Since 2001, I’ve been to 120 University of Arizona football games. I haven’t missed one played in the state of Arizona since 2007. The Wildcats’ record in those games? A pedestrian 63-57. But two decades of mediocrity ends now…
In the words of the late, great college football broadcaster Keith Jackson, “WHOA NELLY!”
I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for an Arizona football season as I will be in 2018!
Sunday’s announcement that the Wildcats were hiring former Houston and Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin might have been overdue to some but was welcome news to this alum and UA football diehard.
In September, after a terrible Friday night loss to Utah, I wrote this in my rant on the UA football’s depression:
Find a coach who could be a lifer at UofA. A coach who won’t flirt with schools like South Carolina. I know Arizona football isn’t a destination job to most…but to others, it sure is one. Get creative…find someone who is willing to recruit their butt off…get the players uber motivated…encourage fan support…be active in the community!
Khalil Tate came out of the clouds to run through Pac-12 defenses in October but the Wildcats closed the season losing 4 of their final 5 games. Something had to be done and due in part to some unfortunate circumstances regarding Rich Rodriguez, a change was made.
I’ll be honest – I don’t think Arizona will be Sumlin’s last head coaching stint. If and when he succeeds here, let’s say he takes the Wildcats to their first ever Rose Bowl, I couldn’t blame him for leaving for a higher profile job in the Big XII or SEC.
But everything else – recruiting, player motivation, and fan / community support – Sumlin absolutely checks those boxes.
If you’re reading this article, there’s a fairly good chance you have more than a passing interest in UofA football. And think about it – when’s the last time you were this excited about the program and its future?
Arizona’s players and recruits, led by 2018 Heisman contender, Tate, nearly staged a riot when it was suggested that Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo was close to accepting Athletic Director Dave Heeke’s job offer. But to most fans’ and the players’ delight, the revered Midshipmen coach rebuffed the Wildcats and chose to stay put. Honestly if Niumatalolo had cold feet based on the player and fan reaction, who could blame him?
The mood on Sunday night has been remarkably different. Based on social media reactions, players and recruits are more than excited to be coached by Sumlin.
I suggested after Todd Graham was fired in late-November that ASU seriously consider hiring Texas A&M’s deposed coach, Sumlin. His teams went 51-26 in the hardest division (by far) in college football, the SEC West. TAMU made six straight bowl games in his tenure and Johnny Manziel won a Heisman Trophy with Sumlin’s tutelage. Prior to his time in College Station, the 53-year old head coach went 35-17 at Houston and mentored Case Keenum, the Vikings’ starting QB in this upcoming week’s NFC Championship Game.
Instead ASU chose to go outside the box and hired Herm Edwards, whose track record of success pales in comparison to Sumlin’s 86-43 college coaching record. In this case, the Sun Devils’ loss was the Wildcats’ gain.
So what should Arizona fans expect from Sumlin’s Arizona teams going forward?
-A premier, experienced coaching staff with tireless recruiters. As of this writing it appears that Noel Mazzone, my suggestion two weeks ago for Arizona’s future offensive coordinator, will get the job. Marcel Yates, a favorite of the current players is likely to remain in charge of the defense. The rest of the staff will likely be a combination of Sumlin’s former A&M staff and other respected names in coaching circles.
-Immediate recruiting success. Former Nebraska WR commit, Keyshawn Johnson Jr. committed to Arizona immediately after Sumlin was announced as head coach.
-A dynamic spread offense led by arguably the most explosive dual-threat QB in the nation, Tate not to mention RBs J.J. Taylor and former 4* recruit, Nathan Tilford.
-A maturing defense led by sophomores Kylan Wilborn and Colin Schooler. Let’s be honest – the defense can’t get much worse than we’ve seen in Rich Rodriguez’s tenure.
-A packed Arizona Stadium. Some folks have disagreed with me on Twitter that a coach couldn’t influence the crowds next season. I beg to differ. I’ll predict that Arizona Stadium doesn’t see a crowd under 48,000 (2017’s highest attendance) for any home game next season.
-Renewed interest from prized alumni who had been frozen out from the program under RichRod.
Arizona making History on the eve of MLK Day with the 1st African American Head Football Coach in Arizona Football History.
“Awesome Hire” pic.twitter.com/0MbdwrmRdr
— Ricky Hunley (@rickyhunley) January 15, 2018
-And finally, in 2018, a preseason top 25 team. Looking at their schedule – anything short of 9 wins with a healthy Tate might be considered a disappointment. In fact, I expect the ‘Cats to contend with USC for the Pac-12 South crown next season.
It’s a pretty damn fun time to be a Wildcats football fan. While some fans have equated Sumlin’s hiring to Christmas, I’d prefer to look at it as Hanukkah. Instead of just one day of good news, expect weeks’ worth.
Maybe I’m too overzealous. Maybe this won’t work out as I hope. But for now, the future of Arizona football is all sunny. And when’s the last time anyone could say that?
September 1st, 2018 vs. BYU can’t get here fast enough.
BEAR DAMN DOWN!