Tucson and Houston are about to be intertwined in as many college football ways as possible.
Forget that the Arizona Wildcats and Houston Cougars are in the middle of a home-and-home. Forget that Arizona finally started recruiting the Houston area again. Forget that the lovable former manager of this site is moving to Houston in February.
It’s all about the Robert C. Robbins/Kevin Sumlin connection.
Robbins, who came to The University of Arizona from the Texas Medical Center (based in Houston), just made a major splash when it came to the first high-profile athletics hire in his tenure.
And it was the guy who got his break in Houston, Sumlin, that he pinpointed.
“13 days ago, Dave Heeke and I made the decision to go in a different direction with our football program,” Robbins opened Tuesday’s introductory press conference with. “We set out on an extensive national search to find our next leader of Arizona football...and we’ve got our man right here, coach Kevin Sumlin.”
Robbins, who came across as the man responsible for running the search throughout the process and making the final decision, used his CEO background to get the Sumlin hiring done.
But Robbins also made sure that he knew what the students wanted before doing this.
“I visited four classes of about 300 to 350 students, and I was there to talk to them about the important strategic planning process that we’re doing at this university,” Robbins explained. “And the first question I asked them is who should be our next football coach and the answer I got over and over was Kevin Sumlin.
“So finally in the fourth classroom, I asked a man ‘Why do you think we should get Kevin Sumlin?’ and he proceeded in very poised and very articulate fashion to tell me ‘He’s been a winner everywhere he’s been, including the toughest division in college football. He’s been a mentor of young men and a leader. He’s done that with poise and character. He’s been a great developer of quarterbacks...and most importantly he’s going to be able to recruit California, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Texas, where we haven’t done as well’.
“So I told him ‘I don’t know how you’re going to do in this class but you’re going to get an A+ in sports management and football analytics,” Robbins recounted.
Even though both resided in Houston, Robbins and Sumlin had never met before this search, but Robbins knew plenty about him, citing watching what Texas A&M did while the former TMC CEO lived in nearby Houston.
“He was good in all three phases of the game on the field, but most importantly, he was great off the field,” explained Robbins. “And that was another thing that I was looking for.”
That off-the-field culture is what Arizona wanted to change with the dismissal of Rich Rodriguez two weeks prior to Sumlin’s official hiring, and Robbins liked what he saw when in Texas.
“I wanted an ambassador for our program, and I saw that in Coach Sumlin in how he conducted himself all across Texas,” Robbins continued. “I was able to see him speak in large groups, I watched him very closely in his press conferences, his demeanor on the sideline, and no matter what the situation, I never saw him out of control.”
“He was poised, he was confident, and that’s the kind of person I wanted to see here. ... He was always as cool as the other side of the pillow.”
“There’s not a lot of presidents that will go with the Stuart Scott reference right off the bat,” Sumlin later joked. “That’s how cool he is.”
During his time as TMC CEO, Robbins was known for having a “big vision”, and that clearly hasn’t changed since officially arriving in Tucson in June.
“This is going to be a tremendous start to a long-term, successful run for Arizona football,” Robbins concluded his opening portion of the press conference with.
Heeke added to the sentiment of Robbins having big plans for Arizona football in the short and long term.
“Really a bold vision,” Heeke described the university president’s goals and overall thought process. “He challenges us every day at this institution to think differently, to look at it a little bit differently, to analyze it a little different, and that bold vision he has for the university, for the athletics program, and for everything we do across campus, and I appreciate his guidance and support through the process.”
“You win with people and with leadership,” Sumlin added. “And I think you can see where our leadership is with our administration and the kind of people they are.”
And now Arizona football has someone with similar bold visions.
“The vision is clear, and it starts at the top,” Sumlin explained. “I’ve been doing this long enough to know that that’s extremely important if you want to be successful.
“I see great potential in this football program. As a school that hasn’t been to The Rose Bowl, and to me, you can look at it one way or the other; it’s gonna happen, it’s just what time is that gonna happen and why not now and why not us?
“So our goal here is to win championships — always has been — and to graduate our student athletes and prepare them for life outside of football and inside of football, and move them from young men to grown men. And we’ve got the tools in place here structurally to help that happen.”
These are lofty goals that have never been experienced at Arizona, but there’s a power structure in place in Tucson now that makes these goals more achievable than ever.
And the bold vision shared by two guys from Texas just may become a reality.