When it comes to college football, coaching can make all of the difference.
Look at the Clemson Tigers, for example. It was known as a baseball school before it promoted a special teams coordinator with a weird name to head coach. And now a decade later, the Tigers are a bonafide college football factory that is on par with the likes of Alabama, Ohio State and Georgia.
So when an outlet decides to rank college football head coaches, you know it is going to pique my interest to see where they rank who.
Kevin Sumlin’s first season at Arizona felt a little weird. It was clearly an adjustment period as he brings a different style of play than what Arizona had under Rich Rodriguez, and it showed on the field as the Wildcats went 5-7 overall and 4-5 in conference play.
Not great, not bad. But what were we exactly expecting after a disappointing 5-7 year that ended with a loss to Herm Edwards and that school up north, which kept Arizona from going bowling.
(Herm was ranked 54th, by the way, so Arizona fans can cheer about that)
Being 40th isn’t exactly the most exciting position, but when you look at who Sumlin is ahead of, I think Wildcat fans will be able to live with the ranking. Sumlin eeked out the likes of new Ohio State coach Ryan Day, second-year Oregon coach Mario Cristobal and ex-Duck (and current Florida State coach) Willie Taggart and is a whopping 11 spots higher than USC’s Clay Helton, who might be excluded from the list as a whole if he happens to have another season like he did last fall.
But when you dive deeper, I think Sumlin and Arizona are right where they want to be. Arizona isn’t exactly a recruiting power, and with the new football facility, Sumlin’s ranking this year could be the lowest of his time in Tucson due to his first-year struggles and lack of time that he had corraling his first recruiting class. And even then, he was able to snag 6-foot-6 All-Texas, All-everything quarterback Grant Gunnell and his running mate Boobie Curry (best name in college football, I will die on this hill).
Arizona fans also can take solace in the fact that their head coach doesn’t have a track record of multiple losing seasons, and really isn’t used to losing at all. Even though you are going to hear the “8-5” jokes from folks who hail from Texas A&M, you have to realize that when you are in the SEC West, and have Alabama, Auburn, and LSU locked into your schedule every year, a couple losses a season isn’t exactly out of the question. But even while Sumlin competed in the toughest division in college football, he has landed himself in coveted company, as he is ranked in the top 10 of winning percentage as a head coach, and that is including last year’s underwhelming opening season.
Only Chris Peterson of Washington and Kyle Whittingham of Utah are ahead of Sumlin within the Pac-12.
10 Winningest Active CFB Coaches by Percentage— SportsPac12 (@SportsPac12) May 9, 2019
.808—C. Petersen, Washington
.795—D. Swinney, Clemson
.789—N. Saban, Ala.
.726—G. Patterson, TCU
.702—B. Kelly, ND
.672—M. Gundy, Okla State
.663—K. Whittingham, Utah
.649—B. Davis, FIU
.648—M. Dantonio, MSU
.645—K. Sumlin, Arizona https://t.co/448ggotpay
Arizona has got a head coach that has won at every stop he has coached at, and he deserves the patience that comes with establishing your own culture and style of play, while also being able to put together a staff that fits those exact things. And with the recent addition of former All-Pro running back DeMarco Murray and Super Bowl-winning lineman Kyle DeVan, Sumlin has shown that he is able to attract not only some top players to the Old Pueblo but he’s also convinced some of football’s brightest young coaches to ply their trade in Tucson as well.
I know last year left a bad taste in many Wildcats’ mouths, but the good news is that last year was an outlier when it comes to Sumlin and his career, and you can bet on it being corrected. Sumlin was a winner at Houston and Texas A&M, and he has the potential to elevate Arizona into a stratosphere that it hasn’t seen in a while. Sumlin is building a staff, program, and roster to compete in the Pac-12, now we just get to sit back and see if he can put it all together in year number two.