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Arizona coach Kevin Sumlin has unique perspective as sons prepare to play football this fall

arizona-wildcats-kevin-sumlin-inteview-scrimmage-football-preseason-injuries-brightwell-gunnell-2020 Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Kevin Sumlin knew about the Pac-12’s decision to postpone football a little while before it was made official last week, and it was hard to keep that bad news off his face.

“Some people saw me and knew something was up because I wasn’t myself that day either,” Sumlin said Tuesday during a Zoom press conference. “We’re all human. It affected me.”

The move to push college football to the spring, if possible, didn’t just impact Sumlin as the Arizona Wildcats head coach. It also created diverging paths within his own family, one where he and his team have been sidelined while his two football-playing sons continue to work toward playing this fall.

Sumlin’s oldest son, Jackson, is a freshman walk-on tight end with the Oklahoma Sooners, a member of the Big 12 that is one of three power conferences (along with the ACC and SEC) that’s still planning to play in 2020. The Sooners’ 10-game schedule begins Sept. 12.

“I talk to him just about every other day or every day,” Sumlin said. “I think it gives our players, as much as Jackson was around in practice and hanging out with these guys … it gives our players another perspective of where I am because I am a parent. And I’m not just here for just coaching football. They know that I do have a son that’s right in the thick of it, in a league that’s trying to ramp up and play. It gives me another perspective, sure, but it gives players another perspective that I’m not just a coach, I’m a dad.”

As he’s done with his UA players and their families, Sumlin has been part of Zoom parent meetings with Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and the program’s medical staff. The most recent was Saturday afternoon, as the Sooners were set to resume practice after pausing for a week due to the start of the season being pushed back.

Oklahoma reported Sunday that nine players had tested positive for COVID-19 after that pause

Sumlin’s younger son, Joey, is a junior defensive lineman at Tucson’s Salpointe Catholic High School. The Arizona Interscholastic Association still hopes to play this fall, with an 8-game schedule set to start Oct. 2, and Salpointe has been doing workouts throughout the summer ahead of Tuesday’s first day of school.

“He’s in my office at the house right now, home school with his Google Chrome notebook,” Sumlin said of Joey. “I’ve been on Zoom meetings with the coach there, too. Everybody’s communicating. They’ve got basically an 8-game schedule. They’re planning to play. They’re taking precautions. They’re working out with a mask. They’ll work out today at 5 o’clock.”

All this makes for a strange dynamic for Sumlin, who on one hand is asking his players and their families to trust that not playing this fall is the right move while on the other hand he’s putting his trust in others that his children will be safe.

“You have relatives that live all over the country,” he said. “Different places in this country right now are going through different things. Throughout the summer, I think from the comments that you’ve seen from our players, whether their concerns about playing games, their concerns about competing outside of here, I haven’t seen one real complaint from our players about how our administration, our coaching staff has really, really taken the safety and care of our student-athletes to the highest level and they feel good about being here.

“Everybody’s got to be flexible and that’s been our communication with players, with parents, with our own coaching staff because the new normal is not normal.”

Does that mean Sumlin expects Jackson and Joey’s seasons will happen as currently planned? Not necessarily.

“Today, people are saying they’re going to play,” Sumlin said. “Just like (the Pac-12) came up with a schedule and a week later we were done. Let’s wait a couple weeks and see what happens.”