Arizona Football

Kevin Sumlin’s first day: New energy for Arizona football

Kevin Sumlin talks to the media at his introductory press conference. (Photo courtesy Stan Liu, Arizona Athletics)

For 12 days, all I heard from Arizona fans was that they wanted Kevin Sumlin as the Wildcats’ new football coach.

Kevin Sumlin this. Kevin Sumlin that. Sumlin or bust. I’ll buy 20 season tickets if Arizona hires Sumlin. I’ll name my first-born son Sumlin. I’m done with program if they hire anyone but Sumlin.

Sumlin, Sumlin, Sumlin.

Well, you wanted him.

You got him.

Sumlin converted the layup and won the press conference Tuesday as he was introduced to his players, media, boosters and football alums at the Lowell-Stevens Football Facility. He correctly used “Bear Down” in a sentence. More than once.

He said all the right things, so much so that when he talked about the football potential at UA — “Why not Arizona? Why not us?” — it was a direct echo of what Rich Rodriguez said a little more than seven years ago when he represented the promise of a shiny, new era with the Wildcats.

Sumlin spent his first full day in Tucson meeting with his new players at 7:15 a.m., shaking hands, kissing babies, going through the media car wash, getting Cienega quarterback Jamarye Joiner to re-affirm his commitment to the program … and he still had some daylight left.

Now what?

There definitely are some short-term practical matters for Sumlin to address — filling out his coaching staff, finishing this recruiting class, starting the next couple of recruiting classes, getting to know his new players — but on Day 1, who cares?

“We needed someone to inject energy into this program,” said athletic director Dave Heeke.


Day 1 is rah-rah day.

Day 1 is for Arizona fans to raise a glass to a coach who Arizona State fans would have embraced instead of Herm Edwards.

Day 1 is for Arizona fans to celebrate landing an accomplished head coach who won 67.3 percent of his games in four years at Houston and 66.2 percent of his games in six seasons at Texas A&M. That the Aggies fired him after last season is partly a reflection of the school’s often-inflated expectations. (On the other hand, when you spend half a billion on recent stadium renovations, you definitely want top return on your investment.)

Still, the great thing about Sumlin on Day 1 at Arizona is that he needs no explanation.

“He’s been at the highest level. Certainly, that is a real feather in our cap,” Heeke said. “He’ll bring a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to the program.”

All of the other rumored candidates — Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Troy coach Neal Brown, Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin, Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford, Stanford secondary coach and former Arizona longtime assistant Duane Akina — needed some explanation. All fine candidates. I can make a case for each. But UA would have to work hard to sell those guys to the public.

Sumlin is instant credibility.

He just hit the ground running.

As he did at 7:15 this morning when he summoned his players to Lowell-Stevens.

“We were all scared at first,” said freshman linebacker Tony Fields.

“We didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know how he was going to come at us. He came at us very calm, cool and collected, talking to us about how he wants to treat the team with respect and he wants us to treat him with respect.”

Kevin Sumlin, flanked by UA president Robert Robbins (left) and athletic director Dave Heeke. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

None of the past three Arizona coaches — John Mackovic (well, duh), Mike Stoops and Rodriguez — particularly connected, or resonated, with the community. There’s been a lot of talk about the need of the new coach to reach out to the fan base, to somehow connect on a personal level, not just through a marketing campaign.

“That’s what we need: People who want to engage and be part of what makes Arizona great. And that is the people,” Heeke said. “You have to reach out to people and let them know you appreciate what they are all about and their affiliation with the program.”

Said Sumlin: “We will not be an isolated football program with our players.”

So, you wanted him.

You got him.

What are you go to do now?

Arizona averaged 42,632 fans for six home games last season, its worst mark in 20 years. There will be a natural rise in attendance next season, just because of the way the schedule falls, with an opener against BYU and conference home games against USC and Arizona State.

But Arizona can really move the needle because of Sumlin’s hiring … and the new energy … and the new enthusiasm … and the belief that he can craft a seven-win team that features quarterback Khalil Tate and a several promising young defenders into something way, way more.

Nothing happened Tuesday that changed the notion this could be a home-run hire.

That’s great. Celebrate.

Now, all Kevin Sumlin has to do is win more than the press conference.

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