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Roundtable: Does Arizona need to beat ASU for Kevin Sumlin to save his job?

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arizona-Wildcats-kolbe-cage-commitment-college-football-2021-analysis Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

It is often said that a win over the Arizona State Sun Devils can turn a bad season into an acceptable one for the Arizona Wildcats.

That theory could be put test this weekend. UA head coach Kevin Sumlin enters the Territorial Cup No. 2 on CoachesHotSeat.com, only behind Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.

The Wildcats have seen their win total drop each year under Sumlin and are on the verge of going winless in the abbreviated 2020 campaign.

But could a win over that school up north really cure all and buy Sumlin another year? Our staff discusses.

Adam Green

No, Kevin Sumlin and the Wildcats should not need to beat ASU this Friday for the coach to keep his job. Not because his job should be secure, but because this single game should not impact his status.

To this point Sumlin has coached the Wildcats in 28 games, just nine of which have been wins. A victory over the rival Sun Devils Friday would be the coach’s first in the rivalry and give fans something to feel good about, but it would do nothing to erase what transpired before it.

If the powers that be still have confidence in Sumlin then a loss — save for a meltdown of epic proportions — should do nothing to lessen their faith. Conversely, if the feeling now is that a change needs to be made then there is no kind of win that should reverse that thinking.

It is said a Territorial Cup victory can make up for all of a season’s ills, and in some ways that’s true. Few remember how bad the team was in 2016 but will gladly talk about beating Arizona State without throwing a pass the entire second half. But even if this year’s game helps make the 2020 season more palatable, the decision on Sumlin should be made prior to kickoff.

Ronnie Stoffle

I’m really torn on this. On the surface, Sumlin’s record on the field and recruiting trail are basically indefensible. But when you dig deeper, you begin to realize he was brought into a highly dysfunctional situation.

Yes, Arizona is currently riding an 11-game losing streak which is most in program history and one of the worst in the Power 5. However, couldn’t you argue that this year’s team is far more competitive than imagined?

I agree with Adam that one game should not determine one’s fate as head coach. But what if Sumlin holds on to the 19 point fourth quarter lead against ASU in 2018 then makes a bowl game? Arizona would have probably been paired with a mid-tier Mountain West school for another trip to the Gildan Underwear Bowl in New Mexico and won.

They would have finished the season by winning four of the final five and the 4-1 start in 2019 would have been unchanged. Does that one game have a butterfly effect on Sumlin’s tenure that grants him full immunity to the 2020 outcome?

Last year’s collapse is easy to pin on Marcel Yates’ inability to manage the defense. Of course, Sumlin deserves some blame for that because he’s in charge. But credit where credit’s due, he pulled the plug and completely revamped the defensive staff in the offseason.

That of course brings us the 0-4 start in 2020. I felt all along that Sumlin would receive a mulligan on this season no matter what for two reasons. One, it would cost too much to buy him out in a year where Covid-19 has ravaged the athletics’ budget. Two, Covid-19 has ravaged the season as well.

Yes, Sumlin needs to win but not to save his job. At this point, I can’t argue against the decision to fire him. Things have been REALLY bad and I totally understand simply cutting it off. This would allow the opportunity to find someone new (preferably a rising star from the Group of 5) who can bring life to the program. That honestly sounds more exciting than another year of this mess.

Brian J. Pedersen

One game doesn’t make much of a difference at this point, even if it’s ASU. If Kevin Sumlin is going to be fired, it won’t be because the losing streak extends from 11 to 12 games on Friday, nor will his job be saved because Arizona beats the Sun Devils for the first time since 2016.

Any decisions related to Sumlin’s future with the program are directly tied to money, that being how much Arizona has and how much it can raise in order to cover buyouts and a new coaching search. It doesn’t look like it has much of that right now, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Beyond money, a much more important factor is how many players from this year’s team choose not to return for next year. The transfer market is about to become free agency, and if you see a load of Sumlin’s own recruits leaving that’s a much more telling sign than being unable to win games during a season that is unlike any in college football history.

Christian Mortensen

For me, Sumlin should go regardless of the result this weekend.

The program is in utter disarray, and the only reason I see any chance of him keeping his job is because of lack of funds in the athletic department—which makes it hard to see a buyout happening.

However, a third consecutive loss to ASU and an 0-3 record against Arizona’s biggest rivals would well and truly make pretty much all Arizona fans long for his departure.

Neither Mike Stoops, nor Rich Rodriguez, or even John Mackovic went 0-3 in their first three games against the Sun Devils. (Mackovic only played ASU twice, but beat them in 2001).

Ryan Kelapire

At this point I firmly believe Kevin Sumlin’s future at Arizona will be determined by whether or not the department has enough funding to pay his buyout (which is $7.5 million until January when it drops to $5 million). In a normal year it would. In a COVID year it might not.

But Sumlin’s third season is coming to a close and the program is not in a better position now than it was when it hired him. It’s worse.

The only thing more damaging than an angry fanbase is an apathetic fanbase, and that’s where Arizona is right now. A change is needed or else the buy-in next season could be at an all-time low.

That being said, a win over ASU would make it easier for Dave Heeke to justify keeping Sumlin if money is too tight to make a change.

He could say, “Hey, we beat our rivals and were competitive in two other games. I have faith Coach Sumlin has us going in the right direction.”

Regardless, I don’t think the outcome of the game will actually impact Sumlin’s future at Arizona. Money will.