In a little over a week, Kevin Sumlin will begin his first fall camp as the Arizona Wildcats’ head coach.
But if weren’t for Khalil Tate — and Twitter — the program might have a different guy at the helm right now.
In January, Arizona was close to hiring Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo to replace Rich Rodriguez — the Arizona Daily Star reported the UA offered him the job — but Tate was less than pleased with that development, leading him to tweet 10 now-famous words.
“I didn’t come to Arizona to run the triple-option,” the star quarterback posted, referring to Niumatalolo’s offensive scheme.
Tate let his tweet marinate for a bit, then deleted it — and not because he thought he was being too reactionary.
“I knew exactly what I was doing when I tweeted that out,” Tate told Bleacher Report. “I don’t do Twitter. When I tweet something, I download the app, tweet, then delete the app from my phone. So when I tweet, it’s important.
“I had to make sure I was heard, make sure the team was heard, because my teammates didn’t want to run the triple option, either. So the idea was to tweet it out, let it get traction, then delete it. I knew people reading it would say, ‘Why did he delete it?’ But that just magnifies it more.”
Tate’s tweet certainly caught the eye of UA president Robert C. Robbins. Football Scoop reported at the time that it “spooked” him.
“I thought, wow, man, the power of social media,” Robbins later told BR.
Tate’s influence apparently didn’t end there. UA athletic director Dave Heeke discussed coaching candidates with the junior quarterback, too, according to Bleacher Report.
“I was basically the spokesman for our team,” Tate told BR. “I would tell (Heeke), I like this, I don’t like that.”
Tate did like the idea of bringing in Sumlin, and now he’s the head coach. A coincidence? Maybe.
This story does paint the UA in a strange light, though. On one hand, the reaction to Sumlin’s hiring has mostly been positive, both nationally and locally. Arizona added a former SEC Coach of the Year, who has recruiting ties in a couple states the Wildcats have to traverse the most — Arizona and Texas. On paper, it’s a good hire.
On the other hand, allowing players — 18 to 22-year old players at that — to have a big say in the hiring of their head coach isn’t conventional. Some would argue it’s not wise, either. This is a multi-million-dollar industry we’re talking about. There is a lot at stake, not just wins and losses.
But if things do work out, Tate not only has a chance to become the best player in Arizona football history, but also the guy who reportedly helped set up the program for success for years to come.
That would be one heck of a legacy.
“I want to win a championship here. To even be mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate is just crazy to me,” he told Bleacher Report.
”But maybe the best thing I think I could do, the best legacy I could leave, is be an inspiration to players at other schools. How cool would that be to say, we did this together with the president and athletic director, and you can do it, too?”