Originally Published: May 30, 2014 6:02 a.m.
PRESCOTT, Arizona - The University of Arizona's Road Tour pulled into Prescott for its final statewide stop Thursday evening with a large turnout of fans - and some new contracts.
One day after men's basketball coach Sean Miller, football coach Rich Rodriguez and athletic director Greg Byrne each agreed on contract extensions with the U-of-A, the group was joined also by women's basketball coach Niya Butts at The Hassayampa Inn in downtown Prescott, wondering who was buying dinner fresh off their new deals.
"I heard there's prime rib over here," Byrne laughed shortly after arriving. "We'll have a prime rib sandwich here at some point."
Miller, who guided the Wildcats to a 33-5 record, No. 1 national ranking and Elite 8 berth in the NCAA Tournament, agreed on a one-year extension that will raise his base salary to $1.6 million. Rodriguez agreed to a two-year extension through 2019.
The extensions await approval by the Arizona Board of Regents when it meets June 5-6.
"Hopefully everything gets approved by the Board of Regents, and if it does I think we have a great team of coaches," Byrne added. "Obviously Coach Miller and Coach Rodriguez are doing a great job. We've got a lot of other coaches. Andy Lopez, our baseball coach, won the national championship two years ago. We're back in the top 10 in track & field traditionally, and in softball we made it to the Super Regional. So we're making a lot of progress in the department."
Miller declined commenting on the extension pending its approval, but admitted he does still think about his team's dramatic loss to Wisconsin in the Elite 8 in late March. The Wildcats couldn't get off a final shot as time expired, and Miller wants his returners to carry their feelings over to the 2014-15 season.
"Yeah, sure. An overtime game in the Elite 8...," Miller paused to chuckle. "The winner goes to the Final Four and doesn't look back, but one of us that doesn't win - you're just so close. In particular it ended on a last shot but it also ended on a really tough call that you don't get over easily."
Arizona has compiled a 48-24 league record in Miller's first four seasons in the Pac-12, which is tied for best in the conference over that span.
"When you get as close as we were to the Final Four, you're hungry to get back there," he added Thursday night in Prescott. "It's that hunger and having a great offseason that hopefully will put us in position to have another great season next year and make another run at it."
Rodriguez will open his third season as Wildcats football coach at home in a nationally-televised game Aug. 29 against UNLV. He is 16-10 overall with Arizona.
This month he saw All-American running back Ka'Deem Carey get drafted by the Chicago Bears. The 2013 Pac-12 offensive Player of the Year left the Tucson campus as Arizona's all-time career rushing leader and all-time all-purpose yardage leader, along with the Pac-12 record for consecutive 100-yard rushing games (16).
"I thought he was better than a fourth-round pick but I think he got lucky in getting a chance to go with the Chicago Bears," Rodriguez said Thursday of Carey. "It's a great organization. Their offensive coordinator and running backs coach came down and talked with him for a whole day, so I knew they were interested about a week or two before the draft. And he's got (Bears linebacker) Lance Briggs up there, a U-of-A grad that will help ease him in there."
Rodriguez also downplayed news this month that the Pac-12 will host its championship game at the neutral site of Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, for the next three years rather than at a potential home site.
"I really don't care. People ask me about that and I say, hell, I'm just trying to get a first down right now," he said. "Let me get to the championship game. I'm sure if we had a chance to host it we'd rather do that. But logistically it's probably easier to have it at a neutral site. But until I get there, I'm not worried about it."
The Prescott tour stop was the Wildcats' last on their offseason jaunt that also has taken them to Phoenix, Pinetop and Tubac.
"One of the best things in terms of support is everybody is gung-ho Arizona," said Butts, the women's basketball head coach, whose program is looking to better its 5-25 finish in 2013-14.
"It's been awesome. People bleed red and blue and love it and really dive into it, from alumni to the current students. Everybody jumps on board and that's the thing that I really like about it."
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