As Kevin Sumlin’s near-hour-long introductory press conference neared its end, the new Arizona Wildcats head coach was getting antsy.
“We better wrap this up pretty quick,” Sumlin said with a smile, “because I gotta get to work. I’ve got a lot to do.”
And one of the first things on Sumlin’s to-do list is hitting the recruiting trail, especially since National Signing Day, Feb. 7, is only a few weeks away.
That includes re-recruiting the 16 players Arizona signed in December.
“I owe it to the 16 guys who have already signed to get to know them even better,” Sumlin said. “So you’ve got to finish that out. You’ve got five or six (unsigned guys) left. We’re going to have to evaluate and recruit.”
Aside from retaining defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, it appears Sumlin plans to overhaul nearly the entire UA coaching staff. Sumlin doesn’t think recruits should be alarmed by that.
“I think some continuity will be important,” he said, referring to retaining Yates. “Our players understanding, our recruits understanding that systematically what’s been said is going to be similar.
“Maybe (we will run) some more explosive-type things. Maybe a bit more aggressive on offense and aggressive on defense, and certainly special teams.
“But knowing that what has been said to you before is not a drastically different situation for you. So, yeah, the evaluation process of that with those five or six guys, I think that becomes important to finish out this class. But it’s not as urgent as if you had, say, eight right? You’re not looking at as many guys.”
In this case, Arizona is benefitting from the existence of the new early-signing period since Sumlin does not have to scramble to secure an entire signing class within a few short weeks.
“If you’ve got guys who want to be at Arizona, they signed early, and they’re ready to go, I’ve got to communicate with them,” Sumlin said. “And then these five or six that are left, we have to evaluate and make sure that they want to be here.”
Sumlin visited UA quarterback commit Jamarye Joiner on Thursday. After he talks to the others, he will shift his focus to evaluating high school juniors and sophomores.
“Because the majority of this (senior) class are two-third, three-quarters filled,” he said. “But in order for us to be the program we need to be … I’ve got to get out and have a relationship with the high school coaches in this state. I do. A bunch of relationships in the Phoenix area. A lot. But across the state, number one, and to be able to talk to them about underclassmen and the direction we’re going there. It’s all those things. It’s not just the five or six scholarships left.”
Sumlin was an ace recruiter at Texas A&M, as only two of his classes in six seasons ranked outside the top 15.
Granted, the resources he had at Texas A&M are not comparable to those at Arizona — they had a SwagCopter! — but geographically, Sumlin’s approach won’t have to change all that much at the UA.
When President Robert C. Robbins was introducing Sumlin on Tuesday, he listed several qualities that made the ex-Texas A&M coach an appealing candidate.
“He’s winner, a mentor with poise and character, a great developer of quarterbacks and,” Robbins said before a brief pause, “most importantly, he’s going to be able to recruit California, Las Vegas, Arizona and Texas where we haven’t done as well.”
Arizona had only five commits from Texas through Rich Rodriguez’s entire six-year tenure. And four of those were in the 2018 class, as the former head coach finally started to put an emphasis on recruiting that area. By then it was too late.
Given Texas’s proximity and wealth of talent, it never made sense for Arizona to withdraw from the Lone Star State. Not only will Sumlin recruit that area, but he has significant notoriety there — and in all the states Arizona has to lure talent from.
“It’s not like I’m going some places I’ve never been,” Sumlin said. “I would be more concerned if I was dropped somewhere I didn’t know. We know (Arizona) pretty well, and Dr. Robbins hit in on the head — the places we’re going to go recruit, it’s not like they haven’t seen me before. It’s not like those players haven’t seen me before. Just like any business, it’s about relationships. And we have those already. And we’ll be able to develop a staff here pretty quickly.”
While the UA does not have the benefit of being located in a major hub like Phoenix, Seattle, or Southern California like other Pac-12 schools, Sumlin does not see that as a hindrance to Arizona landing top-tier talent.
“I think location becomes important,” he said. “This location is a great location for recruiting based on our primary recruiting areas. ... We’ve got weather, we’ve got everything it takes.”
Including a new indoor facility which will open next fall, and star power in Khalil Tate.
“There will be no shortage of guys across the country, based on the excitement Khalil Tate brings, that are going to look hard at Arizona,” Sumlin said. “Dynamic players somehow have a way of bringing other dynamic players with them.”
And he is looking for a lot of those, not just one or two. Depth is crucial, but not something Arizona has had in recent seasons, especially in the trenches.
“We want to build a program, not just a team,” Sumlin said. “Individuals can make a team, but it takes more than a couple recruiting classes and depth to build a program. So right now we’re in the middle of recruiting, so we need to really hit the ground running and establish that kind of depth.”
After Sumlin makes some headway doing that, he can move onto other items on his to-do list. And there are a lot of them.
“We’ve gotta get our students engaged, we need an atmosphere at our stadium that helps in recruiting,” he said. “Whether that’s from the community, whether that’s our student involvement. We’re going to work at that and create a place that people want to be.
“And then we go play the games.”
Follow Ryan Kelapire on Twitter at @RKelapire