How does a college football coach keep his job after three straight losing seasons and going into the final game of the regular season on an 11-game losing streak?
The simple answer: He doesn’t.
After yesterday’s 24-13 loss to Colorado, it’s likely that a win next Friday against rival Arizona State won’t be enough to enable Kevin Sumlin to keep his job as the University of Arizona head football coach. That 11-game losing streak, which began early in the 2019 season, set a school record.
The Wildcats are now winless after four games in this virus-shortened season. The ASU game will mark the end of the regular season and possibly the last chance for Sumlin to go out with a win. There’s no assurance that a Pac-12 Tournament will even be played because of the latest surge in virus-related cancellations across the conference.
While the upheaval that COVID-19 has inflicted on the program might otherwise be used as some justification for the disappointing results this season, it follows Sumlin’s first two seasons on the job when his teams went 5-7 and 4-8. And there was no pandemic to blame for those records.
This was supposed to be his break-out, job-saving season.
The Colorado game was a tale of two coaches passing in the night, each on a separate trajectory. Sumlin is 0-4 and headed for the door. Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell is 4-0 in his first season and headed for bigger things with that Pac-12 program.
Last night his Buffaloes ran all over Arizona, piling up 407 rushing yards and allowing sophomore tailback Jarek Broussard to pile up a career-high 301 yards. No other opposing player in UofA program history has rushed for that many yards.
The Cats were using a back-up quarterback, which accounted in part for being able to score just 13 points. Will Plummer, a freshman quarterback (photo above) who stepped in for injured starter Grant Gunnell, finished the game with 154 yards on 19-of-32 passing.
Arizona actually jumped out to a promising start, taking a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. But the Buffs wiped out the deficit in the next frame and took a 14-13 lead into halftime.
But keeping the Colorado offense in check was a bigger problem for Arizona, which was hosting the game in Tucson. Defending the run has been a problem all season long as the Cats were giving up 230 yards a game over the first three contests.
With that said, the Arizona defense did deserve some credit. They had three takeaways on the night, but the offense just couldn’t get enough consistency to take advantage of the opportunities. A prime example occurred in the third quarter when Plummer was intercepted on the one-yard line to kill the promise of a score that would have tied the game and turned the momentum.
The bottom line is that Arizona will be going into the season’s usual finale against rival ASU with more at stake than perhaps ever before. The Cats need a win to not just bring the Territorial Cup back to Tucson, but to also avoid a season shut-out.
But to say that Kevin Sumlin’s job is on the line is probably not accurate. That ship has likely already sailed.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)