Arizona Football Head Coach
[Note: University of Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood relieved John Mackovic from all head coaching duties on Sunday, Sept. 28, 2003. He appointed defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz to serve as interim coach for the remainder of the season. Mackovic's 2003 club was 1-4 at the time of his dismissal.]
As John Mackovic leads his Arizona Wildcats into year three of his rebuilding plan, he does so firmly in place, with a new staff and a new sense of purpose.
He does so intently focused on the task at hand – building a winner in Tucson – with a track record of success to match. Mackovic has more wins than any other head coach in the Pac-10 and is just six victories of collegiate win No. 100.
It’s a focus seen on the field with a highly-productive spring practice after introducing five new assistants and an improved defensive philosophy.
“We have to play better defense in order to have a good team,” said Mackovic. “Our focus was that way all throughout the spring. From where we started to where we finished, we are comfortable, but I know that we are not satisfied.”
That’s not to say that his record-setting offensive style will take a back seat. Not an offense that set nearly 50 individual and team offensive records a year ago.
It’s a focus seen in the classroom as 22 players earned University of Arizona Mary J. Roby academic honors (3.0 GPA or better) in 2002-03, including two first-team Pac-10 all-Academic selections (six in the last two seasons) and Jason Johnson, the Woody Hayes National Scholar-Athlete award winner.
It’s a focus seen off the field as a head coach builds a tight-knit bond with his charges. Steadfastly weathering a 2002 season remembered more for off-the-field activities than for on-field accomplishments, Mackovic publicly accepted responsibility for the team’s internal difficulties and directed the team to step forward and get on with life.
The team did just that and went out and played its best game of the season only days later. The coach was lifted upon the shoulders of two young men at game’s end. It wasn’t enough to make 2002 a critical success, but it revealed an Arizona team capable of successful Pac-10 football.
It takes a man of strong character to admit his mistakes and work to improve them, especially in such a public forum. But Mackovic has done that with the understanding that his well-rounded approach to the total football player will pay the dividends of success.
“The main thing that Coach Mackovic understands is that a head coach these days means so much more than Xs and Os,” said Johnson. “You have to be a psychologist, a friend, a father figure all wrapped into one. I really do feel that he can motivate guys.”
As a testament to his respect and enthusiasm for the game, Mackovic was elected In April 2002 to the American Football Coaches Association Board of Trustees, representing District 9 on the prestigious leadership arm of the coaches group. It’s his second tour of duty on the Board.
“John Mackovic has been a leader in our profession, both on and off the field, for many years. His leadership in the AFCA as chairman of our Ethics Committee had a positive influence on the association and our profession. I had the privilege of coaching against John and found him to be a complete coach. His offense could move the ball against anyone. Arizona is fortunate,” said Grant Teaff, AFCA executive director and 2001 College Football Hall of Fame inductee.
It’s an accolade and endorsement of some proportion considering that some acclaimed coaches throughout the Pacific-10 and Big West conferences, and from other western schools in different divisions, might have been selected. After all, Mackovic had been out of the game and in the media for three years prior to the 2001 campaign in Tucson.
Moreover, it’s indicative of the bigger picture that Mackovic gives the Arizona football program – a seasoned veteran whose reputation is based on more than numbers, a voice that is heard nationally, and a man whose caring dedication to the sport begins with fundamentals that are well-accepted in higher education.
Make no mistake. The man has abiding energy and is a competitor who loves to knock heads on the gridiron. It’s just that the dignified elan with which he operates, and the overall comportment of student-athletes which he demands, often give him an edge over some young lions in the trade. Arizona knew what it wanted in a head coach and got it.
Arizona athletics director Jim Livengood hired a coach who in his last college coaching job won or tied for the conference championship three times, took teams to three bowl games and dramatically improved the institution’s football academic performance and graduation rates. Arizona had demonstrated progress in the latter respect but needed to make more of an effort in the first two areas after successive 6-6 and 5-6 seasons.
Mackovic’s first year at Arizona produced another 5-6 season, but the glint of change was firmly evident at the end and later, in recruiting and in spring ball, the Wildcats took some additional steps toward championship contention. Mackovic’s had nine winning seasons and eight bowl trips in his 15-year collegiate head coaching career, and Arizona seems poised for no less.
One of the head coach’s main points of emphasis is a sophisticated offensive attack. Arizona has put up some good numbers in his tenure, which began with an untested quarterback -- who later developed into a professional prospect.
While he’s a noted offensive strategist, Mackovic, however, turned to the other side of the ball in his two offseason periods and worked with successive Wildcat defensive coordinators to develop some answers to Arizona’s defensive difficulties. A coach with his exprience knows plenty about defense, but still it’s taken some substantiallly more focused time than he might have expected to right the “other side” of the ball in Tucson.
Arizona has some players in place to make a run at Mackovic’s historically proven program improvement, though improved recruiting -- such as the classes attracted in Tucson the past two seasons -- remains a thrust.
His second Wake Forest team in 1979 made a seven-game swing from 1-10 to 8-4; his second Kansas City Chiefs team in 1984 improved two games and was in the playoffs to end a long drought; his second Illinois club improved by four games, from 6-5-1 to 10-2 and a major bowl appearance. His third Texas club made a swing of three games to 8-4, and improved to 10-2-1 and the Sugar Bowl by his fourth season.
Off the field, Arizona continued a trend of improved academic responsibility. The aforementioned 22 players earning athletic department academic honors, for example. The six academic all-league performers in two years, for another. Senior Jacon Johnson became Mackovic’s fifth player (and second successive at Arizona) to make the AFCA Good Works Team. Moreover, academic emphasis has seen several key players sidelined when necessary, for failure to maintain their responsibilities.
Furthermore, Mackovic’s style and demand for improved citizenship has engendered some no-nonsense understanding among players. Those who can come to grips with the simple realities of life as a role model flourish; others who can’t, don’t. It’s about mature decision making -- and the onus falls where it belongs, in the minds and hearts of the student-athletes.
Mackovic turned to his own initiative after the 4-8 season in 2002, when early this year he found himself short-staffed. In all, within days before spring practice started, he had filled five openings -- luring five coaches who had been coordinators. Wrote CBSSportsline.com: “Amid the chaos and subsequent hand-wringing among the UA faithful, Mackovic asembled a staff that is probably more accomplished than the one he had last fall.”
UA observers at spring ball believed the assessment.
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Mackovic became Arizona’s 26th head coach on Dec. 4, 2000, in the wake of 14-year coach Dick Tomey’s departure a scant week earlier. The announcement signified a change in direction for UA as “offense” became a byword in Tucson, and Mackovic’s three-year career as an ESPN football analyst came to a close.
“John Mackovic is exactly what the University of Arizona needs right now in our football program, in our university, in our athletic department, in Tucson and in Arizona. All you have to do is look at his background, his record, and he’s been successful and won every place he’s been. And he’s done it the right way; there have been no shortcuts,” said UA athletics director Jim Livengood upon Mackovic’s hiring.
He was a familiar choice to Arizona fans, having served as offensive coordinator for four seasons in Tucson under College Football Hall of Fame head coach Jim Young from 1973-76.
His football lineage and attention to detail continue to impress tacticians of the day. His clinic engagements typically focus on the drop-back passing game and the multiple attack. In 1997 he co-authored a book, Kicking the Football. A few years ago, his chapter in an AFCA compilation, “Football Coaching Strategies,” was “The Three-Step Passing Game.” About the same time, he appeared on a Sports Ethics Institute panel with former coach Bill Curry in “An Inquiry Into the Moral Dilemmas of Coaches, Athletics Directors and Sports Managers – Do Nice Guys Finish Fired?”
In 34 years of coaching, he has held four college head coaching positions and one top NFL spot, served as offensive coordinator at three different Division I-A schools and worked as an assistant under legendary coach Tom Landry in Dallas. In his first collegiate job at Army, he rubbed elbows with fellow assistants Bill Parcells and Ken Hatfield, among others.
His coaching career has seen him develop a progression of prolific offensive players including Arizona’s Bruce Hill, Jason Johnson and Bobby Wade, Purdue’s Mark Hermann, Danny White of the Dallas Cowboys, Jeff George at Illinois and James Brown and Heisman Trophy-winner Ricky Williams at Texas.
The coach has indeed produced results in every program he has led in his career. With an overall collegiate record of 94-78-3 (.546) in 15 seasons, Mackovic has led nine teams to winning records, culminating in eight bowl invitations. He was named the National Coach of the Year at his alma mater Wake Forest and league coach of the year five times by four different major conferences. He took the cellar-dwelling Kansas City Chiefs of the National Football League from a 6-10 record in 1983 to 10-6 and the playoffs in just four seasons.
“Our goal is to get to the Rose Bowl and to win it,” Mackovic emphatically stated upon his hiring.
While out of the coaching profession he did not ignore the pulse of college football. His time as an analyst at ESPN from 1998-2000 allowed him an opportunity to evaluate the game from the outside looking in.
Nor did he turn away from the media once back inside college football. Mackovic opened the Arizona program to a production team from Los Angeles that spent months in spring and summer 2001on campus videotaping coaches, then tracked the team through camp and the full season for an in-depth, behind-the-scenes view of college football, the first such program to do so. The show aired as a two-part ESPN Original Entertainment segment of “The Season.”
“We weren’t afraid,” Mackovic said in an interview. “If we say or do something that’s not perfect, people are going to understand we’re not perfect. If they did a story about us that turned out to be all roses and cupcakes, it would be a pretty hard story for people to believe because everyone knows there are some tough things that happen.”
A colleague at ESPN, Tony Barnhart, said Mackovic’s drive has obvious ramifications. “Regardless of the team he coaches or at what level, the book on John Mackovic is always the same: He wins. And he wins because his teams are meticulously prepared and thoroughly motivated to play every single game. He brought the same traits to the table when we became friends and colleagues. He prepared for a broadcast the same way he prepared for a game — with great attention to detail.”
Prior to his tenure as an analyst for ESPN, he served as the head coach for the University of Texas in Austin. At UT he improved the Longhorn’s graduation rate to as high as 86 percent while also forming the foundation for the Longhorns’ return to a winning tradition. In 1992, his first season as the head coach, he posted a 6-5 record, ending a skid of four losing seasons in six years for UT. He followed that up with a 5-5-1 record in 1993, and UT’s 8-4 mark in 1994 earned the ‘Horns a share of the Southwest Conference title and a berth in the Sun Bowl against 19th-ranked North Carolina. A 35-31 victory over the Tar Heels in El Paso marked Texas’ first bowl victory since 1987.
In 1995 Texas won the last Southwest Conference title with a perfect 7-0 record, finishing with a berth in the Sugar Bowl and a final 10-2-1 record. In 1996, Mackovic led the Longhorns to the first Big 12 title with a 37-27 victory over No. 3 Nebraska in the Inaugural Big 12 Championship Game. One highlight in the contest – which became one of UT’s historical ‘Great Game’ moments, was a call on 4th-and-inches late in the game, when UT used a short-yardage alignment to toss a 61-yard pass play to seal the game late in the fourth-quarter. The ‘Horns went on to a Fiesta Bowl appearance and finished 8-5.
He was named the Southwest Conference Coach of the Year in 1995 and garnered Big XII Coach of the Year honors in 1996 by the Austin American-Statesman. Football Quarterly tabbed him as a National Coach of the Year finalist in 1995. He finished with an impressive overall record of 41-28-2 (.592) at Texas.
A 1965 graduate of Wake Forest, Mackovic was quarterback for the Demon Deacons from 1962-64. While at Wake Forest, he won the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference Gold Medal Award for excellence in athletics and academics in 1964 and was an Academic All-American in his senior season. He was inducted into the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame in 1995.
He went on to earn his graduate degree from Miami (Ohio) University in 1967. During his studies in Oxford he served one season as a graduate assistant under soon-to-be-legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
Upon receiving his master’s degree in educational administration, he returned home to Barberton, Ohio, where he coached high school football for one season. After a stint as the U.S. Army post basketball coach at Fort Knox, Mackovic began his long and distinguished career as a football coach. He spent one season as coach of the freshman team at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point in 1968, then found himself on the opposite end of the country in 1969 when he was hired as the offensive coordinator at San Jose State.
After a two-year stay in San Jose under Joe McMullen with the Spartans, Mackovic traveled back to West Point where he
was assigned by coach Tom Cahill to the offensive backs as an assistant coach for two seasons. The ’72 Cadets forged a 6-4 record against a tough schedule and earned the inaugural Commander in Chief’s Trophy with victories over Navy and Air Force.
When the University of Arizona hired Jim Young to replace Bob Weber as its football coach in 1973, the former Schembechler assistant tabbed Mackovic to be his offensive coordinator. In four seasons at UA, Mackovic’s Wildcat offense finished no lower than third in total yards, and the 1975 team led the Western Athletic Conference in total yards and scoring. When Young left Arizona for Purdue University after the 1976 season, he took Mackovic with him to West Lafayette, Ind.
Mackovic spent one season with the Boilermakers where he helped develop Mark Hermann into one of the top quarterbacks in college football history.
Wake Forest, Mackovic’s alma mater, gave him his first opportunity at a top spot when it named him head coach in 1978. His first season with the Demon Deacons resulted in a 1-10 record, but the miraculous turnaround of the 1979 team elevated the second-year coach to The Sporting News National Coach of the Year and Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year honors. The Demon Deacons, who finished the ‘79 season 8-4, earned what was then just its third post-season invitation in school history with a bid to the Tangerine Bowl.
In 1980, his final year at Wake, Mackovic was named to the coaching staff for the Blue Gray All Star Football Classic. Later, in 1998 Mackovic and fellow ’80 assistant Joe Restic of Harvard were inducted into the Blue Gray Hall of Fame, joining a list of coaching greats that includes Bear Bryant, Johnny Majors, Grant Teaff, Darrell Royal, Bill Yeoman, Vince Dooley, Don Faurot and Hayden Fry, among others.
A six-year stint in the National Football League followed his three-year stay in Winston-Salem. In 1981 Dallas Cowboys head coach Tom Landry chose Mackovic to mentor a young Danny White for two seasons as quarterbacks coach. His development of White into a Pro Bowl player and one of the top QBs in the NFL caught the eye of the 6-10 Kansas City Chiefs. In 1983, Mackovic took over the reigns of the Chiefs, and in four short seasons, he led them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 seasons, establishing one of the most potent offensive teams in the professional game at the time.
After a year away from coaching in 1987, in which he established Yes Inc., a service-related organization which focused on motivational speaking, the University of Illinois came calling. The Illini had won a total of seven games in the previous two seasons, and Mackovic began rebuilding the third team in his career.
His four-year stay at Illinois from 1988-91 proved him a master in building winners. Inheriting a team that finished 3-7-1 in the season prior to his arrival, Mackovic turned the program around immediately, leading the Fighting Illini to a 6-5-1 record and a berth in the All-American Bowl in his first season at the helm. The turnaround garnered Mackovic the first of two consecutive Big Ten Coach of the Year awards.
His leadership and attention to detail guided UI to a 30-16-1 record (.649) and four consecutive bowl games as its head coach. His teams finished no lower than second in passing in the Big Ten every season under his guide. He also helped develop Jeff George into a top collegiate quarterback.
Mackovic also served as the director of athletics for the Illini during his stay in Champaign, erasing a $2.7 million deficit and guiding the program to financial success in less than three years. His attention to football included a 1990 issues discussion in “Athletics Administration,” the publication for the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, on underclassmen and the NFL draft.
His diverse professional background, wealth of offensive knowledge and recruiting savvy gave Arizona football a new look and bright prospects in the future.
His first two recruiting classes brought notice, as coaches scoured Arizona, California and Texas for top talent, bringing in groups that addressed immediate needs and featured talent at every position.
Sports Illustrated columnist Ivan Maisel, who followed Mackovic’s Texas teams, says, “John has coached at small, medium and large football traditions. And he has won at all three, which is no small feat. His offensive concepts have remained potent for more than 20 years, which in this age of rapid defensive change, is truly remarkable.”
In addition to his coaching duties, Mackovic has played an instrumental role in the game of football off of the field. He was vice president of the American Football Coaches Association, a member of the AFCA Board of Trustees from 1993 to 1998-98, chairman of the AFCA’s Ethics Committee (1993-99), a member of the NCAA Special Committee on Amateurism and Agents (1995-96), a member of the NCAA Committee of Football Activities (1992-98), a member of the AFCA Legislative Committee (1993-98) and a member of the NCAA Professional Liaison Committee (1990-98). He also served as an adviser to the National Uniform Code of Laws committee relating to player agents from 1994-99.
Mackovic has endowed a scholarship in his name at the University of Texas and also begun an athletics scholarship in his daughter’s name at the University of Arizona.
Mackovic married the former Phyllis Feilke in April 2001. He has two children, Aimee, 27, and John III, 25. Phyliss’ two children are Jennifer, 28, and Chad, 27. The young John Mackovic entered the University of Arizona College of Law in fall 2001.
The Mackovic File
|Full Name:||John Mackovic Jr.|
|Date of Birth:||Oct. 1, 1943, Barberton, Ohio|
|High School:||Barberton High School|
|College:||Wake Forest, 1965|
|Advanced Degree:||Miami (Ohio), 1967|
|Playing Experience:||Wake Forest, quarterback, 1962-64|
|Bowl Experience:||1997 Fiesta, 1996 Sugar, 1994 Sun (all at Texas); 1991 John Hancock, 1990 Hall of Fame, 1989 Florida Citrus, 1988 All-American (all at Illinois); 1979 Tangerine (Wake Forest).|
Mackovic Players' Highlights
Woody Hayes National Scholar-Athlete Award -- Jason Johnson, 2003
AFCA 'Good Works' Team -- Jason Johnson, 2002; Eli Wnek, 2001
First-Team Academic All-Pac-10 - Seven honors, 2001-2002; plus one second-team, six honorable mention
Verizona Academic All-District VII - Jason Johnson (1st team), 2002; Eli Wnek (1st team), Jason Johnson (2nd team), 2001
Big XII Offensive Player of the Year - Ricky Williams, 1997, 1998
Doak Walker Award - Ricky Williams, 1997
NCAA Rushing Champion - Ricky Williams, 1997
Unanimous All-America - Ricky Williams, 1997
GTE Academic All-America - Dusty Renfro, 1997
Big XII Freshman of the Year - Aaron Humphrey, 1996
NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship - Pat Fitzgerald, 1996
First-team Academic All-Big XII - Nine honors, 1996-97
Consensus All-America - Dan Neil, 1996
Anson Mount Scholar Athlete - Pat Fitzgerald, 1996
AFCA 'Good Works' Team - Tyson King, 1996
GTE Academic All-America - Pat Fitzgerald, 1995, 1996
Two-time All-America - Pat Fitzgerald, 1995, 1996
Southwest Conference Offensive Newcomer of the Year - Shon Mitchell, 1995
SWC Freshman of the Year - Ricky Williams, 1995
AFCA 'Good Works' Team - Tony Brackens, 1995
Consensus All-America - Tony Brackens, 1995
SWC Defensive Newcomer of the Year - Chris Akins, 1994
Sun Bowl MVP - Priest Holmes, 1994
AFCA 'Good Works' Team - Robert Reed, 1994
Consensus All-America - Blake Brockermeyer, 1994
SWC Defensive Newcomer of the Year - Tony Brackens, 1993
Consensus All-America - Johnny Treadwell, 1992
USA Today Fabulous Freshmen - Mike Adams, Priest Holmes, Curtis Jackson, Lovell Pinkney, 1992
NFL Draft Picks, 1993-98; 2002: Seventeen; six in First Round
Mackovic's Coaching Honors
|2002||AFCA Board of Trustees|
|1998||Blue Gray Hall of Fame (1980 staff)|
|1996||Big XII Coach of the Year (Austin American-Statesman)|
|1995||Southwest Conference Coach of the Year|
|Dallas All-Sports Association "Coach of the Year"|
|College Football Coach of the Year finalist (Football Quarterly)|
|1989||Big Ten Coach of the Year|
|1988||Big Ten Coach of the Year|
|1979||College Football Coach of the Year (The Sporting News)|
|Walter Camp Foundation National Coach of the Year|
|AFCA District Coach of the Year|
|Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year|
Before and After Mackovic
Under Mackovic: 41-28-2, three bowls
Under Mackovic: 30-16-1, four bowls
Wake Forest, 1978-80
Under Mackovic: 14-20, first bowl in 30 years
John Mackovic Year-By-Year
|1965||Miami (Ohio) - Graduate assistant|
|1966||Barberton (Ohio) High School - Assistant coach|
|1967||U.S. Army - Basketball coach, Fort Knox, Ky.|
|1968||U.S. Military Academy - Freshman coach|
|1969||San Jose State - Offensive coordinator|
|1970||San Jose State - Offensive coordinator|
|1971||U.S. Military Academy - Assistant coach, offensive backs|
|1972||U.S. Military Academy - Assistant coach, offensive backs|
|1973||Arizona - Offensive coordinator|
|1974||Arizona - Offensive coordinator|
|1975||Arizona - Offensive coordinator|
|1976||Arizona - Offensive coordinator|
|1977||Purdue - Assistant head coach/offensive coordinator|
|1978||Wake Forest - Head coach, 1-10|
|1979||Wake Forest - Head coach, 8-4, Tangerine Bowl|
|1980||Wake Forest - Head coach, 5-6|
|Record: 14-20-0 (.412)|
|1981||Dallas Cowboys - Assistant coach, quarterbacks|
|1982||Dallas Cowboys - Assistant coach, quarterbacks|
|1983||Kansas City Chiefs - Head coach, 6-10|
|1984||Kansas City Chiefs - Head coach, 8-8|
|1985||Kansas City Chiefs - Head coach, 6-10|
|1986||Kansas City Chiefs - Head coach, 10-6, NFL Playoffs|
|Record: 30-34-0 (.469)|
|1988||Illinois - Head coach, 6-5-1, All-American Bowl|
|1989||Illinois - Head coach, 10-2, Florida Citrus Bowl|
|1990||Illinois - Head coach, 8-4, Hall of Fame|
|1991||Illinois - Head coach, 6-5, John Hancock Bowl|
|Record: 30-16-1 (.649)|
|1992||Texas - Head coach, 6-5|
|1993||Texas - Head coach, 5-5-1|
|1994||Texas - Head coach, 8-4, Sun Bowl|
|1995||Texas - Head coach, 10-2-1, Sugar Bowl|
|1996||Tesas - Head coach, 8-5, Fiesta Bowl|
|1997||Texas - Head coach, 4-7|
|Record: 41-28-2 (.592)|
|1998||ESPN college football analyst, to Jan. 2001|
|2001||Arizona - Head Coach, 5-6 (2-6 Pac-10)|
|Arizona - Head Coach, 4-8 (1-7 Pac-10)|
|Record: 9-14 (.391)|
|Collegiate Record: 94-78-3 (.546)|
|Professional Record||30-34-0, four years|
Mackovic's All-Time Record vs. Collegiate Opponents
Pac-10 Teams in Bold
|School||Overall||At UT||at UI||at WF |
|New Mexico State||1-0||1-0||--||--|
|North Carolina State||1-2||--||--||1-2|
|San Diego State||1-0||--||--||--|
|William & Mary||1-0||--||--||1-0|