|Thursday, November 14
Mackovic asks players for another chance
TUCSON, Ariz. -- A public mutiny by players is rare in college football. Rarer still is a coach choking back tears as he admits he's done wrong.
Such was the spectacle Wednesday at Arizona.
"It has been quite a day," coach John Mackovic said, "quite a 24 hours."
Rumors were rampant throughout the day that Mackovic would step down with two games remaining in the second year of a five-year contract that pays him $800,000 per year. A Tucson radio station even reported that he would quit.
Mackovic, 59, did not resign. Instead, he admitted that he's made mistakes in his dealings with players and assistant coaches, and promised to change.
"This afternoon I have met with my coaches and our team separately to express my feelings and regrets," he said at a packed news conference at McKale Center. "I'm terribly sorry for my part in this turmoil and unrest. I accept full responsibility for my actions and pledge to work tirelessly to mend any fences."
The discontent that had simmered below the surface boiled over on Tuesday night when more than 40 players -- about half the team -- sought and were granted a meeting with university president Peter Likins to air their complaints about the coach.
For some 90 minutes, the players told Likins of what they believed was Mackovic's unwarranted verbal abuse, and the misery that was Arizona football. The team is 0-6 in the Pac-10, and 3-7 overall.
"It was a feeling that was echoed throughout the team," said senior linebacker Lance Briggs, an all Pac-10 player the last two seasons. "As soon as I heard it, I said, 'Let's go.' I was one of the first guys to speak and bring it all out into the light. I had a chance to get a lot of things off my chest."
Likins listened, then called athletics director Jim Livengood, who met with Mackovic for nearly two hours to discuss the situation.
"John, in the conversation last night, which I thought was outstanding, understood clearly -- we've just got to make some changes," Livengood said. "We need to make some changes so that our players clearly enjoy what they're doing."
Livengood suggested that the players' meeting with the university president had been promoted by "outside forces," an apparent reference to players' parents, boosters, or both. If so, those outside forces will not be pleased that Mackovic kept his job.
Mackovic said the problems stem from his behavior following the team's loss at Wisconsin on Sept. 21.
"I said many things that were inappropriate for that time and place," he said. "Most importantly, I allowed my emotions to get control of me. I've always placed high standards on my conduct, as well as my team's. On that day and on other days, I have failed to live up to my own standards."
Mackovic, reading from a prepared statement, said he knew at the time what he'd said was wrong.
"That same Monday, I made similar comments to our coaching staff, which I have regretted as well," he said. "Again, my actions and inactions in correcting the situation lie squarely on my shoulders."
Mackovic paused to regain his composure, then said, "It was reported that I had told a player as recently as last Saturday that he was a disgrace to his family for the way he was playing. I have made a full and open apology to him and hope he can accept it."
That player was junior tight end Justin Levasseur.
"He just said something about my family that I didn't appreciate. He apologized for it," Levasseur said. "A little late, but he did apologize. ... I don't know if he can change, but I hope he can."
Mackovic, who coached at Illinois, the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs and at Texas before becoming an ESPN analyst, met with his players for nearly two hours. It was, Briggs said, the kind of give-and-take the team had never experienced before with the coach.
Arizona has two games remaining, at California on Saturday and at home against Arizona State on Nov. 29. Beyond that, Mackovic faces an uncertain future. Opposing recruiters will use this week's upheaval against him. The discipline of his current players will be scrutinized.
"I'm ready," he said. "Anybody tells me I can't do something, I'm going to set out to prove them wrong."