Kevin Sumlin is Saying and Doing the Right Things
Kevin Sumlin is a head coach who has been around the block a couple hundred times. He’s seen the good, the bad, and the ugly. He’s coached in arguably the best division in the best conference in college football. He has a pedigree in offense, but knows teams cannot win at a high level without defense. He values special teams. He believes in the JUCO route. He understands games are won by being consistent, not by trying to be perfect.
In short, he might just be the one thing Arizona football desperately needs at a crucial time in program history.
All one has to do is listen to Sumlin address the media to appreciate the fact that this guy gets it, whatever “it” is. (Listen to Kevin Sumlin’s Weekly Presser)
Sumlin preaches discipline. He believes discipline is something to be achieved on and off the gridiron. He knows that a disciplined student athlete is a consistent student athlete. This is relevant because at the collegiate level where off-the-field distractions and tom foolery can rot a foundation like a leaking faucet in the basement, consistency wins football games.
Sumlin, who begins his second year in Tucson following an opening 5-7 campaign, continues to tout his squad posting the highest collective team G.P.A. in program history during the Spring Semester.
Well, his players are growing up. They are being responsible. If they are committed to hitting the books, the absence of off-field distractions makes it easier to hit the opponent at the right time and at the right angle. Importantly, if a young athlete is committed to being disciplined in such an important area, the classroom, it is rare to see that discipline not carry over into other aspects of their life.
This is where real change can occur, and hopefully the change is now.
Arizona has been in desperate need of a change in football program culture since the school and Dick Tomey parted ways at the turn of the century. Although there have been some catchy phrases such as “Air-Zona” and “Hard Edge” over the years, I, for the life of me, have no idea what Arizona’s identity has been since about 2002.
Sumlin has not exactly revealed all of his cards just yet, but it is clear he is a man with a plan.
Take the offseason hires of new Running Backs Coach DeMarco Murray and new Offensive Line coach Kyle DeVan. Each did not just play in the NFL, they both excelled at the highest level of sport.
Murray was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2014, and rushed for 7,174 yards in seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Tennessee Titans. Devan started for the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLIV and also played for the Eagles, Titans, Washington Redskins and New York Jets.
When these two speak about what it takes to make it, they command an added level of respect.
Making the right hires, recruiting the right players, instilling a new attitude, committing student athletes to success within the classroom, on the field, and in the local community, and developing talent is what a great coach needs to do. It is what is required to take the Wildcats from a 5-7 or 8-5 team to the type of program that can compete with the best in the business, not just once every 4 or 5 years, but year-over-year.
Wildcat fans have had their hopes built up in the past, only to see their hearts get ripped out at what seems to be the most gut-wrenching moment, the type of moment where a win propels the team to the next level while a loss crystalizes the program’s fate in the form of mild, pat on the back mediocracy. The Tomey Era loss to Colorado State. The Stoops Era loss to Oregon when Ducks Tight End Ed Dickson suddenly went nuts with acrobatic catches in Arizona Stadium. The Rodriguez Era losses to UCLA (every single time).
Historically, Arizona has always been oh-so-close, only to experience losses that positioned the program oh-so-far-away from sustainable success.
While Sumlin’s teams may suffer the same fate, this offseason could indeed be the start of something different.
Rome was not built in a day and uplifting Arizona football from the malaise of the 21 Century will not happen overnight. However, Saturday marks the start of the new season and perhaps, with a commitment to team discipline and consistency, perhaps it will be start of a memorable era in program history.
Time will only tell, but at least for now he is saying and doing the right things.