TUCSON, Ariz. - The lobby of Arizona's sparkling new Lowell-Stevens Football Facility has a pair of interactive touch screens that show the history of the program, three glass cases with robotic-looking mannequins in full uniform and high ceilings that make it feel like a futuristic exhibit at Disney's Epcot Center.
The $72 million expansion of Arizona Stadium also includes underwater treadmills in the training room, ventilated seats in the locker room and the Sands Club, an upscale lounge for fans that has a buffet table, beer and wine service and opens to 570 more seats in the north stands.
A year after new coach Rich Rodriguez laid the foundation for Arizona's rebuilding project with his exciting style of football, the Lowell-Stevens facility will serve as the gateway to the Wildcats' future.
``It's a new day for Arizona football,'' athletics director Greg Byrne said.
Rodriguez helped usher it in.
Arizona needed a boost after going into a free fall under previous coach Mike Stoops and Rodriguez was the perfect fit for a program and a fan base that needed a jolt.
Rodriguez had a rough three-year run at Michigan, but was highly successful at West Virginia, turning the Mountaineers into national-title contenders with his snap-it-before-they're-ready offense.
Arizona's fans quickly took to the charismatic coach known as RichRod and he came through with a solid first season, leading the Wildcats to eight wins, including a heart-racing 49-48 win over Nevada in the New Mexico Bowl. The Wildcats may not have been very good on defense thanks to a severe lack of depth, but they sure were entertaining and got people excited about football in Tucson again.
``I've been other places where it was completely bought in, too, but this one it seemed like everyone was ready, not necessarily for a change, but something different,'' Rodriguez said.
The latest step in Arizona's progress as a football program at a basketball school came this year with the addition of the football facilities.
When Rodriguez was hired, he was a bit surprised at Arizona's facilities, even after hearing about them ahead of time. The good news was that plans to build the LSFF were already underway, so he knew a new era was just around the corner.
And the result is spectacular, a state-of-the-art facility that puts Arizona on level ground with some of the top programs in the country. The facility isn't quite on par with the Nike-backed complex at Oregon, but then no other place is.
``I don't think you have to have the best, but you have to have a facility that shows a commitment to football, that it's not a casual sport type of thing,'' Rodriguez said. ``Maybe somebody has a bigger weight room or more bells and whistles, but it's obvious that football is very, very important when you walk into this building. They couldn't have said that if you walked into the other facilities. That was just reality.
``You could sell other things, but you couldn't sell the perception that football was important at the University of Arizona. Now you can.''
In the past, potential recruits were given limited tours of the football facilities, sometimes skipping the cramped locker rooms altogether.
Now, the football facility, which includes a cafeteria for players and the families of visiting recruits, is one of the biggest selling points and the locker room, with the massive ``A'' on the ceiling and cubicles that angle toward the center of the room, is often the first stop, not the last.
``We never told recruits the things we didn't have, but they knew,'' Byrne said. ``Those days are over.''
The upgrades also have had an impact on the current players.
Most of them arrived on campus when the new facility was just a dream, something administrators talked about while they toiled away in outdated facilities.
Once plans came out and it started to become a reality, the players became excited. Once it was completed, they were blown away by everything from the training room to a new players' lounge that has a massive video screen for watching game tape or playing games, a pool table, foosball, pop-a-shot basketball and several couches.
``Coming from where we came from, this is absolutely gorgeous,'' senior linebacker Jake Fischer said. ``This means the world to me.''
It will likely mean even more to Arizona's future as a football program.