Surprise! Sumlin, not Niumatalolo, to be UA football coach


It looks like University of Arizona football fans won’t have to worry about the Wildcats switching to the Triple Option offense after all.

For the last week, speculation had Ken Niumatalolo becoming the new head football coach in Tucson.  Niumatalolo is the coach at Navy, where they run the triple option – not something that readily fits in at a Power 5 school.

In turns out that he was, in fact, offered the job with the Wildcats, but let the school know over the weekend that he was turning it down.  Arizona lost no time in changing horses, announcing their new choice last night.

Kevin Sumlin will take the reins of the Arizona program, which is still reeling from the sudden dismissal less than two weeks ago of Rich Rodriguez, who ran things for the last six seasons.  Rodriguez has been accused of workplace misconduct that included sexual harrassment charges by his former administrative assistant.

That bombshell certainly put the lid on RichRod’s run in Tucson, but he wasn’t that far from being shown the door anyhow.  After leading his 2014 team to the Pac-12 South title, the program has been mired in mediocrity, hitting bottom in 2016 when the season ended with a 3-9 record.  He made some progress this season, but it took a surprise performance from a back-up quarterback to lead the team to a 7-6 mark after the season started 2-2, and a win over cross-state rival Arizona State to convince the school to consider giving him another season.

The 53-year-old Sumlin will be expected to recruit the kind of top talent Rodriguez was unable to stockpile during his tenure.  During his six years in charge of the Texas A&M program, Sumlin developed a reputation as one of the better recruiters in college football.  He has snagged top-15 recruiting classes in each of the last three seasons.

His success in pulling in top high school prospects was evident when he scooped up a couple of five-star recruits out of Arizona, Christian Kirk, a wide receiver from Scottsdale’s Saguaro High School, and quarterback Kyle Allen from Desert Mountain High School, also in Scottsdale.

Rodriguez’s sudden departure has given the school the impetus it needed to bring in someone who can post double-digit wins, and then continue to do it on a consistent basis.  Rodriguez reached the 10-win plateau just once.  His predecessor, Mike Stoops, never hit 10 wins in his eight seasons in charge, and got to eight wins just twice.

But Sumlin’s recent tour with the Aggies doesn’t appear to answer that need.  Although Sumlin never won fewer than seven games in a season, his only double-digit win record came in 2012, his first season at Texas A&M, when he went 11-2 and ended the season ranked No 5 in the nation.  He also beat No. 1 Alabama that year and won the Cotton Bowl.

He also had a couple of good years at Houston, where he coached for four years before taking the Aggies’ job, going 10-4 his second year and 12-1 his last season there.  But his last four years at Texas A&M have included three eight-win marks and seven wins his final year.

Sumlin posted a 51-26 record in his six seasons in College Station, competing in the tough SEC West, before being fired following the 2017 season after a 7-5 finish and a season-ending 45-21 loss to LSU.  He was dismissed less than a day after the final game and replaced by Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher.

But during his six seasons, Sumlin set several program marks.  He was the first Aggie head coach to lead his first six teams to a bowl game and his three bowl victories are tied for the most in school history.  His offenses also earned national recognition, twice leading the conference in passing, scoring, and total offense.  During his 10 years as a head coach, every one of his teams averaged more than 400 yards of total offense.

Jim Livengood was the Arizona athletic director who hired Stoops in 2009.  Greg Byrne was the AD who hired Rodriguez.  And now the new guy in the director’s chair, Dave Heeke, will get his chance to see if he can do any better.

It will undoubtedly be pointed out by critics of the Sumlin hire that Heeke could be making the same mistake as his predecessor in hiring a ‘bounce-back’ coach who was fired from his last job.  Rodriguez qualified for that label since he had a disastrous three years at Michigan before stepping away from the game to try his hand at broadcasting.

But Arizona was still willing to cough up the dough.  Rodriguez was making $6 million, plus a maximum bonus of another $2,025,000, which made him the fifth-highest among active D-I coaches.  He was hired based on what he was able to do at West Virginia, where he enjoyed considerable success before taking the Michigan job.

Sumlin was making $5 million and another $1 million in potential bonus last season, ranking him No. 10 on the NCAA salary list.  Sounds like the Wildcats won’t get much of a break on salary, but at least they won’t have to buy out a contract from another school.  Sumlin leaves Texas A&M with a $10.4 million buyout.

Terms of Sumlin’s contract are supposed to be available at an introductory press conference scheduled for tomorrow.

College football fans in Arizona will likely recognize the Sumlin name.  He was under consideration for the job that Todd Graham filled at Arizona State six years ago and was being heavily courted by the Sun Devils before the Aggies made him an offer that he accepted.  Graham was fired at the end of the 2017 season and, again, Sumlin’s name surfaced as a possible candidate for the job before the school hired Herm Edwards.

It looks like Sumlin is finally going to get a chance to move to Arizona.  But he won’t be wearing maroon & gold.