Jim Click is excited about Arizona’s Alamo Bowl game against Oklahoma.
Click is even more excited about what’s next for Arizona football: joining the Big 12.
“This is a deal made in heaven for Jim Click,” said Jim Click himself.
Click is a 79-year-old Tucson icon. Owner of 16 car dealerships (10 in Tucson, six in Orange County, California) and a huge UofA booster. He figures he took a lot of money from Tucson residents over 50 years, it’s only right that he give a bunch of it back.
But Click loves OSU and the state of Oklahoma, too. He grew up in Altus, the son of a car dealer, and played center and linebacker on Phil Cutchin’s rough-and-tumble Cowboys from 1963-65, serving as captain on the ’65 team that won Bedlam (17-16) for the first time in 19 years.
Click bought a Tucson Ford dealership in 1971 at age 27, not knowing a soul in the metro area of 310,00. Now Tucson has exploded into a city with over a million in the metro, and everyone knows Click.
Click is a magnetic personality. Then-OSU athletic director Mike Holder credits Click for producing the 2011-12 Cowboy-Wildcat series. When OU and Texas pledged to the Southeastern Conference 2½ years ago and the Big 12 seemed imperiled, Click said he put OSU president Kayse Shrum and Arizona president Robert Robbins together. No Pac-12 invitation to OSU came out of the meeting, but two years later, their relationship helped the other way — UofA (along with Arizona State, Colorado and Utah) joining the Big 12.
Now we’ve got a 16-team Big 12 set for July 2024, and Click is thrilled.
“Having new teams come to Tucson will be good opportunity, seeing teams we haven’t seen in 50 years,” Click said. “Looks like a win win to me, for both conferences.”
Click said he feels sorry for Oregon State and Washington State, left with no place to sit in conference realignment musical chairs, but otherwise feels no regret about the Pac-12.
“Hell, I don’t think I’ll miss ’em,” Click said. “I really don’t. Football’s football. Basketball’s basketball. We’re going into a really good basketball conference. I think it’s good for Arizona and Arizona State.”
Arizona football goes to the Alamo Bowl — and the Big 12 — with uncommon momentum. The previous seven seasons, the Wildcats were 28-53 overall, 16-43 in the Pac-12.
But third-year coach Jedd Fisch has produced a team that is 9-3, 7-2 in the Pac-12, with wins over Oregon State, UCLA and Utah. UofA’s defeats came in overtime at Mississippi State, triple overtime at Southern Cal and 31-24 at home to still-unbeaten Washington.
This is a real team.
“Everybody in Arizona, I think, is excited about what he’s done,” Click said of Fisch. “I think they’re working to make sure they keep him. That was a great hire. He came in and rallied the alumni.”
Including Rob Gronkowski, the tight end who played for Mike Stoops at Arizona and went on to become a New England Patriots star.
Stoops and Click were thick friends. Click was on the recruiting trip when the UofA delegation came to Norman in late 2003 to entice Stoops to be the ‘Zona coach.
Stoops had some success, though he eventually was fired after 7½ seasons, with a 41-50 record.
In 2011, Stoops was fired after a five-game losing streak dropped UofA to 1-5. That losing streak began with a 37-14 loss at OSU. Stoops jokes that Click helped him get hired and fired, the latter by scheduling that game against an OSU team that finished No. 3 in the nation.
Arizona football has mostly been mediocre over the decades. Since the Pac in 1978, the Wildcats have posted just three double-digit win seasons (they could make it four in the Alamo Bowl). Their only Pac title came in 1993, a three-way tie with USC and UCLA. Arizona never made the Rose Bowl. The Wildcats have made a major bowl just twice — Fiestas in the seasons of 1993 and 2014.
But Fisch has brought optimism that Arizona could be a player in the new-look Big 12. The legacy Big 12 schools are free of higher-resourced OU and Texas; the legacy Pac-12 schools are free of higher-resourced USC and Oregon.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt he believes we’ll compete for the Big 12 championship,” Click said of Fisch. “Yessir, I think we’ll compete. Obviously, we’re going to compete in basketball (‘Zona is a national hoops power). I think we’ll compete in football, baseball, all the sports.
“I know the president and our AD (Dave Heeke) feel the same way. Our attendance this year all of a sudden jumped way up. And that’s the result of success. If we can build tradition here…”
2024 Arizona success seems possible. The Wildcats haven’t lost much in the transfer portal. Freshman quarterback Noah Fifita was a sensation this season, taking over after four games and completing 73.6%, with 23 touchdowns and five interceptions. Click proudly points out that Fifita is from Orange County, home of some of those Jim Click car dealerships.
Heck, even for the Alamo Bowl, UofA is nearly full strength, with only major void. Offensive tackle Jordan Morgan, headed for the National Football League, will skip the game.
But otherwise, the arrow’s pointing up for Arizona football. And the arrow’s always pointing up for Jim Click.
Jim Click, as an OSU center
“I’ve got a big smile on my face,” Click told me the other day, chatting on the phone.
I believe it. When I called him a dozen years ago, before the advent of the OSU-Arizona game, he answered the phone, “Hello Oklahoma!”
He didn’t know who was calling, but he knew it was a 405 area code.
He graduated from Altus in 1962, from OSU in 1966 and loves to tell stories about surviving Cutchin’s brutal training camps.
In the Cowboy football complex hangs a display, honoring Click. Part of the 285-word proclamation quotes Click:
“During my freshman year at OSU in 1963, I wanted to quit and I didn’t. As it turns out, because I didn’t quit, I received four of the greatest years in my life by being at OSU and being able to participate on the OSU football team. I made some of the best friendships, including Walt Garrison and Hugh McCrabb, and I also received a good education … which is priceless.”
After going to work in Los Angeles for his great uncle, Holmes Tuttle, “Within the first month or two on the job, I wanted to quit, but didn’t. I always think back … what if I had quit in football and what if I’d quit my first job selling cars, where would I be today? One thing I learned from my dad, was that there is no substitute for hard work, there are no shortcuts to success and remember to treat every customer so fair that they automatically will want to go to work for you.”
Click uses “we” when talking about Arizona. He wore a red shirt to the OSU-Arizona game a dozen years ago, a gift of Holder, who knows a thing or two about philanthropy and knew Click had developed deep roots in the Arizona desert.
But in Click’s office hangs a picture of the 1962 OSU recruiting class. On his desk sits a game ball from 1965 Bedlam. And Click still organizes, and usually pays for, reunions of those Cowboy teams. Click and the ‘65 team gathered for the Bedlam game last month and watched another OSU upset.
He’s in the OSU Hall of Fame. Not the athletic Hall of Fame. The university Hall of Fame. Click has endowed scholarships for the center position and for a defensive tackle, in honor of McCrabb, his OSU roommate.
Let’s change an old-time riddle, shall we? What’s orange and black and red all over? Jim Click.