G: 18.9 (103rd of 117) ▪ Opp PTS/G: 25.8 (58th of 117)
SRS: -2.73 (71st of 117) ▪ SOS: 4.35 (31st of 117)

#8: 2003 Arizona

PTS/G: 15.1 (113th of 117) ▪ Opp PTS/G: 35.8 (107th of 117)
SRS: -7.99 (91st of 117) ▪ SOS: 7.02 (7th of 117)

In 2000, two Pac-10 teams made significant coaching changes after disappointing seasons. USC replaced Paul Hackett with Pete Carroll. Arizona also went with a former NFL coach... It didn't turn out quite so well for them.

In a sense, UA got the coach it deserved when Dick Tomey was hounded into resigning after the 2000 season by the media (for not winning enough in general) and by fans (for not beating ASU enough in particular). Mackovic, who had been out of coaching for several years after being fired from his last two posts, was hired in part because of some perceived Marquee Value; but the publicity UA eventually got was anything but positive.

Mac (who one particularly literate and irritable blogger dubbed "La BM") had sufficient hubris to allow ESPN to bring in cameras for a behind the scenes look at a college football team; he came across as a martinet, a business-suited sideline screamer whose players obviously weren't about to run through any walls for him.

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A patrician prig and wine snob who had previously run a college program into the ground, Mackovic had no obviously superior coaching skills, but apparently was a great interview, a skill that can get you pretty far, depending on your industry. He was hired away from an ESPN commentator gig to replace Tomey, and given a $4M contract that made him the highest paid public employee in Arizona.

A 5-6 first year record, with Tomey's players, didn't impress anyone. And Mac was just getting started.

There was a player mutiny in 2002, when half the team went to the UA president to demand he be sacked for (among other things) being a two-faced jerk who demeaned his players and destroyed their desire to play football. Seriously, calling your tight end a "disgrace to your family" as a motivational tactic has probably been tried many times, but its effectiveness is unproven, and this time the media heard about it. Called on the carpet, Mackovic apologized, sort of, and the debacle continued. Arizona ended the season 4-8/1-7, tied with Stanford for the conference cellar (but won the Avezzano Cup tiebreaker by virtue of a 16-6 home loss to the Tree).

Then came 2003. By the time six games had been played, UA AD Jim Livengood had seen enough to know the completely demoralized Cats had lost all interest. A three game string sealed the deal; the Cats were pasted by LSU, Oregon and Purdue by a combined score of 166-30. A narrow loss to ranked TCU, an inspired effort by players who sensed their hated coach was toast, was Mackovic's last game. He was given a $900k buyout and sent on his merry way to ponder his wine collection, replaced by DC Hankwitz, who managed to get what was left of the team through the season. The resultant 2-10/1-7 record was Arizona's worst since 1957.

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Mackovic routinely makes every recent list of the Top N Worst Coaching Hires of All Time. The PAC has made several recent WTF coaching decisions (Buddy Teevens, Walt Harris, Karl Dorrell, Dennis Erickson at ASU, Paul Hackett, Keith Gilbertson, Ty Willingham), and in retrospect it's easy to forget how bad Mackovic was, and how much damage he did to the Arizona football program. Ultimately, though, the real damage was self inflicted, when Tomey was reviled for his inability to get UA to the "next level", a task Mackovic accomplished with skill and panache. Unfortunately, the level was below ground.

Mackovic was last seen as a coach leading the United States team to victory in something called the IFAF World Championship; apparently, he couldn't screw that up.. although it took his team two overtimes to beat Japan, 23-20. Must have been that big home field advantage in Kawasaki.

As for Mike Hankwitz? He moved on to Colorado, and when Gary Barnett was fired at the end of the 2005 regular season Hankwitz was named interim head coach and led the team to the Champs Sports Bowl, making him the only man to be named a replacement coach of two different FBS teams without ever holding a permanent head coach position. He's currently defensive coordinator at Northwestern.

BENZDUCK'S LINE: 2002 Arizona -10 ... the 2002 defense was 10 ppg better than 2003, and Jason Johnson had Andrae Thurman and Bobby Wade to throw to in '02, whereas Kris Heavner spent most of 2003 heaving it to the other team (8 TD, 15 INT).

GAME RESULTS: 2002 Arizona 37, 2003 Arizona 14

Final - 8/18/2012 1st 2nd 3rd 4th Total
2003 Arizona Wildcats 0 7 0 7 14
2002 Arizona Wildcats 13 17 0 7 37

No contest; even though Andrae Thurman had apparently already flunked out and transferred to Southern Oregon, the '02 Cats were all over their successors; Unnamed Arizona 2002 Punt Returner broke the contest open with an 84 yard return late in the first half..

The 2003 Wildcats are looking like a very unformidable non-force in this bracket.. but can they avoid knocking off the odds-off favorites, the mighty 2008 Huskies? Stay tuned for further installments!

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This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of SB Nation or the Addicted To Quack Moderators. FanPost opinions are valued expressions of opinion by passionate and knowledgeable Oregon fans.

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