Football needs to win back the fans

Brad Allis

So far, the Sumlin era has been a bust. Other than a 4-1 start to this season, there has been little to get excited for. Sumlin has a lot to do if he is going to win back a fanbase that is staying away in droves.

Here are my suggestions.

Hire a DC

Obviously, Sumlin must hire a defensive coordinator, but he needs to make a splash in doing so. What is a splash? Ideally someone with a good track record and a recognizable name. Possibly a former head coach. If that is not possible, then get someone with a big personality. Get someone you can trot out in front of the cameras and make people care. Someone with charisma.

Round out the staff

Sumlin must round out his staff with better coaches. In addition to a complete defensive overhaul, it is time to make some other changes. Most notably, special teams, which were abysmal. I am biases because of a personal relationship from his time on the Arizona staff, but I would go after UTEP’s Joe Robinson, who was a special team’s coach under Mike Stoops and later coached at LSU, North Carolina and South Carolina.

I am not as down on Noel Mazzone as some fans, but I would not be upset if he was moved on from, especially if you could get someone with an innovative offense. Arizona needs a niche on at least one side of the ball.

Former Wildcats?

I think the most overrated quality in a coach is getting an alum. The notion that Chuck Cecil would work harder for Arizona than he did for the Titans is silly. Typically, the best coaches do not coach at their alma mater. That being said, you need to motivate the fan base, so if that means keeping Cecil or going after another former player, then it may be worth it.

Open things up

Sumlin and his staff needs to be all over Tucson. During the offseason Sumlin should meet monthly with the media, as should his assistants. You need to keep Arizona football on the front page of the sports section and on the evening news as much as possible. Sumlin and his staff should be at Rotary meetings. They should be speaking to schools. They should be at local events. Make the fans feel like you are invested and let them get to know you.

Additionally, the program should open up spring practice, or at least 1/3 of the practices. You have these great facilities, let the fans in. This veil of secrecy is driving people away. What is the worst that can happen if you let fans watch practice, three wins instead of four? I would say the same for fall camp, let the fans in. If you really need to go over something secret, move the team indoors for a few sessions. Under John Mackovic and Mike Stoops fall camp was open. Even when the team was not very good you would get nearly 100 fans watching practice. Reporters also got a bigger insight into the team and could not only write more intelligently about the product, but could understand some of the tougher decisions, especially when it came down to personnel decisions.

Spotlight the kids

If Grant Gunnell is really the future of Arizona football, he needs to be front and center. Let the fans get to know the kid. Let the fans want to root for the kid. In fact, the program needs to feature all of their top kids. We should see guys like Colin Schooler or Jamarye Joiner or Gary Brightwell all over the place. J.J. Taylor should have been the face of the program.

Prior staffs were great at this. Guys like Darrell Brooks, Nick Foles, Antoine Cason and Willie Tuitama were available for the media and even the public at times. Fans felt like they knew guys like Spencer Larsen, Kadeem Carey and Brooks Reid. Even guys like B.J. Denker were so likeable and quotable that fans could get on board.

Bolster the roster

Sumlin must finish strong in this recruiting class. He needs to add some JUCO players and nabbing a few in-state players would be nice. Maybe more importantly, get some transfers. There is no reason Arizona, especially this version of Arizona, should not be attractive to transfers. Arizona has had real mixed success with transfers, for every Dan Buckner or Cayleb Jones there is a Connor Brewer or Jordan Allen, but they need to try and get legit D-I talent who need a change of scenery. With great weather, a fun campus and solid academics, Arizona should be a destination.

Fix the gameday experience

This is not on Sumlin, but the gameday experience is not great. Televised games mean long commercial breaks but try to fill those breaks with better entertainment. I understand sponsorship money is vital, but I don’t need to see half a dozen stupid games being played by drunken students. I don’t need to see President Robbins pose for 17 pictures with someone receiving some kind of honor that has little or nothing to do with football. I don’t need to see another flex cam, smile cam, or kiss cam.

Show me highlights. Show me great plays in Arizona history. Show me a where are they now. Better yet, show me a short bio piece on half a dozen players each game. Let me learn more about the program’s past, present and future, not show the same 15 co-eds in the stands.

And fix the wi-fi.

Win

This is the hardest, but most important aspect. Most things can be remedied by winning. That, of course, is the hardest thing to do. Even winning is no guarantee for getting the fanbase involved. Rich Rodriguez went to bowl games in five of his six seasons but despite a 10-win team and some legit Heisman hype for Kadeem Carey and Khalil Tate, fan attendance was never quite as good as it was under Mike Stoops. Oddly enough, Stoops was the last coach to really open up his program. 

Comments (5)
No. 1-5
Wineknow
Wineknow

Brad, serious question. Has any coach in the modern era ever been this horrible and turned a program around at a school like AZ that did not have built recruiting or huge tradition?

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

No, I don't believe so, Zip. He inherited a horrible situation at the heart of the most difficult part of the schedule. There really wasn't much he could do, and the word on the street is that he didn't have the cooperation of the entire staff he had to work with.

Also, from what I have heard, he was never included in part of the staff when he was an analyst.

The problems with Arizona Football -- baffling decisions, lack of preparation, lack of team discipline are only going to be solved by a massive change.

So, if "winning back the fans" and the media are not things that have been done in 2 years, it won't be done by this staff because that should have been job one, day one. It's been laissez fare, lackadaisical and unorganized.

This is all on Heeke, Robbins and then Sumlin.

mrzipityduda
mrzipityduda

Regards Chuck: No doubt Arizona fans have a love affair with Chuckie, I included. He exudes ARIZONA from his breath to his shoulders to his toes. But correct me if I am wrong, and this is from Chuck not me. Did he not make a statement that he does better behind the scenes with the kids than at the forefront as the official "DC"?? Believe me when I say, I would love for him to make a huge splash in this area,.but has Chuck (per his own admission) gotten to the Peter Principle ?

mrzipityduda
mrzipityduda

Unlike Steve's great post, I will keep it simple. Your title says it all "WIN BACK THE FANS" Winning will only do that to bring back the fans and next year looks very dismal to say the least. That said: the fans feel betrayed by Heeke's bad choice and bad renewal and a contract that is assinine.

Steve Buchanan
Steve Buchanan

Editor

All good suggestions. BUT . . .

Unfortunately, the Sumlin experiment is over. There is no path forward from here. This football administration is the most inept, disorganized group of coaches in Arizona modern history.

Next season's attendance is going to plummet from the first game against Hawaii, where max will be 25,000.

Arizona's best hope is to find cause to terminate Sumlin and move on.

There is a sickness within this program that Sumin can't fix with a new DC or OC or entire new staff.

You will see that Arizona will lose thousands of season ticket holders in the off season. Everyone close to us in our section has gone to their last game, including my family with 7 tickets.

Many fans I have talked with have said it is just not fun anymore to go to the games, and it has nothing to do with the late starts or any other game experience. It has to do with watching a team with no discipline, stupid penalties, horrible game management, all the result of bad coaching.

Sumlin has been on a downward trajectory since he left Houston, and after being fired from TAM, he should have stepped back, like Meyer, and taken stock of life for a year. He is in his mid 50's and shouldn't still be learning how to coach or when to go for 2 or when to call a timeout. This cannot and will not be fixed by Sumlin. Time, better recruits, a new DC is not going to solve the problems at the Arizona football program, with Sumlin at the head. He needs to address his issues apart from coaching football.


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