As the saying goes, it is often better to be lucky than good. Even better, though, is to be lucky and good. That is how Kevin Sumlin came to be the head football coach at the University of Arizona.
At first glance, it was untimely for Arizona to have a head coaching vacancy. It was early January, during recruiting season and at a time when the frenzied college football hiring-and-firing coaching carousel had wound to a halt.
But, fortuitously, there was Sumlin. He was unceremoniously cut loose from Texas A&M despite having posted a 51-26 mark in six seasons and (wink, wink) having coached a Heisman Trophy-winning mobile quarterback. It’s hard to see how it could have worked out much better.
Sumlin’s coaching sojourn began after an outstanding collegiate playing career as a linebacker at Purdue. He soon caught the coaching bug and followed the long and winding road as an assistant from Washington State to Wyoming and Minnesota, then on to Purdue, Texas A&M and Oklahoma.
After 20 years on the assistant circuit, he got his first head coaching job at the University of Houston. In four years with the Cougars, his teams went 35-17 and won two Conference USA West titles. He was conference coach of the year
in both 2009 and 2011.
In major-league baseball, if a player can get a hit three out of every 10 plate appearances, he may end up in the Hall of Fame someday. Similarly, if a college football coach can win two out of every three games throughout his career, he ought to be seen as a success.
But, with the somewhat unrealistic demands for success in college football, Sumlin’s record turned out not to be good enough for the folks at Texas A&M.
The football program had, for decades, competed in the Southwest with other Texas schools and the likes of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The school then decided to move over to the Southeastern Conference and was placed in the same division with perennial national powerhouses Alabama, LSU and Auburn. Even so, in his six years on the College Station campus, Sumlin’s teams won two out of every three games. He was SEC Coach of the Year in 2012.
It may very well turn out to be A&M’s loss and Arizona’s gain. This coming season, Wildcat football fans will be treated to the coming together of a well-respected, offensive-minded, winning coach; a Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterback; a young defense that showed flashes of greatness last year; and a very favorable home schedule. This could get very good, very fast.