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September 14, 2012
Click here (subscription needed) for Part II of GOAZCATS.com's interview with Rita Rodriguez, who discusses why "it does feel right" at Arizona, and more.
After Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is done with practice and his interview session with the media, he's not done with football.
There after each practice ready to learn more about the game is 14-year-old son Rhett, a developing quarterback. Father pitches son a football, and son drops back to make his read and practice his footwork.
Football rarely stops in the Rodriguez household, but his wife, Rita, tiptoes around the subject depending on her husband's mood. However, Rita Rodriguez told GOAZCATS.com after Wednesday's practice that separating football from family life "usually doesn't become an issue" at home.
"I pretty much know that he usually doesn't want to talk a whole lot about football at home," she said. "But sometimes I am curious about things, and so if I'm curious about something I'll ask him one question. I know by the tone of the way he answers the question, whether he wants to talk about it or whether he doesn't. And so if he doesn't, then I just wait until another time and ask him later."
But Rita Rodriguez is far from an ordinary football wife who just sits in the background. Growing up, she rooted for Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys.
Rita, 49, describes herself as someone who has "always loved football," something Rich, 49, wants in his players - so why not his family, right? The two met while Rich was a junior at West Virginia, where he was a walk-on defensive back, and it's been quite the fit ever since.
All in the family
When Rodriguez took over at Glenville State in 1989, his second head coaching job, Rita was right there helping out as a videographer and photographer, or whatever else she could do to help out - even if that meant lining the field, which she did one time.
"I was always there because I had other responsibilities," Rita said. "So I was always involved with the program, initially."
And it was at Glenville State, located in a rural, north-central area of West Virginia, where Rodriguez once coached quarterback Rod Smith and defensive back Tony Gibson. Now, Smith is the Wildcats' co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, while Gibson coaches the safeties.
Rita said she started to not only develop relationships with Smith and Gibson, but also Wildcats defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel - who, at the time, was a defensive coordinator at Shepherd College.
"So (Casteel) was one of our competitors - one of our enemies! - that we played against, so we had the relationship (with the staff) before that," Rita said, laughing.
Along the way, Rita said she also has become "very good friends" with Gibson's wife, Kerry, and several of the coaches' families will drop by practices. That's something Rita started toward the end of Rodriguez's run at Glenville State while the couple was starting their own family.
The birth of the Rodriguez's first child, Raquel, did not stop his wife from attending practice, and thus, a family atmosphere was created - one that appeared at every one of Rodriguez's coaching stops, and with many of the other coaches on his staff.
When co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee, another past Rodriguez assistant, was hired and arrived in Tucson for the first time last December, he told GOAZCATS.com, "Even our kids know each other."
And it all stems from the priority put on family.
"Once Raquel came around, then it was just natural for me to just keep bringing her," Rita said. "Once I brought the kids, then we just felt that you need to do that because they spend so many hours at the office.
"I wanted all the fathers to know their kids."
Since then, it's been second-nature for the family to tag along everywhere, from West Virginia to Michigan to Arizona, and every stop in-between.
Every day is bring your children to work day
A college football coach's schedule at a major Division I program is rarely a quiet time. There are media requests to field, practices to coach, recruiting trips to make and game film to study - and that doesn't even include the various meetings, booster functions and other responsibilities that come with the job.
Rita has heard the tales of some of the most successful head coaches in the business, but not all of them had enough time with their families, she said.
"At the end of the day, they said they didn't know their children," Rita recalled. "And I said, 'I will not let that happen to my children.' Because I think fathers are so important in every child's life, and I want the kids to feel like he did give them their time.
"I think it's very important, and it's very important for Rhett, it's very important for Raquel."
So, when Rodriguez attended Pac-12 Conference Media Day in Los Angeles this summer, he did not come alone. Sitting with him at the table, watching him field questions from the throng of media, there was Rhett by his side. The two even used the night before Media Day to explore Universal CityWalk a bit.
"Had us a nice meal at Johnny Rockets, a nice hamburger," Rodriguez said in late July.
And Rhett has been spotted almost everywhere else since - whether it was at the team's own Media Day and autograph signing after fall camp, at postgame press conferences or each practice. After school, it's off to the football facility with mom.
When the team hits the road, Rita said, Rhett will follow, too.
"Yes, Rhett wants to go on every trip - he'll be going on every trip - and he loves spending this time with Rich," Rita said. "He just loves it because he was talking about playing football, that once you start playing in high school, more of your time is taken up and you can't spend this time. So, Rhett has really wanted this year to spend with his father.
"So, it means the world to Rhett that he's throwing the football around with him after practice."
And when 16-year-old daughter Raquel is not taking gymnastics lessons, it's a similar story, just with a bit busier high school schedule.
Like her mother, Raquel "embraces" football the same way as her brother and parents.
"If you saw the way (Raquel) ran and hugged Rich after the game, she was just so excited," Rita recalled.
The game was last Saturday's upset over then-No. 18-ranked Oklahoma State. After the Wildcats' 59-38 win, there was the coach walking off the field with right arm around Rhett and the left around Raquel (jump to the end of the video) - all smiling on the way to the team locker room located on the north end of Arizona Stadium.
Waiting outside the locker room door, watching the children and their father walk off the field, was an ecstatic Rita Rodriguez.
"That was a special moment," Rita said.
The media-savvy Rich Rodriguez has already delivered plenty of one-liners involving his family during his short time in Tucson - whether it's about his own future quarterback, Rhett, his movie-going daughter, Raquel, or even his own mother.
When asked Monday about when the Wildcats plan to debut their new, much-talked-about copper helmets this season, Rodriguez chose to keep the date a secret but joked, "Sometimes I have to treat my mom like the Internet. If I want something to get out there, I'll tell Arleen Rodriguez. Within 15 seconds it's nationwide, everywhere."
After the 'Cats knocked off Toledo in the season opener Sept. 1, Rodriguez was more happy for his players - many of which were on the 2011 team that finished 4-8 before Rodriguez arrived.
"Outside of, I guess, the birth of your children - which, you know, it was OK; it wasn't like exciting to watch, or anything - there's nothing better than a winning locker room," Rodriguez said (jump to the 2:25 mark), with Rhett standing off to the right.
During games, Rita said the family with watch from "a variety of places." Rhett hangs around on the sideline; Raquel bounces around in the stands with her friends; meanwhile, Rita goes "back and forth" between a box suite and the stands.
So, who stresses out more during games - the coach or his wife?
"I would say for me, because he's so into it and he doesn't have the time to think about it because he's working," Rita said. "During a timeout, he's thinking about what he's doing - I'm stressing. So I think they're very hard on me."
GOAZCATS.com Senior Editor
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