Unlikely UA football hero Kish, big names helping kids get scholarships

The Star’s longtime columnist on the reinvigorated power of the College Football Hall of Fame’s Southern Arizona chapter, what the Pac-12 might really be getting with SMU, the tough state championship road some solid local high school basketball teams may see in front of them, and more … 

Tim Kish, others making an impact with scholarship drive 

In attempt to make a difference and expand the footprint of football in Southern Arizona, former Arizona interim head football coach Tim Kish has recruited in a way he never did as an assistant coach at Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, Army and Illinois.

Kish landed one “five-star recruit’’ after another: Jim Click, Frank Busch, Humberto Lopez, Steve Strong, Pat Manley, Nemer Hassey and even got Phoenix sports legend Jerry Colangelo and Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill involved.

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The Southern Arizona Chapter of the National Football Foundation have turned a room at the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility into a shrine honoring the Wildcats’ hall of famers.

And then Kish, president of the Southern Arizona Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame, really got busy.

He phoned more than 200 high school football coaches in Arizona. “Every coach in the state,’’ Kish says.

In one of the notable comebacks in Tucson sports history, the long-proud Southern Chapter of the College Football Hall of Fame — the group that successfully advocated the election of Tedy Bruschi, Chuck Cecil, Ricky Hunley and Rob Waldrop into the Hall of Fame — has become a difference-maker unlike any time in its quarter-century of existence.

“We really got after it,’’ said Busch, a two-time NCAA championship swimming coach at Arizona and former director of the USA Olympic swimming teams who has joined Kish’s staff. “We spent considerable time with every youth football organization in Tucson and, in cooperation with the Arizona Bowl, sponsored a high school football game every Friday night. But Tim is the man that put it all together and keeps it going.’’

Since Kish was appointed president of the National Football Foundation’s Southern Arizona Chapter last spring, an overarching goal has been to increase the number of football scholarships for Southern Arizona high school players.

Finally, after six months of work, that day has arrived.

On Feb. 25, the Southern Arizona Chapter will sponsor the “Senior Showcase’’ from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, using the Arizona Cardinals football facilities. Coaches from dozens of NCAA Division II, Division III and NAIA teams will be at the showcase to scout and evaluate those players overlooked by Division I schools.

It won’t be a by-the-seat-of-your-pants operation. The two coaches running the showcase will be Mike Hankwitz, the interim head coach at Arizona in 2003 and at Colorado in 2005, and Jay Schroeder, quarterback of the Super Bowl XXII champion Washington Redskins.

“It’s a blessing,’’ said Kish. “Over the holidays we finally got permission from the Cardinals to use their facilities. It’s a great way to help underprivileged kids get scouted and receive college scholarships. Everything we have thrown against the wall has stuck. I owe a lot to people like Jim Click, Frank Busch and Del Arvayo.’’

A few months ago, Kish and the Southern Arizona Chapter helped to create an impressive Hall of Fame display in the Sands Club at the UA’s Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. An artist was hired to draw caricatures of Bruschi, Cecil, Hunley and Waldrop, which became the centerpiece of the room. Tucsonan Jim Young, former head coach at Arizona, Army and Purdue, a Class of 1999 Hall of Fame inductee, attended the ceremony.

Small world: Kish coached for Young’s Purdue and Army teams before becoming part of Mike Stoops’ Arizona staff, 2004-11. After Stoops was fired, Kish, as interim head coach, led the Wildcats to their 2011 Territorial Cup victory over Arizona State.

Wildcats fans in the student section, including a quartet painted with letters to spell the last name of interim coach Tim Kish, watched the UA score on all six of its possessions in the first half to take a 42-7 lead during Arizona’s 2011 victory over UCLA at Arizona Stadium.

His work with the Southern Arizona Chapter of the Hall of Fame goes a step beyond winning a Territorial Cup trophy.

“I had heard about these showcases in different parts of the country and I made it a priority to establish one for Tucson,’’ says Kish. “Giving back to the community is what matters, it’s what we’re here for. This is just the start.’’

Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff has a lot on his plate in 2023 — first and foremost, finalizing the conference’s new media-rights package.

SMU to Pac-12? Let’s see the yawns

For the first time since USC and UCLA announced they were leaving the Pac-12 to join the Big Ten last summer, I believe Arizona might have a better future bolting the league and becoming part of the Big 12.

After Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff was seen at an SMU basketball game last week, it became clear that the future Pac-12 is likely to include San Diego State and SMU. If so, the Pac-12 would lose considerable shine.

Why add SMU? The Mustangs haven’t won an NCAA Tournament basketball game since 1966. They haven’t finished in the AP Top 25 in football since 1984. And if you believe SMU will bring vast television exposure to the Pac-12, it ain’t happening.

The eyes of Texas aren’t on SMU. You could spend a week visiting the greater Dallas area and my guess is you’d never see anyone wearing SMU gear. Dallas is a pro sport town. SMU averaged 24,971 for home football games last season and is averaging 3,584 for home basketball games this season.

SMU wideout Moochie Dixon runs upfield against Cincinnati on Oct. 22, 2022. Attendance for the 11 a.m. kickoff at Ford Stadium in Dallas was 23,566. Cincinnati, a College Football Playoff participant the season prior, won 29-27.

The Pac-12 doesn’t need another Oregon State, Washington State or Cal. Adding SDSU and SMU to the Pac-12 would make the league so much less because for 45 years it has been so much more.

Arizona fans and the Tucson community would be more pumped up about basketball rivalries with the Big 12’s Kansas, Baylor, BYU, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU than a “new Pac-12’’ that included SMU.

The trick would be to get ASU, Utah and Colorado to agree to jump to the Big 12, which may be a bridge too far. But for the first time since last summer, the Big 12 does seem like a better option than staying in a diluted Pac-12.

Short stuff I: Richardson’s revival, Mickelson’s fall

UA cornerbacks coach John Richardson, hired by Jedd Fisch last week, was one of four Washington State assistant coaches fired at midseason, 2021, for refusing to get a COVID-19 vaccination shot, along with head coach Nick Rolovich. Those WSU assistants are now back in coaching: Richardson missed 1 1/2 seasons before Arizona hired him; quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzman has taken a career plunge and is now coaching at Southern Utah; offensive line coach Mark Weber similarly re-entered coaching at a lower level (Idaho State); and running backs coach Ricky Logo has gone from Louisiana-Monroe to UNLV. Rolovich remains unemployed. … 

Phil Mickelson stands on the second green after leaving a putt short of the hole during the final round of the Cologuard Classic at the Omni Tucson National Resort, Tucson, Ariz., February 28, 2021.

Nothing has been more sad in a sports perspective this week than noting the absence of Phil Mickelson from the ongoing Waste Management Phoenix Open. Mickelson is probably the most well-known athlete in ASU history and has won the Phoenix Open three times, but this is his fourth straight year missing the Phoenix Open and it’s unlikely he’ll ever be invited back. Mickelson’s decision to jump to the LIV Tour has damaged his reputation and legacy forever. And it’s unlikely the three-time Tucson Open champion will ever be back in the Champion Tour’s Cologuard Classic, either. Say it ain’t so, Phil. …

Tucsonan Vince Beemiller, president of the Lawyers Title of Tucson organization, was invited to Super Bowl LVII preliminaries this week, specifically to the Kansas City Chiefs activities. Beemiller was an All-Big Sky conference offensive linemen from 1985-89 when Chiefs head coach Andy Reid was the Lumberjacks’ offensive line coach. Beemiller joined Reid at practice on Wednesday. Beemiller’s son, Harrison Beemiller, is keeping the NAU pipeline intact; he is the new secondary coach for the Lumberjacks. Harrison played at Ironwood Ridge High School.

Gronkowski, who retired before the 2019 season and returned to join Tom Brady and the Buccaneers, decided to walk away from the game once more after the 2022 season.

Short stuff II: Gronk being Gronk, Stanford being Stanford

Arizona alumnus Rob Gronkowski is one of the leading celebrities at Super Bowl LVII, and you could make a case that Gronk is the most well-known and identifiable former pro athlete in America. Gronk will be part of Fox’s pre-game coverage on Sunday, and also participate in the FanDuel “$10 million Kick of Destiny’’ during the game. Gronk does TV ads for Subway, Wolf and Shepherd shoes, USAA Insurance, Fritos, Draft Kings, Oberto Beef Jerky, T-Mobile, Hims Shampoo and several others. He was paid $71 million by the Patriots and Buccaneers during his playing career and has probably exceeded that amount in off-field endorsements. Gronk is only 33. …

Arizona’s inability to challenge for the Pac-12 women’s basketball championship can be traced to two names: Stanford center Cameron Brink and do-it-all Haley Jones. Those two five-star recruits combined to score 66 points and grab 46 rebounds in two blow-out victories over Adia Barnes’ Wildcats. Brink has been particularly dominant over Arizona for three seasons, with 86 points, 55 rebounds and 17 blocked shots. If you’ve got one dominant player in women’s college basketball — as Arizona had with Aari McDonald and Utah has with sure-to-be Pac-12 player of the year Alissa Pilli — you can get to the Final Four, as Arizona proved in 2021. Upcoming game of the week in Tucson: Pilli and Utes play a return game at McKale Center Friday at 7 p.m. Pilli scored 27 in Utah’s last-second win over Arizona in Salt Lake City a month ago. Arizona almost has to go 5-0 in its remaining Pac-12 games to get back in contention to be a first-round host (a top four seed) in the NCAA Tournament. … 

Stanford forward Cameron Brink (22) smothers a shot attempt by Arizona guard Madison Conner (4) from the lane in the third quarter of their Pac 12 game at McKale Center, Tucson, Ariz., February 9, 2023.

Here’s a difference between the basketball programs at Arizona and ASU: Last week the Sun Devils honored their 2002-03 men’s basketball team, coached by Rob Evans, at the ASU-UCLA game in Tempe. That club was never ranked in the AP Top 25, finished a distant fourth in the Pac-10 at 11-7 (Arizona won at 17-1), lost in the first-round of the Pac-10 tournament, was eliminated in the second round of the NCAA Tournament 108-76 by Kansas. It also lost at home to Arizona 92-72. Different strokes, different folks. …

Ron Gould was an all-city defensive back at Santa Rita High School in 1983 who hoped to play at Arizona, but, after being injured, instead went to Scottsdale Community College and later Wichita State, which dropped football during Gould’s first season. Gould persevered. He then went to Oregon where he became a starting cornerback and began a Cinderella-like coaching career that included stops at Portland State, Boise State, UC-Davis, Cal and Stanford. Last week, Gould, now 57, was hired to be the running backs coach at San Diego State. Talk about a long and successful journey.

Salpointe’s Allison Even (24), center, goes to the floor with Pueblo’s Neveah Sandoval (13) in the scramble for the ball in the fourth quarter of their state playoff game at Salpointe Catholic High School, Tucson, Ariz., February 7, 2023. The no. 8 seeded Lancers advanced in the open state championships over the 25 seed Warriors, 66-46.

My two cents: Challenges loom for Tucson HS hoops teams

Nine Tucson high school basketball teams in classes 6A, 5A and 4A have won 20 or more games this year. Impressive, huh? Here’s the list as the state tournament goes full scale this week:

  • Tucson High boys, 23-4. The Badgers are a No. 8 seed in 6A.
  • Cienega High boys, 20-7. The Bobcats are a No. 8 seed in 5A.
  • Pueblo High boys, 20-8. The Warriors are a No. 11 seed in 4A.
  • Sahuaro High boys, 20-6. The Cougars are a No. 7 seed in 4A.
  • Salpointe girls, 22-6. The Lancers are a No. 8 seed in the Open division.
  • Pueblo girls, 20-7. The Warriors are a No. 4 seed in 4A.
  • Sahuaro girls, 23-6. The Cougars are a No. 5 seed in 4A.
  • Catalina Foothills girls, 22-5. The Falcons are a No. 5 seed in 5A.
  • Sunnyside girls, 21-7. The Blue Devils are a No. 9 seed in 6A.

Sahuaro’s Jamal Ali (30) looks for help as he tries to save a loose ball against Pueblo’s Jorge Franco (12) in their game at Sahuaro High School, Tucson, Ariz., January 11, 2023.

If you read between the lines — if you take note of the seedings — this will likely be one of the more challenging state tournaments ever for Tucson basketball teams. It will take a run like that of Arizona’s 1997 NCAA national championship team just to reach the semifinals.

So it’s not impossible.

My eye is on coach Eric Langford’s Tucson Badgers, whose only losses this season have been to Salpointe, Ironwood Ridge, Mesa Dobson and Peoria Liberty.

A Tucson Badgers boys basketball team hasn’t won a state title (or been in the state championship game) since 1969. But never say never, right? There’s always a Santa Clara or East Tennessee State looming.

Contact sports columnist Greg Hansen at [email protected]. On Twitter: @ghansen711

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