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Kevin Sumlin discusses Arizona’s ‘re-opening’, quarantine communication, and prospect for a full season on Pac-12 webinar

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The Arizona Wildcats had gotten in one week of football practice when, during the school’s Spring Break, the sports world came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since then, UA coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done their best to remain in constant contact with the team’s dozens of players who have scattered across the country since mid-March. When they’ll all get to be together again remains an unknown, but in the meantime work continues on getting ready for the 2020 season—assuming there is one.

“The big concern, as we were apart, was how does your team continue to grow?” Sumlin said Thursday during the last of four webinars hosted by the Pac-12. “What’s camaraderie like? Guys are generally happy to see each other (on Zoom), conversation is about more than just football. Guys really care about each other. They’re still interested in building a team even during one of the toughest times that we’ve seen.”

Sumlin, Cal coach Justin Wilcox and Oregon coach Mario Cristobal participated in a roundtable discussion with Pac-12 Network’s Yogi Roth and then answered questions from reporters.

Here’s what Sumlin had to say:

On Arizona being one of the first states to fully re-open and how that affects the program: “That’s an ongoing process. It’s fluid at best. If you’d asked this question even Monday ... the answer would be different. For us, there’s a lot of questions. The big thing has been communication with players and their families, just about where we are, and being honest. Just being honest that you don’t know is okay. Just because the state is doing some things, where is your campus, where do they stand on this? The most important thing is the safety of our student athletes. In our situation, with maybe the opportunity to open some things up early, our first and foremost concern is, what are we going to do for the safety of our students? On and off campus. Certainly as they return to campus, what does that look like, what’s our preparedness look like? We’ve had that conversation with our players, we’ll continue to have that conversation with our players.”

On the shutdown affecting integration of several new coaches: “The good news is that they did get to see three or four practices, so there’s a little bit of evidence on film. They have a little bit of an idea athletically, up close. The development part, obviously, did not happen. But what happens now? It’s about communication, it’s about trust. Our Zoom situations have not just been about football. Everything we do is not (just) about Xs and Os, particularly during the last few months. Lives have been changes, lives have been turned upside down, everyone has a different situation. Our coaches have needed to be invested in our players’ lives outside of football. I think, for any coach to really flourish and do the things they need to do, to be successful, is to gain trust. You say that’s hard to do when you’re not in front of them face to face, but we’ve had enough meeting times. Everything from cookouts, virtual cookouts, virtual everything. It’s a different way to do things.”

On keeping players in shape as best as possible: “(Strength and conditioning coach Brian) Johnson, he’s done a great job. Anybody who follows him on social media, the suggestions are not just for our team, but for people in quarantine. A lot of the workouts have no real equipment in them. Bags, water bottles, things that they can do, things that anybody can do during this process. It’s our job to prepare our guys to prepare to play football. And then be reactionary … because that plan might change. Our strength coaches are a huge, huge part of that, because for the time our players have been away … for them to be in the type of shape to play at this level, we’re going to have to be cognizant of where they’re coming from, what they’re doing when they get back on campus.”

On if he’d rather play a shortened season that ends on time on a full one that starts and ends late:“I think we all want to play as much as we can play. There are a lot of different things that can happen between now and the fall. It’s really kind of hard to say, what would you prefer based on where things are right now. That’s a very difficult question to answer right now based on the information we have. We’ve got a number of models. I don’t think there’s a guy, a player or coach right now, that not only wants to play football but wants to play as much as they can in a safe manner.”

On the logistical issues of the 2020 season bleeding into 2021: “We’ve had the discussions. It’s all about player safety, what’s best for them. After Jan. 1 you’re getting into some other issues. You’re getting into some eligibility issues. You’re getting into classes starting for the next semester. Some guys may have been able to graduate. If the NFL doesn’t change what they’re doing, you’ve got some guys that might be affected by the combine or the draft. hat does that say for next season? What does that say for players that are coming back to the program? And when that (next) season starts, are you trying to play 24 games in a 12-month calendar? It’s not as easy as that. Those scenarios have been discussed. Everybody’s got different opinions about it, but ultimately guys want to play football. They want the safest model, and if that’s the safest then so be it, but it’s going to affect things for the next season more than people are talking about.”

On Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke’s creation of a Campus Re-Entry Working Group: “Based on the Governor’s comments (two days) ago, we have to take that stance. Dave, along with President (Robert) Robbins, the conversations that they’re having about our campus are … based on what’s happening with our state. What we’re doing as university, and what we’re doing as a football program, and what Dave is doing as an athletics director, it all starts with the safety of our student-athletes. To have the best plan possible for a return to campus, I think that’s extremely smart.”

On taking a 20 percent salary cut: “This is a unique time. You see the struggles of people across the country. From that standpoint and the standpoint of what you can do to help the situation, and your university, no it doesn’t become difficult at all.”

On attending the Indy 500, which has been moved from Memorial Day to Aug. 23: “I’m not planning on it. We plan on practicing during that time if things are right.”