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Kevin Sumlin: Consistency is the key for Arizona in 2019

How Arizona football coaches have fared in their debuts Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

There were plenty of things that Kevin Sumlin was unhappy about from his first season in charge of the Arizona Wildcats, as one would expect from a team that went 5-7 despite a boatload of preseason hype.

Yet nothing troubled the head coach more than the fact he really didn’t know what his team was going to look like from week to week. And we’re not referring to its uniform combo.

“Last season was not what we wanted, players or coaches,” Sumlin said Wednesday at Pac-12 Media Day in West Hollywood, Calif. “But I think if you look back at the inconsistency of how we played last season, that was revealed in the record.

“We came back in January, we met and discussed openly what our expectations were as a football team and what that looks like consistency-wise, on and off the field. These guys have accepted that challenge. Our coaching staff has accepted that challenge, and I’m really proud of how these guys have responded.”

Arizona’s 2018 season ended with a thud last November when it blew a 19-point fourth-quarter lead at home to rival ASU, falling 41-40. Josh Pollack’s 45-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right in the final seconds, preventing the Wildcats from getting the chance to get beaten by Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Had that kick gone through it wouldn’t have really changed much other than the overall record, Sumlin said.

“If you make the field goal against Arizona State you feel better about the season, everybody feels good, but it might gloss it over a little bit,” he said. “I’m a big believer that things happen for a reason, and we were a very inconsistent football team in our approach on and off the field last year.”

The ASU loss was one of four for Arizona in one-score games, compared to just two victories. That’s half of the games during the season, while the other six were all decided by 21 or more points, with Arizona winning three and losing three (all by 27 or more).

Rather than wait until the summer to get on the same page about fixing things, Sumlin said the work began much earlier.

“When we came back in the spring, we started talking about consistency,” he said. “We started talking about what it takes to win, not waiting until training camp and what the offseason is going to look like and who we can count on, what kind of teammate are you, and earning everything. And so I think the approach for our players has been great. Their approach to everything and the details that matter. We were sloppy last year and it cost us a bunch of games. And so that consistency, that attention to detail, that work ethic has really been really, really good all offseason.”

Sumlin cited Arizona’s spring GPA, the highest in program history, as an indication that his team intends to be more stable in all facets this fall.

“What that’s telling me is that these guys are listening and they’re operating at a different level on and off the field, and that’s where that level of consistency that we did not have last year begins,” he said.

Arizona begins training camp on Thursday, the result of beginning the 2019 season a week early on Aug. 24 at Hawaii. While not ideal to be starting so soon, it does lessen the chance that offseason complacency set in.

“Now we’ve got to go to work, and let’s see where we are as a team starting tomorrow,” he said. ‘The energy in that building before I left (for Media Day) I’m really, really excited about it, they’re excited about it, and we’re ready to get rolling.”