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Player revolt at Arizona continues to fester

By Jared Green Daily Planet Staff
Friday November 15, 2002


When the Cal football team went 1-10 last season and head coach Tom Holmoe was fired, it was hard to imagine a college program being in more disarray. But Arizona, the team Cal plays on Saturday, may just have lapped the field when it comes to upheaval. 

Nearly half of the Arizona team met with university President Peter Likins on Tuesday to complain about head coach John Mackovic. When news of the meeting, which was held without Mackovic’s knowledge, became public knowledge, the school held together a hastily-prepared press conference at which Mackovic said he would not be leaving the team. While the second-year coach did admit “serious mistakes,” Mackovic and Athletic Coordinator Jim Livengood both say he will return next season. 

But the trouble is by no means over in Tucson. Thursday brought news that some Wildcat players are considering a boycott of Saturday’s game in Berkeley, and several players publicly questioned Mackovic’s sincerity.  

“To me (the apology) is all a joke. A joke,” UA junior cornerback Michael Jolivette told the Tucson Citizen. “It is hard for a person to change. That is his personality; that is him. He can't change his ways. He is a grown man. That is Mackovic.” 

Mackovic was hired two years ago following the dismissal of longtime head coach Dick Tomey. Mackovic’s contract calls for him to earn $800,000 per season for five years, and there is a reported $1.2 million buyout should he quit or be fired this season. 

Mackovic, who coached the Texas Longhorns from 1992-97, has compiled an 8-13 record in his two seasons at Arizona, including a 3-7 mark with no Pac-10 wins so far this season. Expected to be the coach who elevated the program to national heights, Mackovic’s reign has now gained national attention, but for all the wrong reasons. 

The main reason for the players’ meeting with Likins was several instances of verbal abuse of players by Mackovic. The coach admitted to telling junior tight end Justin Levasseur that he “was a disgrace to his family and that he should go sit on the bench” during Arizona’s loss to UCLA on Nov. 9. A teary-eyed Mackovic said Wednesday he regretted the remarks. 

“He said something about my family that I didn't appreciate too much,” Levasseur said. “I didn't know how to take it. I accepted his apology. It was just a little late. After the game he could have apologized. That would have been ideal.” 

Mackovic met with the team for 90 minutes before Wednesday’s press conference and apologized to several individuals for remarks he made, but it seems that most of the veteran players, who were recruited by Tomey and had the new coach thrust upon them, have already tuned him out completely. Senior linebacker Lance Briggs said he doesn’t expect Mackovic to return next season, while Jolivette dismissed the coach’s apologies completely. 

Arizona’s current situation reflects well on the similar trials Cal went through last season. Although it was clear former head coach Tom Holmoe wasn’t capable of putting together a winning team, no player ever went public with any grievances against the coach. In fact, several veterans last week complimented Holmoe on his handling of the situation, even after his dismissal was announced with three games left in the season. 

“[Holmoe] never made us feel like things were our fault, like we got him fired,” senior safety Bert Watts said. “He got us ready for the coaching change. He handled himself with class all the way.” 

Unless the plane out of Tucson is empty, the Bears still consider Arizona a tough opponent. After all, the Cal players were the ones nobody believed in last season, so they know the Wildcats have something to prove against a favored opponent. 

“Any team can beat any team on any given day,” Cal defensive tackle Daniel Nwangwu said. “I know how they’re thinking, that they can come in here and shock the world. We just can’t let them do that.”