Kevin Sumlin figured this day would come, eventually. It’s happened before and will probably happen again. It’s almost unavoidable in the current state of college football.
When the Arizona Wildcats play their next game, on Saturday at Houston, it will be Sumlin’s first time coaching against the program that gave him his first head-coaching gig back in 2008. It’ll be played in front of what’s likely to be a sellout crowd at 40,000-seat TDECU Stadium, a facility that Sumlin helped get funded before leaving for Texas A&M in 2011.
“If you’re in this business as long as I’ve been in it...” Sumlin said Monday when asked about his return to Houston. “That’s football, that’s college football.”
That Sumlin is making his return in his first road game with Arizona is a coincidence. The Arizona-Houston home-and-home series was scheduled years ago, but the constant coaching movement that happens in the sport makes these kind of reunions quite common.
For instance, Sumlin spent five seasons as an assistant at Minnesota from 1993-97, during which Purdue was a regular Big Ten opponent. In 1998 he took a job on Joe Tiller’s staff at Purdue and the Boilermakers’ conference opener was against Minnesota. Later in his career he went from being an assistant at Texas A&M to one at Oklahoma, who were Big 12 rivals at the same.
“I’ve been at A&M playing against Oklahoma, I’ve been at Oklahoma playing against A&M,” he said.
Sumlin knows his players are aware of the storyline but he’s hoping they don’t look at this game any different because of his past.
“You’ve got 12 opportunities that you’re guaranteed every year,” he said. “For us it’s opportunity No. 2. For us, the excitement for 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, it’s the same.”
The same goes for Houston coach Major Applewhite. Though no current Cougars played for Sumlin he understands why they’d be extra hyped to shine against him, if only to remind him of what came of the team he left behind.
“I’ve told our team that this is about us,” Applewhite said. “It’s always about us; it’s about how we play; it’s about how we practice. If we want to play at a standard; practice at that standard. It’s about Arizona coming into Houston and trying to take something that’s ours. They are going to try to come into our house, and take something that’s ours, and we’re not going to let them do that.”