The last time ASU hired a football coach…wasn’t pretty


Like a re-run of an old movie, The Kevin Sumlin Story is once again appearing on the marquee in Tempe.

Most die-hard Arizona State football fans will recall the last time ASU flirted with hiring Kevin Sumlin.  And now Sumlin is on the coaching carousel again, at exactly the same time ASU just fired Todd Graham, and is on top of a number of speculative lists of potential candidates for the Sun Devils’ coaching job.

Sumlin posted a 51-26 record at Texas A&M and won three bowl games, but his number of wins have been on a steady decline.  He was let go Sunday, the day after a 45-21 loss at LSU.

Graham won his Saturday game, a 42-30 victory over rival Arizona, but also got his notice the next day.  He finished the regular season 7-5, finished runner-up in the Pac-12 South, and earned a bowl invite.

The current ASU athletic director, Ray Anderson, wasn’t around back in 2011, when the circus came to town.  So maybe we should fill him in, just in case he’s giving serious consideration to Sumlin.  Not that it should necessarily factor into his decision.

However, it does deserve some reflection…

Following a disappointing 2011 season, the fourth losing season in a row for Dennis Erickson, ASU began looking for a new head coach.

Within days of Erickson’s dismissal, speculation ran rampant about whether ASU had offered the job to Sumlin, the Houston head coach who had been at the top of the wish list for just about every major program that had just fired a head coach.  The Cougars had just completed an undefeated regular season and were ranked No. 6 in the country.

A report in The Arizona Republic said ASU had offered Sumlin the job, but the Houston-area media weren’t so sure.  And Sumlin himself insisted he hadn’t been offered a job by any school.

ASU also denied that an offer had been made to anyone.

Then it was reported that ASU Vice President for Athletics Lisa Love was going to board a plane, along with ASU President Michael Crow and several other athletic department personnel, supposedly headed to Houston to meet Sumlin following his team’s appearance in the Conference USA Championship game.
If that report were  correct, it would have meant that Love offered the job to Sumlin without even interviewing him in person, handling everything through Sumlin’s agent.  At the time, that seemed a little hard to believe.

Then it appeared that Love had changed her mind, and media in Houston and Phoenix confirmed that ASU had dropped plans to continue its quest to hire Sumlin.

Soon came news that Texas A&M had hired Sumlin.  Just when Love decided to pull the trigger and take the bold step of making an offer to Sumlin on the fly, trying to beat the rest of the pack to perhaps the hottest prospect on that year’s coaching market, she was blindsided by the Aggies.

But the Sumlin fiasco was just part of a bigger mess at the time.  The search for a new coach to replace Erickson had turned into a public-relations nightmare after the first two apparent hires went sour at the eleventh hour, giving the public the impression that the process was in complete disarray and offering up a field day for the media.

Hiring Graham only made matters worse.  Graham was considered a nomad who didn’t stay at any one coaching job for very long.  When he left the University of Pittsburgh after just one season to pursue the ASU job, he was roundly criticized for not telling his players in person that he was leaving.

That was just the icing on the cake, following other turmoil that had been reported within the program.  Her handling of the football program no doubt factored into her firing just three months later.

In case you missed the irony in this story, here it is:  Love hired Graham on the rebound and he lasted six seasons in Tempe.  Sumlin’s tenure in Houston lasted just as long.  And both were fired from those positions on the same day.

Maybe the two schools should have just made a coaching swap.