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the Goliard

November, 2002

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La BM    Update - 2003

Why is La BM (John Mackovic) a Wildcat? Who thought hiring him to coach UA football was a good idea? What were the stiff's credentials? Why does the University of Arizona, a laid back, semi-academically respectable, desert institution with a proud sports tradition, suddenly have a pedantic, befuddled, blowhard, throwback coach in a black business suit striding up and down the sidelines with the frightened look of an accountant who has been inexplicably dropped off without his briefcase in the heart of Kabul?

Is it because he once coached in the NFL? He lasted three seasons, went 30 and 34, and commenced his career in the league in 1983 by overseeing the draft for his new team, the Chiefs, a draft which happened to feature the famous "Class of 1983" for quarterbacks. He didn't have a chance at John Elway but could have had two future Hall of Famers, Jim Kelly or Dan Marino. Before the draft, La BM reportedly worked out Marino at Arrowhead Stadium. Marino was zipping spirals downfield in a simulated game and showed some audible displeasure at a Chiefs receiver when he dropped a pass. Goodness, thought La BM, we can't have that! So with the 7th overall pick in the draft, La BM passed up on the over competitive Marino and Jim Kelly and instead picked Penn State's do gooder Todd Blacklidge. Todd was reportedly La BM's dream player. Very proper, reverent, a pleasure to work with, and a boy who wanted to win goll dangit. But while Marino, Kelly and Elway were leading their AFC teams to the Super Bowl, Todd never was able to wrangle away the starting job from resident QB and household name Bill Kenney. The Chiefs paid for La BM's blunder for the next 15 years. In a harbinger of things to come as the season was ending in 1987, eight of the Chiefs best players, the team owner and club president met at place-kicker Nick Lowery's house and planned a mutiny to get rid of La BM. The eight players - Lowery, quarterback Kenney, wide receiver Henry Marshall, cornerback Albert Lewis, safety Deron Cherry, tight end Jonathan Hayes, defensive ends Peter Koch and Art Still - were a cross section of every part of the Chiefs roster. Old, young. Defense, offense. They cited arrogance and self importance as the reason for the coup along with La BM's refusal to listen to anyone else and his over willingness to resort to such tactics as denying the players their lunches after a losing streak. Chief's management saw the writing on the wall and flushed La BM down.

Did the UA think they needed him because of his collegiate record? In his last season as a collegiate head coach, La BM guided a Texas Longhorn team featuring Ricky Williams to a 4 and 7 record? La BM misused Williams, playing him as a fullback and the bruising runner was prepared to leave school after his junior year until La BM was fortuitously fired. All Williams did after choosing to stay and play for new coach Mack Brown was lead La BM-less 'Horns to a 9 and 3 record, break Tony Dorsett's 22 year old NCAA career rushing title and win the Heisman Trophy. La BM in the meantime began pouting and claimed to be quitting coaching for good. "I chose to say I was retired because my feelings were hurt," La BM explained just a few years later as he was accepting the Arizona job. "I just didn't know if I wanted to continue because I felt we had done the things that were asked of us and we had put our program at Texas in not only a competitive but a winning position, but we had an off year." The Goliard begs to differ. If you go 4 and 7 and have future college hall of famers jumping ship like rats, you are not in a “winning position.” Another mutiny was no doubt just around the corner.

Is this the quality of guy UA fans should get behind and realistically expect to take us to the next level? Next level, Hell, all most UA fans probably would hope for now is to get back within sniffing distance of our old level. Is this a man we should come out and fill the stadium for (especially now that we've seen the La BM inspired new add campaign featuring the slogan, “We like to play in front of a packed house.”) Tucsonan’s rarely packed the house for La BM’s predecessors Dick Tomey and Larry Smith and they were well respected coaches, loved by their players, who’s teams played tough and always had a chance to win.

Tomey, as we at the Goliard knew then and the rest of the town is realizing now, was a rare combination in that he was a pretty good coach who also happened to be an even better guy. He was also a no-nonsense guy and one of the more ethical and admired coaches in a business that has more than its share of phonies and blowholes (like La BM). A 5-6 mark in his final year did nothing to tarnish Tomey's achievement, nor does the absence of a Rose Bowl appearance, but it did force him to step down gracefully after the 2000 season when the talk about his job reached a fever pitch and he got sick of coaching in a town where a perennially top ten ranked basketball team throws expectations out of whack. While he was here he became the school's all-time winningest coach with a 95-64-4 record and led the Cat’s to seven bowl games winning four of them. His players generally earned their degrees and there was never a hint of impropriety. And he did it all with a laid back style and grace that endeared him to those fans who understand that it is hard to convince top level talent from California and Texas year in and year out to come play football in Tucson unless you can guarantee them playing time (which you can only do in an up and down program).

The arrival of La BM has us pining for the good old days of the not so distant past when, after beating the Miami Hurricanes 29 - 0 in the Fiesta Bowl, Tomey responded to a reporter's question about the perceived upset by saying, "When you limit a team to three first downs and shut them out 29 - 0, that's not an upset. That's an ass kicking." Four years later in 1998, the Cat’s finished 12 and 1, beating Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, and ending the year ranked 4th in the nation. We thought they could have made a good case to claim a share of the National Championship even in the imbecilic, no playoff world of NCAA football. Had there been a playoff system in place, the Cat's were playing well enough that they might easily have won it.

Tomey's teams played great defense, usually beat ASU, had a winning record in the Pac-10, and rarely got blown out of a contest. Football fans in small market Tucson, where many games are not even televised, have no right to expect any better. 12 and 1 in 98, graduate the likes of Chris McAlister, Trung Canidate, and Dennis Northcutt, rebuild and be strong for 2001 and 2002. That’s the way it works here and that is what Tomey could and would have provided.

Now it appears that we may never see those days again. La BM's teams are seen as soft and have finished with the worst league records in the history of the school. They are either scheduling cream puffs or are getting blown off the field every week and players are walking around campus with their heads hanging low as they stare down the barrel of last place in the conference. Tomey's teams never did that regardless of the scoreboard. And let’s remember that many of the seniors on this years team that are so beaten down now were once hopeful freshmen Tomey recruits who came here on the heals of the 98 season especially to play for him. One of the few bright spots of the 2002 team, receiver Bobby Wade, had this to say when he first found out Tomey had resigned. "The No. 1 reason why players go to school is to play for a coach, I came here to play for coach Tomey and his coaching staff." Little did he and the other players know at the time that there would be a BM in their future. A BM that clearly can’t motivate, recruit, or teach. La BM’s one skill seems to be convincing people that he is worthy of a job.

The local paper reported recently that "Tomey favored more of an open-door policy, and Mackovic seems more impersonal in his day-to-day dealings, according to players." Gee do you think?

"They get it done in different ways," UA cornerback David Hinton is reported to have said. "I think it was a tough transition for some of the guys like me who came in under Coach Tomey." We'll say.

Put in layman's terms, what he means is that he came to Arizona to play for a genuine, likable coach who was a good communicator and a stand up guy, a person that a player could consider a friend and feel comfortable going to with his problems and concerns. He ended up serving a sentence under a prison warden given to personal insults and "old school" tactics like public humiliation and maniacal screaming about players being a disgrace to their families. The results of the two styles show on the scoreboard, on the field and ultimately, they will show in the stands.

When Tomey moved on, the UA released a list of coaches they would like to see replace him. The list included:

* Steve Axman, assistant head coach, Washington. 
* Ricky Hunley, former associate head coach, Missouri. 
* Dirk Koetter, head coach, Boise State University. 
* Duane Akina, associate head coach, Arizona. 
* Larry Mac Duff, special teams coach, New York Giants. 
* Mike Riley, head coach, San Diego Chargers.

Any on the list would have probably worked out fine. Do you see La BM's name anywhere? Jim Livengood and the UA chose to hire none of the above for some reason and suddenly pulled La BM out of their hat. Mac Duff somehow works for La BM and ASU, who had at least as bad a record in 2000 as the UA did with Tomey, went out and hired Koetter, a young up and comer. 

Two years later on 2, November 2002, we powered up some of the TV's on a Sat afternoon in the Goliard newsroom hoping to watch some college football. ASU was playing Washington State in a nationally televised game with first place in the Pac-10 at stake. The UA, meanwhile, was getting whipped up and down the field by Oregon State in a game that wasn't televised nationally, locally, tape-delayed or otherwise.

Enough is enough. Even though we are financing the Goliard currently by putting money down on Arizona to lose by more than the spread every week, we need to see a change. It was bad enough that we had to suffer through the national embarrassment of "The Season" on ESPN when La BM allowed his former employers to bring cameras into the locker room so the whole country might know what a condescending windbag he is. But now his players are injured and uninspired, his game tired and weak. He's not having any fun and neither is anybody else in this town.

In the local birdcage liner, Greg Hanson wrote "After losing to a bad Washington team, receiver Bobby Wade suggested the Wildcats were "cursed." Seven days later, beaten by an abysmal Stanford team, linebacker Lance Briggs pronounced the Wildcats at "rock bottom." Defensive tackle Young Thompson walked out of a losing locker room at Wisconsin, a team that has gone 1-4 since clobbering Arizona 31-10, and said "I don't think it gets any worse than this." It can't get worse? It can. It will. It did. An Oregon State team that entered Saturday's game ranked no better than No. 6 in Pac-10 rushing defense was so overwhelming at Reser Stadium that Arizona (ahem) gained minus-23 yards rushing, and 93 total yards. It was painful to watch. Arizona has become the college equivalent of the Cincinnati Bengals." This is what we've come to? Even this might be tolerable if the new coach was any kind of a cool guy, but you can't be an unpleasant jack ass, an acerbic, irritating Marty Schottenheimeresque taskmaster without the respect of the players, and a loser at the same time. It won't play. Here or anywhere.

Stop the bleeding and evacuate and flush yourself down La Toilette BM. Do it for you and for us. Go back to analyzing others mistakes, grousing about being misunderstood, and second guessing other coaches on TV for a living. You didn’t know how good you had it and neither did we.

And for God's sake, it's a football game. Why are you standing around in a black suit as if attending a funeral?

Ed's Note - Since the above story broke on the Goliard on November 1, 41 of John Mackovic's players have gone en masse to the office of the University president to discuss their disappointment with his coaching style and object to his unpleasant personality. La BM then called a press conference where he tearfully asked forgiveness and promised to change his ways. The situation garnered the lead story on the national sports news giving the UA football program more negative publicity and all but putting a lock down on future recruiting under the Mackovic regime. But instead of firing La BM and starting anew, athletic director Jim Livengood chose to stand by his coach despite the national embarrassment the situation is creating. 

The Goliard disapproves of this move of course and would ask the UA to reconsider. The damage is done. La BM had two years to prove that the game hadn't passed him by and that he wasn't some sort of ridiculously hard nosed, throwback idiot with no idea how to communicate with today's athlete. He preached an outdated philosophy and alienated a team and community that were eager to see him succeed. Whether some of this is the fault of said athlete or community is irrelevant since those are the people you need to have believe in you and communicate with if you want to achieve anything. After watching "The Season" on ESPN, in which La BM allowed cameras to follow him and his team everywhere, we found ourselves saying "If I was a parent watching that with my son who was trying to decide where to attend college, I wouldn't let him go anywhere near Arizona. That guy is a Bobby Knight scale ass but without any upside to go with it." I guess we aren't the only ones who think so. Success in football, like all team sports, is based on members of the team having faith in the people around them. This starts with the players, coaches, and trainers but extends to the students, teachers, and everyone else on campus and in the community. By being an arrogant jerk, Mackovic has now lost the faith of all those groups. It's time for him to go. 

Reader's comments - Fire Livengood
Mackovic Update - Sept 2003

Note - The above story, which represents the opinion of a group of disgruntled UA football fans, gleaned information from a variety of sources including The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Daily Wildcat, random internet sites, and personal observation. Any plagiarism and inadvertent cut and pasting is unintended but hereby attributed.

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.