Football needs to win back the fans
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.
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.
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.