The Arizona Wildcats’ coaching search was borderline disastrous and completely frustrating.
Arizona had a solid coaching pool to grab from, with Kevin Sumlin and Les Miles as the two top picks, along with the idea of promoting Marcel Yates from within.
Sumlin was probably the hottest coach and biggest name on the market. Les Miles wasn’t too far behind either.
Miles’ accomplishments at LSU are incredible, but many felt like he was too old, and could not develop a stable offense or quarterback.
Yates might not have had full control of his defense under Rich Rodriguez, but still there wasn’t a whole lot that showed you he was ready to be a head coach, but the players vouching for him on Twitter would tell you otherwise.
Joe Salave’a apparently expressed his interest, and we went down this weird obsession with alumni as head coach replacements. The problem with Salave’a was that he had never even been a defensive coordinator — he’s just bounced around a few places as a defensive line coach. But being from Arizona, and having a reputation with Polynesian recruits, he was attractive to some.
Then Beau Baldwin got thrown around in the search, which was still a solid option. He’s the young hot coordinator with West Coast ties. But he doesn’t quite have the star power of Sumlin or Miles, and was a risk coming mostly from an FCS background.
And then we started getting some names like Neal Brown and Mike Sanford, not necessarily the most appealing options. Brown didn’t have many connections out in the west, and Sanford had a poor first season at Western Kentucky.
Things were getting heavy when Ken Nuimatalolo was named as the lead candidate and was offered the position, but decided to stay at Navy. His triple-option, or variation of it, was not appealing to the players and a lot of people, although fans were starting to warm up to the idea.
It seemed like all hope was lost at this point, until Dave Heeke reeled in Sumlin a few hours later, landing the biggest and best name available. This was an absolute slam dunk hire for Arizona.
He checks all of the boxes, and puts away all of the concerns of Arizona’s previous candidates.
Recruiting at a high level
I know Texas A&M has way more resources than Arizona, and a lot more to offer than Arizona in general, but Sumlin was able to recruit some incredible talent for the Aggies, mostly coming from Texas, too.
Rich Rodriguez blatantly ignored Texas in recruiting, strictly using California, touching on Florida, Nevada and Louisiana later in his years. Both Arizona and Arizona State had a tough time retaining in-state talent.
In Sumlin’s first recruiting class at Texas A&M, he secured the No. 16 ranked recruiting class, which was only the sixth-best SEC class back in 2012.
He followed that up with the ninth-ranked class in the nation and fifth in the SEC in 2013. In 2014, Sumlin pulled in his best class, ranked fifth in the nation and third in the SEC.
Things started to go down in 2015, where he fell 11th in the nation. In 2016, Sumlin’s class dropped down to 18th.
He had two classes ranked outside the top 15, yet only had one double-digit win season, which happened to be his first season.
So while he recruits at an extremely high level, it makes you wonder what is happening with all that talent (kind of like Sean Miller).
Still, a 51-26 overall record playing in what at the time was the toughest division in all of college football, during a transitional phase from the Big 12 to SEC, can likely translate well to the Pac-12 and Arizona’s standards.
No matter how many stars a kid has, almost all of them are thinking about the NFL. Recruits want to go where they have a good shot at making it to the next level.
Texas A&M had 17 draft picks since 2013, which would have been after Sumlin’s first season, and surely there will be a few more to watch out for in the 2018 draft, including Scottsdale, Arizona native Christian Kirk, a five-star prospect in the 2015 class.
Sumlin didn’t recruit all 17 guys who were drafted during his time, but he can still leverage that into recruiting. Just bringing up No. 2 overall pick Luke Joeckel, No. 6 overall pick Jake Matthews, No. 7 Mike Evans, No. 21 Germain Ifedi, No. 22 Johnny Manziel and No. 1 pick Myles Garrett to a recruit is sure to grab their attention.
Retaining Marcel Yates and creating a strong staff
The players made it clear that they wanted Marcel Yates as their head coach. Had Kenny Nuimatalolo been hired, I think a lot of guys would have opted to transfer.
But with Sumlin, you figured Yates would be retained given their history at Texas A&M (Yates was Sumlin’s co-defensive coordinator for two seasons).
Having Sumlin and Yates is making a lot of the current players excited for the future. You also keep Yates’ extensive pipeline of California recruiting.
Sumlin will also be bringing in Noel Mazzone as the offensive coordinator, and Clarence McKinney.
Mazzone helped land and develop Josh Rosen at UCLA and, despite his age, is still considered a step up from Rich Rodriguez and Calvin Magee. And McKinney played a major role in recruiting the state of Texas while A&M and Houston with Sumlin.
Credibility to the program
Sumlin immediately brings credibility to the program and it’s not crazy to think that Arizona can compete for the Pac-12 South in 2018. And going forward, whether Sumlin is here for two years or stays to truly build the program, the expectations have been raised.
The excitement around Sumlin makes it a lot easier to want to go to Arizona Stadium for a game. Getting a guy like Sumlin, whether he was second to Ken Nuimatalolo, shows Heeke’s commitment to the football program — a program that is now trending in the right direction. It took a while, but Sumlin is Arizona’s coach. He is who everyone was asking for, and now it’s time to get engaged.
Now, there are some issues I do see with Sumlin. I already mentioned the fact that he was potentially an underachieving coach given his talent level, but being at Arizona and in the Pac-12 — and not the SEC — makes me a little more optimistic.
So the next problem I have is with his quarterback situation. The Johnny Manziel antics were a bit ridiculous, and while you’re not going to suspend or dismiss a guy of that caliber for the college kid stuff he did under that Heisman microscope, I feel like there was a lack of discipline during that era of A&M football.
And once Manziel left, it just seemed like the quarterback situation was shaky and guys had to worry about getting pulled if they didn’t perform well.
Kenny Hill, a top 250 prospect and No. 9 ranked dual-threat quarterback, was replaced mid-year by true freshman Kyle Allen, and later transferred to TCU.
Allen, coming in as the No. 1 ranked pro-style quarterback in 2014, was later taken over by Kyler Murray, the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in 2015.
Both decided to transfer in prior to finishing the 2015 season, citing a lack of trust from the coaching staff.
A bit concerning, but if Sumlin can build a strong relationship with Khalil Tate, and get two more years out of him, he’ll have enough time to recruit another quarterback to get ready should Jamarye Joiner decommit.
The timing of the new National Signing Day is really unfortunate, because I feel like it really limits the splash that Sumlin can make. Had there been no early signing day, I can’t help but think that he could have flipped some big time prospects late in the game.
But there is still time, and No. 1 junior college defensive Dorian Gerald is a fan of the hiring. It’s also been reported that former four-star receiver Keyshawn Johnson Jr. is planning to enroll at Arizona. I also think there is a chance a Texas A&M player or two follow him, and I think Clifford Chattman could be a potential transfer.
Arizona and Dave Heeke hit a home run with this hire. It took a while, but things finally came full circle and Kevin Sumlin makes Arizona a legitimate contender in the Pac-12 South from here on out.
With a young and talented roster, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic for 2018 and beyond.