Livengood Removes Mackovic As Football Coach

Sept. 28, 2003

TUCSON, Ariz. - In a news conference at 3 p.m. Sunday, University of Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood announced he has relieved John Mackovic from his duties as head football coach for the remainder of his contract, and assigned defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz to lead the UA program for the remainder of the 2003 season.

Mackovic, 59, completed his tenure as coach with a record of 10-18 in his two-plus seasons in Tucson, including a 1-4 start this year. 'It is not a decision based on wins and losses, but on the total college football experience for our student-athletes,' Livengood said.

Hankwitz, 55, was appointed defensive coordinator by Mackovic last winter. He has been in the coaching profession for nearly four decades. A 1970 Michigan graduate, the programs he has worked with as a defensive coordinator have posted a record of 148-67-6 during his tenure.

Livengood said he would elaborate on his plans for a national coaching search at Monday's weekly football coach's press conference, where he will formally introduce Hankwitz as the interim coach.

Mackovic had more career victories (95-82-3) than any active Pac-10 coach at the time of his removal. He has been the head coach at Wake Forest, Illinois, the Kansas City Chiefs, Texas and the UA during his 38-year coaching career. He was named The Sporting News national coach of the year following his 8-4 bowl season at Wake Forest in 1979, was Big Ten coach of the year in 1988 and 1989 while at Illinois and Southwest Conference coach of the year after his 10-2-1 Texas team played in the Sugar Bowl.

His first Arizona team posted a 5-6 record including a 34-21 victory at Arizona State to close the year and his 2002 club went 4-8. Arizona is mired in a Pac-10 home-games losing streak of 12 games dating to a 53-47 victory over Washington State on Oct. 14, 2000. Three of those losses came under previous head coach Dick Tomey. Mackovic was in the third year of a five-year contract. Livengood said details of the termination would be available later this week.

The highlights of Livengood's news conference:'First of all, I appreciate everybody being here on such short notice. I want to congratulate the team on a great effort last night as we took on a top-20 team and took them into overtime. I think our players, coaches and fans deserve an awful lot of credit for a great job in trying to move Arizona football forward. Part of the job as an athletic director, and one that I wouldn't wish on any of you right now, is to try to provide leadership for the department, leadership for our student-athletes and leadership for our coaches. That's why I am doing the very best I can try possibly do right now with what I am going to announce.

I am announcing today that I am relieving John Mackovic of his head coaching duties for the remainder of his contract. All details of that contract and that process will be provided later. It is my responsibility to provide the best collegiate experience for each of our almost 500 student-athletes. It is not, and it never will be totally about winning. It is about the experience. I have not seen that with our football program. I made a decision two-and-a-half years ago that I truly believe at that time was in the best interest of our program, and it has proved not to be. That is in hindsight. Sometimes hindsight does have a 20/20 vision.

John Mackovic is a good man and a good football coach, but for whatever reason has not been a good fit for the University of Arizona football program, and that is as much my responsibility as it is his. This is not about fan unrest, it's not about Internet chat rooms, and it is not about message boards. It is about players and doing everything we can to help them mature and have the experience at the UA that we need to have and they need to have going through a collegiate experience.

I have listened, and I have talked to our players. We have had a lot of discussion about a lot of things. This is a good group of young people, and at this point, we need to move forward.

I have asked Mike Hankwitz to assume the role of interim head football coach, and he has agreed to do that. It is my belief that he will work for and with this excellent football staff as we move forward.

The next step. We will be conducting a complete national search for the best person to lead Arizona football into the future. That process will be discussed in much more detail this next week. My intentions are to have as normal a rest of the season as possible and try to provide our seniors and our younger players with the experience they deserve. It is my hope that you will all help with that.'

Question/answer session with the media:

How did the meeting go with the players this morning?

'The players and I had a sit down this morning, and that pretty much will remain between the players and myself.'

Was this a booster buyout, or is the school going to absorb the money in his contract like it did with Dick Tomey?

'That process will be talked about later, and we will go into every detail on that. We don't have all the details on that yet.'

How long was the meeting with the players, and did you talk to Coach Mackovic afterwards?

'Afterwards. The meeting with the players went approximately an hour, and Coach Mackovic was after that.'

How did the conversation with Mackovic go?

That would remain between John and myself. Should he choose to talk about that, certainly that is his choice. At this point, just as with the players, that is a personal conversation and needs to remain there.'

Was there any one thing that broke the camel's back?

'I don't think there's any one thing. I have thought about this for a very long time. In trying to look in the mirror and think and be honest about what is in the best interest of our football program and our players, the decision this morning became pretty evident to me.'

All along you have said you would wait until the end of the year to evaluate the head coach. Why change now?

'I've always said that. Quite candidly, at every university where I have held this position, that is exactly what I have done. I felt that at this particular point in time, it warranted making a decision right now. And again, that is going away from what I've normally done.'

Did this have to do with the 20 players on Friday night?

'No. There is no one single event, there's no one happening that all of a sudden had a weight to it.'

Was this decision made before the game last night?


How unusual is this to make a coaching change semi-early in the season?

'Probably very unusual. Again, things are done based on my responsibility as defined by our president and by our board of regents as to trying to lead our program, our 19 sports the best way I possibly can. It's what I really believe will be in the best interest of our football program right now.'

Are you willing to wait to hire a new coach until the end of the bowl season?

'Probably not. With that time schedule, we have some time. Quite candidly, because this decision was something that was reached this morning with me, we have some time to think through that process. You all will know about that as soon as possible.'

What was Mike Hankwitz's reaction when you told him about him taking over?

'I want to be careful with that because again, it is a personal conversation. Certainly, Mike has great compassion for John (Mackovic). They have been longtime friends, but at the same time, Mike is a professional, and Mike wants to do anything and everything he can to help these young players, our seniors and our younger players, have the best experience they can on the seven or possibly eight games that might be left.'

Is the rest of the staff staying intact?


Did you consult with President Likins about this?


Did you consult with Likins today?

'Absolutely. A number of times.'

What was his (Likins') reaction?

'His reaction was, and you will probably ask him, and I hope you will, that he had complete confidence in the decision that I was going to make. It was not made in a haphazard or hasty kind of way. It was not made with any kind of outside pressure. It was made trying to help our football program. President Likins has been and is completely supportive, and we are very lucky to have him here in that role.'

Is it business as usual and will the team practice today?

'As you well know with our Sunday schedule, our players that need medical attention are in the training room, and around this time, a great number of our players are in the weight room. We will go out later for some stretching and a light workout. Typically, Monday is the day off. I met with our coaching staff a little while ago, and they will determine an awful lot of that.'

After everything that happened with the players and President Likins in November, did you feel under the gun?

'No, I don't think I felt under the gun. I don't think Pete (Likins) did as well. I wanted it to work. I wanted it to work, and I think everything I have said and done since that time has been along those lines. Again, for whatever reason, it hasn't.'

Will you have to bring somebody onto the staff to fill the role John (Mackovic) played as a coach?

'We may or may not. What we are trying to do right now is putting Mike (Hankwitz) in that position and trying to allow Mike and our football coaches to work through some of those issues as well. Our job right now is to be as supportive of that process and provide anything and everything they need. But, those decisions will be parceled up, and he (Hankwitz) will make those decisions.'

How difficult was it for you to make this decision?

'Well, you don't make any friends doing this. You all know that. That's pretty much obvious in this position. John (Mackovic), as I mentioned, is a good man and a good coach and a good friend. That is probably enough said. It is not the highlight in an athletic director's life. I'll assure you that. And, it is not one that is made without an awful lot of thought put into it.'

Do you have a short list of candidates?

'No. There are a number of people, obviously. I have not talked to anybody at all about this job. The rumor mill runs wild and rampant, but I have not. Every athletic director at this level always has people you would think of in those kinds of things. That certainly exists in my mind, and I would be lying if I said I didn't. But, I have not talked to, and quite honestly, have not allowed myself to think along those lines until right now. Right now, in the immediate future, we are going to be focused on trying to help our coaches and players get ready to go to Pullman, Wash., and play next Saturday.'

Will Mike Hankwitz be available today?

'I would ask that you give him just a little bit of time to work through today. The first priority has to be with our team and allowing them to have some transition time today.'

Will you give some of Hankwitz's qualifications and tell us why he is the right guy to lead you through this interim period?

'We have a lot of experience on this staff. From a standpoint of his experience at both Colorado and Texas A&M, Mike has been around great programs and been a part of championships. He is very well respected by our players, by our team and by our coaches. I don't want to infer that any of the others could not have done a good job in this role at all. In my opinion, Mike fits this position probably the best right now and is very capable of doing it.'

If he wants to, will he (Hankwitz) be a candidate for the job at the end of the season?

'That is going to be up to Mike.'

What would you be willing to say about Mike Price's availability?

'At this point, I wouldn't make any comment. I haven't talked to Mike (Price). I talked to him the last time probably near the second week in June, so I haven't talked to him in a long, long time. I would have no comment at all.'

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