For Arizona Football, transition to Kevin Sumlin was mismanaged

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Arizona Wildcats tries to call time out during second half action of a college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 24: Head coach Kevin Sumlin of the Arizona Wildcats tries to call time out during second half action of a college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Tucson, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images) /

Three years into the Kevin Sumlin era in Tucson, and it is quite apparent the transition for Arizona Football from Rich Rodriguez was mismanaged.

In with the new, out with the old, at least that’s what the intended transition plan was for Arizona Football after Rich Rodriguez left and Kevin Sumlin arrived. But was there ever a dialogue between coaches and players coming in?

I get when new staffs are hired and come in, they want to establish their culture and make things “their way”, implementing and establishing their system, but changing everything? Doesn’t seem like recipe for success.

Granted, Sumlin’s was going to do what Sumlin’s staff was going to do, but to have the opportunity to use your exciting and talented quarterback to get fans to buy season tickets and create more of a buzz to a stagnant program, only to then implement an offense he couldn’t produce or excel in.

Sumlin chased away the talent, playing more of “his guys”, leaving a lot of Rich Rod’s holdovers and recruits on the sideline.

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They changed the playbook entirely, even though the last one worked, produced an exciting offense, but also was geared towards the previous players.

Hired an Offensive Coordinator who has an old school mentality with little-to-no imagination or trick plays, and hasn’t changed his offense much to when he coached at ASU or UCLA.

In addition to that, staying distant from players, having little-to-no development. No more Matt Dudek types on the coaching staff who helped players feel connected and helped recruit.

As an aside, former players have told us how much they loved Dudek, who is now at Michigan.

The transition for Arizona Football from Rich Rod to Sumlin was not smooth or managed well and it’s showing in the last two seasons in Tucson.

After the programs’ worst, tenth-straight loss, conclusions have to be drawn and tough questions have to be asked.

I have been writing about the lack of imagination and inconsistency from Mazzone for awhile now, but just a day ago, former Arizona Wildcat Marcus Griffin confirmed our assumptions, Arizona’s game plan on offense is “Old School.”

The transition was key to Sumlin being successful, and throwing in a brand new, old school game plan was not a smart move. Why didn’t Sumlin and Mazzone make the transition easier and smoother by maybe slowly implementing their system, and tailoring it to fit most of the players who were already here and were familiar and successful in it?

Hear me out here a second, the personnel mostly on the roster at that time did not fit Sumlin’s system, and recruiting couldn’t be fixed in a single season. It favored the dynamic quarterback they had on their roster, yet they essentially tried to fit a square peg through a round hole.

We even heard from some parents that in Sumlin’s first year, there wasn’t even much of a playbook to study.

If that’s the case, then you can imagine how much of a huge culture change it was going from a coach who seemed to micromanage over every aspect of the game, versus a coach that seems to just differ from his assistants and doesn’t have much of a hand in anything?

Another huge change from the Rich Rod era was that Sumlin opted to play a few true freshmen on the O-Line and in other positions since the rules changed on the number of games a player could play before being able to redshirt.

To this day, we still don’t know fully why now why Nathan Eldridge, Khalil Tate‘s center, left the program in 2017 and followed his coach to Oregon State. Eldridge was recruited by and played for Arizona’s former Offensive Line Assistant Coach Jim Michalczik who is now at OSU. Eldridge is ranked as the No. 2 ranked center in the Pac-12 by West Coast CFB, and wouldn’t it be nice to have him playing for Arizona this season, even amid the offensive line woes?

In addition, Michael Eletise, the former four-star top Hawaii recruit, who was not designated a starter and saw his position and opportunities dwindle when Sumlin came in.

It seemed he never felt wanted by the new coaching staff, underappreciated, and so he returned home to play for the University of Hawaii. And by all accounts, it seems he made a fantastic decision. Not only is he getting more opportunities to play, but he is also doing a great job and on track for the NFL.

Eletise is one of those players who loves the game of football, and works very very hard to get better at it each year!

Given Arizona’s struggles o the offensive line, both of these players, if they were still with the team, would have been huge assets for the last two seasons.

Who knows how many more players have felt disenchanted too? Why wasn’t more done to make sure the coaching staff was connected to these and all the other players who have since left the program, and why does it seem like there are a high number of players opting out? It seems like they are out of touch with the players.

Add to that, seeing how their fellow Rodriguez-Recruited players have been treated by Sumlin and his staff, and in particular how Tate didn’t even start on Senior Night let alone play, and those are things that carry with the players. the culture is broken.

That said, the coaches also need to make sure they recruit more players who truly love the game of football, the Scooby Wright-types, the guys who are going to bust their but to elevate the program.

After last seasons’ disastrous 4-8 finish (2-7 in conference), splitting wins and losses at home evenly (3-3) and only winning one game on the road, and also have Zero Cats, why are we paying a lot of money for such poor results?

Our Site Expert Eric Townsend chimed in on the subject of why Arizona is struggling under coach Sumlin:

"This team and program are stagnant and it seems like a lot of players are more or less going through the motions. Little buy in from the staff, and little buy in from the players, Rich Rodriguez seemed to find guys who loved the game of football. It doesn’t seem like that’s the case now.Want to know why Alabama wins? Yeah it’s largely talent, but It’s because they got kids like Levi Wallace who go through the program, and despite being a walk-on becomes a starter at Bama and is now a key contributor with the Buffalo Bills. He comes in, competes and works at it.Nick Saban in all his wisdom and experience as a head coach, still acts very much like a student of the game, he never wants to stop winning or evolving. We don’t have that because we don’t see it from the top down."

Since the loss to UCLA, three players have “Opted-Out” of the season, the most recent is WR Drew Dixon, another Rich Rod Recruit. In addition to Dixon, the following players are opting out or transferring:

  • Corner Back McKenzie Barnes (RR) opted out after the UCLA game.
  • Corner Back Malik Hausman (RR) opted out after the UCLA game.
  • Safety Christian Young (RR) has decided to Opt Out.
  • Cornerback Bobby Wolfe (KS) opted out, but may still play.

Add to that the talent that transferred out, or left before the season in addition to Eletise and Eldridge:

Now players are saying the media is trying to pit players against each other after the press conference on Tuesday.  During the presser, Josh McCauley commented on the players who have opted out of the season: “Those guys are getting out of the building and the guys that want to win are staying here, and I think that’s really good for us.” To which Barnes Tweeted the following:

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Saying the program is in a shambles or is a shit show is an understatement. It all starts from the top. It’s so bad that former players like Joe Tafoya, Shaq Richardson, and Antoine Cason have been wanting to help, but Sumlin has not utilized alumni either. As I wrote earlier in the year, this would have been a good season to take a seat and just get better. Please don’t blame the players, responsibility lands on the head coach.