Seven years ago, Kevin Sumlin was the hottest coaching candidate on the market, for good reason.
With the help of a prolific offense that averaged 44 points per game, he had just guided Houston to a 12-1 season in which the Cougars won all of their regular season games before falling in the Conference USA Championship Game.
His 35-17 record, as well as his growing reputation as a recruiter at Houston, caught the eye of fellow state school Texas A&M, which had just fired Mike Sherman after four mediocre seasons.
On Dec. 10, 2011, Sumlin left Houston for College Station, in a move many thought was a match made in heaven. He would face a daunting challenge in his first year, as it was the same year the Aggies’ joined the SEC football meat grinder.
Coming from the Big 12, there were immediate concerns over how players recruited to play in the wide open, defense-is-optional conference would perform in the rough-and-tumble SEC.
In his first season, Sumlin quelled those doubts thanks to having an ace up his sleeve in redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose stellar creativity and hectic style of play led to winning the Heisman Trophy while captivating the whole nation.
The 2012 Aggies finished 11-2, and in the process took down No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, clobbered Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl and finished the year ranked in the top 5 of the Coaches Poll and AP Poll for the first time since 1956.
With the early success, Sumlin’s stock soared even higher, but problems for him began in 2014, as a result of following up a 9-4 season the year prior with an 8-5 finish–after jumping out to a 5-0 start to the season. The Aggies began 2015 at 5-0 as well, but once again cooled off during the second half of the season to finish 8-5.
In 2016, Sumlin’s squad began the season even better. After an impressive 6-0 start, Texas A&M would lose five of its next seven games to finish 8-5 once again.
We began to hear rumblings about Sumlin’s job security last offseason, and after Sumlin posted yet another five-loss season–complete with an epic 34-point collapse against UCLA in Week 1–he was fired.
Sumlin went from the hottest candidate to one few schools wanted in seven years, which just shows how quickly opinions of coaches can change in the sport.
Arizona came calling in January, when it fired Rich Rodriguez following a sexual harassment controversy, and Sumlin was hired Jan. 14.
It’s a reboot of sorts for both parties.
Arizona looks to get on the right track after plateuing with Rodriguez the last couple of years, and Sumlin sets out to prove he’s better than what his last four seasons in College Station showed.
Coincidentally, Sumlin inherits an Arizona team which also faltered down the stretch in 2017 as it lost four of its last five games. But there is a silver lining: he has last season’s breakout star, Khalil Tate, returning as the starting quarterback.
Tate’s explosive running ability fueled the Wildcats to a 5-1 stretch during the middle of 2017; he rushed for 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span, turning himself into a potential Heisman candidate at the time.
Sumlin brought Noel Mazzone, his offensive coordinator at Texas A&M, with him to Tuscon to get the most out of Tate, whose passing ability needs a lot of work.
It’s hard to handicap how good the Wildcats are going to be in 2018. First of all, only two of the six teams are returning both the head coach and starting quarterback from 2017–Utah and Colorado.
It’ll be a relief for Sumlin to be in a place where he’s wanted–it seemed like there were people involved in Texas A&M athletics who wanted him gone years ago at the first sign of trouble. The difference in expectations between Arizona and Texas A&M is a huge benefit for Sumlin, who doesn’t have to worry about competing with Alabama, Auburn and LSU every single year in the SEC West.
According to azcentral.com, Sumlin “looks at home” and “looks like he’s enjoying himself” with the Wildcats.
And that’s great to hear.