More cohesive Wildcats prepare for season

Updated: August 14, 2003, 6:22 PM ET

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Whatever the underlying causes of last season's Arizona player mutiny, they seem remote now.

Nine months after a tearful coach John Mackovic acknowledged making mistakes in handling players and promised to come across as less aloof, the Wildcats presented a unified front Thursday at the program's annual Media Day.

"I think that the camaraderie among the players is different and better," Mackovic said. "I see fewer groups of people who just cling together, and they spread around and talk to each other more and stuff like that. That's always healthy for a team."

In May, Mackovic blamed cliques and outside influences for the revolt of about 40 players who went to university president Peter Likins on Nov. 12 to complain that the coach was unapproachable and verbally abusive.

The next day, Mackovic apologized and promised improved communication with his players. The Wildcats upset California 52-41 the next weekend but finished 4-8.

The third-year coach wasn't sure whether having more players he chose has contributed to a smoother training camp and the hope of a less wrenching season.

"I don't even think about that," Mackovic said. "We come out to coach, we treat everybody the same way, we work them hard. We tell them that, you know, if we ask you to do this and you do it, you're going to have a better chance to play.

"We're going to play the guys that play their positions the best and contribute to the team the most."

Kicker Bobby Gill, a fifth-year senior, said the message has gotten through.

"The guys just look like they want it this year," Gill said. "There's just a little bit different look in the eyes out there. There's more of a sense of urgency, and everyone is kind of in step."

Mackovic believes the unrest was due to more than disgruntled players, and his staff reflects that. Five of 10 assistants are new, including one -- Mose Rison -- who is the program's third wide receivers coach in six months.

Mackovic said he likes the instruction being handed out now.

"I've heard a position coach say, 'Now, this is what we need to do and this is how we'll do it," Mackovic said. "And I've seen the players improve and do that."

Chris Henry, one of several freshmen that Mackovic expects to contend for playing time, found the atmosphere businesslike.

"Some people take criticism as a positive," the 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back said. "Some feel like the person is getting down on them. But there's nothing wrong with positive reinforcement."

Rison may have inherited the most barren larder on the team.

Not only did Bobby Wade move up to the NFL, but academic concerns are on the verge of scrambling the depth chart at wide receiver.

Andrae Thurman, whose 15.0-yard average on 61 catches last year was better than Wade's, may be ineligible, and prize recruit Marcus Thomas failed to qualify academically.

Mackovic said Thurman's summer school grades have not been posted, but he wasn't optimistic.

"If Andrae's back, obviously that would ease some of the workload, but if he's not, we're prepared to go on and continue with what we're doing," Mackovic said. "We've already made some provisions in our formations and personnel."

The adjustments include slotting Lance Relford as the top kick returner, and relying heavily on Relford and Ricky Williams to provide veteran leadership among the wideouts.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index