It may seem like college sports are always going on, but July is the one month of the year when no Arizona Wildcats teams are in action. Yep, we’re as sad about that as you are.
Before you know it, the 2019-20 seasons will be under way for Arizona’s 19 men’s and women’s sports. But in the meantime, now is the perfect opportunity to assess how each of these programs are doing.
Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking into the near future).
First up: Kevin Sumlin’s football team
How it looked before
Sumlin was hired in January 2018, a surprise change that came about when Rich Rodriguez was forced out after six seasons despite a 43-35 record and five bowl games (as well as a Pac-12 South Division title). Allegations of workplace sexual harassment against RichRod no doubt contributed to the move, but the school cited only on-field performance for their decision to make a change.
Sumlin had recently been fired by Texas A&M after six seasons—and an even better record, 51-26—and Arizona was able to offer him a soft place to land while collecting his $10.4 million buyout from A&M. He signed a five-year, $14.5 million contract with the Wildcats, earning $2 million apiece in the first two seasons and then $3.5 million in 2020-22.
Arizona had gone 7-6 in 2017, losing four out of five after a 6-2 start, but returned a slew of key players including quarterback Khalil Tate, running back J.J. Taylor and linebacker Colin Schooler. The cupboard was, by no means, empty for Sumlin.
Where things stand now
A little more than one year into the Sumlin era, the hope still remains that he was the right choice to turn the program around (though it’s debatable that it was going in the wrong direction to begin with). A 5-7 record in his first season was certainly a disappointment, considering the talent he inherited, but such regression is not uncommon when a new staff comes in and tries to install its own system and culture.
The real litmus test should be 2019, when Tate enters his senior season with a year of experience working with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone and Arizona’s promising young defenders have plenty of playing time under their belts. A manageable early half of the schedule is followed by a gauntlet over the second half, meaning a hot start may be necessary to avoid a second straight losing season.
One big question
Can Sumlin successfully recruit to Tucson? At A&M, Sumlin developed a reputation for landing tremendous recruiting classes. From 2012-17 he signed a top-20 class each year, peaking at No. 5 in 2014, but his first full class with Arizona in 2019 only ranked 54th.
There’s been a significant increase in Texas prospects coming on board, with eight signing in 2019 and three more already on board in the 2020 class. But that first group only included one 4-star player, wide receiver Boobie Curry, while the last class he signed at A&M before getting fired had eight.
The lure of the SEC is a lot more enticing than playing in the Pac-12, other than with the Los Angeles schools and maybe Oregon and Washington, something Sumlin has already discovered. He won’t be able to compete with those schools for most recruits, particularly the California ones, but if his connections in Texas remain strong there’s still plenty of talent there to upgrade Arizona’s roster.