Nothing But The Notes

Nothing but the notes: Arizona may have just lost to the alma mater of its next coach

Interesting that the next Arizona coach could be from the school that just defeated the Wildcats — Purdue. Kevin Sumlin played linebacker with the Boilermakers from 1983 to 1986, the same time frame Chuck Cecil was playing his way into the College Hall of Fame with Arizona with a school-record 21 interceptions. Sumlin stayed at Purdue for two years after his playing career to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice before being able to start his college coaching career. … Sumlin hails from Brewton, Ala., but grew up in Indianapolis, where he played hockey — yes, hockey — and football and basketball at Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School. Although Sumlin, 53, had a defensive background in high school and college, he became an offensive whiz ironically because of his defensive coordinator at Purdue, the late Joe Tiller. Tiller, a mentor of Sumlin who passed away last September, arrived at Purdue at the same time as Sumlin after serving in the front office of the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL from 1977 to 1982. After Tiller converted to offensive coordinator at Wyoming in 1987, he was hired in the same capacity by Washington State’s Mike Price in 1989. That’s when Tiller convinced Price to give the young Sumlin, then only 25, one of four graduate assistant positions for his first coaching opportunity. …

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After assisting with the coaching of linebackers in 1989, Sumlin learned about offensive execution for the first time while helping Tiller coach prolific quarterback Drew Bledsoe and his receiving corps in 1990. Sumlin lost twice to Dick Tomey’s Wildcats in those two years. Arizona, ranked No. 22, defeated No. 15 Washington State 23-21 in Pullman, Wash., in 1989 and the Wildcats, ranked No. 23, outscored the Cougars 42-34 the following season in Tucson. … Tiller returned to Wyoming in 1991 as the head coach and he brought Sumlin with him to be the Cowboys’ wide receivers coach. Sumlin, who is entitled to a $10 million buyout from Texas A&M per his contract, made only $22,000 when he started his first year as a position coach in 1991 with Wyoming. After the four years coaching with Tiller at Washington State and Wyoming, Sumlin went on his own to Minnesota in 1993 to become the receivers coach. Minnesota is where he met his wife Charlene, who plays a significant part in Sumlin’s career decisions. Sumlin told the Dallas Morning News in 2012 that Charlene is not fond of moving. “A lot of people would probably find it difficult, and it is difficult,” said Sumlin, who has four children (two daughters and two sons) with Charlene. “It’s probably been hardest on (Charlene). The original move from Minneapolis, because her parents are there, to West Lafayette, was probably the hardest. And then they’ve all been hard because she’s a person who develops friendships and is not isolated. They become part of the community. She has friends at all the stops.” Charlene’s acceptance of Tucson will likely play a major part in Sumlin’s decision if Arizona offers him the job. Another very important factor: Will Arizona meet Sumlin’s potential financial demands to adequately pay his staff? …

Sumlin returned to Purdue in 1998 to be on Tiller’s staff as the receivers coach after four years at Minnesota (three years as receivers coach and the last as the quarterbacks coach). The top five Minnesota career leaders in receptions and top three in receiving yards at the time were all coached by Sumlin. … Sumlin helped Tiller and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney — now the offensive coordinator at Georgia, which plays in the national title game Monday — develop a spread offense with Drew Brees at quarterback. Brees broke numerous passing records as the Boilermakers earned their first Rose Bowl appearance in three decades following the 2000 season. Arizona has yet to make its way to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-12 champion. Sumlin knows what it takes to get there. … Sumlin left after the Rose Bowl appearance with Purdue to become the associate head coach and receivers coach at Texas A&M in 2001. After becoming the offensive coordinator of the Aggies in 2002, Sumlin left to join Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops‘ staff in 2003, the same year Stoops’ brother Mike left his defensive coordinator position to become Arizona’s head coach. Sumlin served as the tight ends and special teams coach from 2003 to 2005 and the co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach in 2006 and 2007. In his last season, before taking on his first head coaching job at Houston in 2008, the Sooners averaged 44 points a game. …

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Sumlin was reported as a candidate for the vacant ASU job after Dennis Erickson was fired in 2011, but he went to Texas A&M instead after coaching Houston to a 12-0 regular-season record that season. Sumlin was hired by Texas A&M’s former athletic director Bill Byrne, father of former Arizona AD Greg Byrne. … Sumlin started with a bang with the Aggies going 11-2 overall and 6-2 in the school’s first season in the SEC. Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy that season. But after that year, Sumlin’s success trailed off. He went 40-24 the next five seasons, including a 19-21 record in the SEC. Things progressively got ugly for Sumlin at College Station. After the Aggies lost in overtime to 45-44 UCLA in the season-opener this last season, letting a 44-10 third-quarter lead slip away, a Texas A&M regent tweeted that Sumlin “needs to go.” He received hate mail, including one with racial overtones. Charlene Sumlin tweeted a picture of the letter, which read: “You suck as a coach! You’re a n—– and can’t win! Please get lost! Or else.” She wrote in the tweet: “People of 2017: please tell me how any part of this is ok. And to the sender: did it occur to you that a child may open it? #orelseWHAT?” It became obvious that Sumlin, one of only seven African-American head coaches in a Power 5 conference last season, felt not welcomed. …

If Arizona hires Sumlin, it would be a monumental, historic move, given that the school has hired only one African-American head coach in the revenue-producing sports of men’s college basketball and football. Fred Snowden, who coached the men’s basketball program from 1972 to 1982, was the first African-American to coach a major college program and the second at a Division I school (Illinois State’s Will Robinson was the first). … Khalil Tate, who has lobbied for defensive coordinator Marcel Yates to get the head coaching job, must be enthralled that Sumlin helped coach Bledsoe, Brees and Manziel during their formative years. … Yates was Sumlin’s co-defensive coordinator in his first two seasons at Texas A&M. He was named Arizona’s interim head coach on Jan. 2 after Rodriguez’s firing. Just a thought: If Arizona is unable to land Sumlin or another candidate, Yates is a viable fallback to coach at least the 2018 season on an interim basis with the chance to become the full-time coach if he passes the audition. That may immediately affect recruiting because of the uncertainty at head coach, but in the long run, it might not matter. Arizona theoretically has plenty of players returning, especially the young standouts on defense, including linebackers Kylan Wilbom, Colin Schooler and Tony Fields II. In this scenario, either Yates succeeds or athletic director Dave Heeke has a full year to go after more candidates. …

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The name Beau Baldwin is not a sexy one in Arizona’s coaching search but it is a respectable one. The highly successful former Eastern Washington coach, now the offensive coordinator at Cal, should be on Arizona’s short list. Baldwin, only 45, is young with plenty of success already in his career. He won five Big Sky championships and the FCS title in 2010 at Eastern Washington. He is known for his wide-open offensive production that needs a mobile quarterback such as Tate to succeed. His offense is known for multiple formations designed to create mismatches. QB Vernon Adams was so prolific running the offense at Eastern Washington that he was lured by away by Oregon after Marcus Mariota left to the NFL. … Nebraska offensive coordinator Troy Walters is more enticing than Baldwin, in my opinion, as part of Central Florida’s staff that just coached their team to a 13-0 record. He is young and dynamic and would win recruits over without question. If Scott Frost did not return to Nebraska, he would be the hottest candidate available. Walters is a viable alternative thriving in Frost’s system. … Get a kick out of Arizona fans chastising Rodriguez for allowing Tucson High School product Levi Wallace to get away and now star at Alabama. Wallace walked on at Alabama. He was not recruited there, so did Nick Saban screw up as well not offering Wallace a scholarship when he left Tucson? Some players slip through the cracks. Wallace has always been enamored by Alabama’s program. That’s why he walked on there. Happens. …

Add head coaching search: Arizona has not gone to a Rose Bowl. What’s the constant with its head coaches since joining the Pac-12 in 1978? None were known for their recruiting prowess upon their hire. Not Larry Smith, Dick Tomey, John Mackovic, Mike Stoops or Rich Rodriguez. They were hired more for tactical reasons on the field. Isn’t it time that Arizona hires its head coach with recruiting ability a priority? … Cienega QB Jamarye Joiner may get away with schools such as Alabama, Baylor and Nebraska entering the picture with recruiting visits. When Saban calls, what’s a recruit supposed to do? … Another local product garnering interest from a program outside of Tucson is softball pitcher Julia Holt, daughter of former Arizona football player Julius Holt. Julius’s son Justin was in Rodriguez’s program at Arizona for a year before he was told by team doctors he could not play because of concussion problems. Julius was cleared by other doctors to play for Eastern Arizona last season. Julia is a top pitcher with the Desert Thunder 16U team participating in the USSSA John Dakes Invitational in Phoenix this weekend. Desert Thunder went 3-0 in pool play on Saturday and will compete for the title Sunday. Julia, an eighth grader, attended UCLA’s Holiday Elite Camp last year. She is still very young in the recruiting process but it’s obvious the Bruins are making her a priority going into her freshman year of high school next season.

FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.



  1. Allen

    January 7, 2018 at 8:20 am

    Javier: I always love your notes column.
    BTW: I’m going from memory but I’m pretty sure that Brewton,Ala is also the hometown of Fred Snowden.

  2. Javier Morales

    January 7, 2018 at 8:50 am

    Great note in itself! Thanks Allen.

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