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Originally published October 27, 2011 at 9:02 PM | Page modified October 28, 2011 at 8:10 PM

Arizona's coaching change contrasts with UW's decision on Tyrone Willingham

The Wildcats' sudden change might bring about a better effect than UW saw in 2008 when the Huskies fired Tyrone Willingham in midseason but let him finish the season.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Saturday

Arizona @ UW, 7:30 p.m., ROOT Sports

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Arizona's decision to fire coach Mike Stoops on Oct. 10 was surprising as much for its timing as the mere fact that it happened at all.

Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, though, explained when he made the change — only the second in-season firing of a Pac-12 coach since 2004 — that he thought there was still time to save the season and that players might respond better to a new voice.

That new voice is 57-year-old Tim Kish, who will lead Arizona into Husky Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Saturday to play Washington.

Byrne noted that Kish, who had been the team's defensive coordinator, had a different temperament than Stoops, who had been Arizona's coach since 2004. Stoops was 41-50 but also had led the Wildcats to bowl games each of the past three seasons, doing so in a manner that had the word "fiery" essentially affixed as a permanent addition to his first name.

Of Kish, Bryne said, "I think he'll create a culture of calmness."

Kish, who had been with Stoops for his entire Arizona tenure, referred to it instead as returning fun to the game.

"The one (thing) that was the most important was that these kids went out there and enjoyed playing the game of football again," Kish said. "That was the mantra."

For a night, anyway, it all seemed to work perfectly as the Wildcats blew out UCLA 48-12, leading 42-7 at halftime.

Arizona senior quarterback Nick Foles said the change "brought us even closer and we are playing more loose."

Foles recalled that on the first practice run by Kish, the coach "just put down the ball and we pretty much just scrimmaged and ran plays. ... The coaches are doing a really good job of interacting with the players and changing up practice a little bit, changing up scenarios and putting more on the players and putting more confidence in the seniors."

Foles, whose 363 yards per game passing leads the Pac-12, said the changes included asking him for more input in the offense.

"They put more confidence in me and the seniors and that does a lot for the team and you can definitely see the players taking more ownership in the team because the coaches are allowing it," Foles said.

The way the Wildcats played against UCLA has some speculating that Arizona might actually be able to make a run at a bowl game — it has winnable contests against Utah, Colorado and Louisiana-Lafayette on the schedule.

Arizona's approach is in contrast to the way the Huskies handled their coaching change in 2008. When UW fired Tyrone Willingham after seven games, it also made the decision to allow him to coach the remainder of the schedule.

The thinking was that Willingham would provide stability to the program.

Washington lost its final five games after Willingham was fired to finish 0-12, which caused some fans to question the decision.

But UW athletic director Scott Woodward said this week he hasn't regretted the way Washington handled that season.

"I clearly stated I wanted order on the team and I wanted discipline and that team, even though they had a horrific on-the-field result, I think that off the field and in the classroom that we had a modicum of decorum," he said. "Each situation is different. It's hard to compare and contrast two different locations and two different programs in two different times."

Kish has changed a few things schematically, bringing back more aggressiveness to the defense and adding wrinkles to the running part of the offense — such as the Pistol formation occasionally — that helped result in a season-high 254 rushing yards against the Bruins.

Arizona entered the season with a team some thought was talented enough to contend for the South Division title, and its 1-5 start wasn't helped by having to play Oklahoma State, Oregon and Stanford, all ranked in the top 10, as well as at USC.

Foles, though, says Arizona is trying to resist getting caught up in any expectations, saying that might have been one of the problems earlier in the season.

"One thing coach Kish is doing a great job of, he is just saying one practice at a time, what you can control is today," he said. "That's what we are really trying to focus on."

Notes

• Sophomore Will Shamburger could start at free safety in place of Justin Glenn, who suffered a foot injury at Stanford. UW coach Steve Sarkisian said Glenn should be able to play but that he thought the combination of Shamburger and Sean Parker "performed well at Stanford. ... We're constantly trying to allow guys to compete, one. And two, everyone's going to play. We're going to rotate those guys, and we'll be better for it. Arizona's got some no-huddle stuff that they do, and we want to make sure those guys are fresh."

• UW officials said 57,288 tickets have been distributed for Saturday's game.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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