Relatively speaking, the Wildcats pulled off the best hire of new Pac-12 coaches by adding Kevin Sumlin from Texas A&M. UCLA was not far behind with the hire of Chip Kelly.
Let’s start with a quick assessment of Arizona’s move to hire Kevin Sumlin, which makes loads of sense on numerous levels — not the least of which, it seems, is the in-state leverage it gives the Wildcats over Arizona State.
Sumlin is the coach many Sun Devil fans wanted. He’s the anti-ASU hire, and that’s never a bad thing for Arizona.
While their archrival picked a coach who hasn’t coached in a decade, the Wildcats picked one of the four coaches to beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa this decade.
Unlike Herm Edwards, Sumlin will create a direct recruiting link into Texas, a region so vital to both programs.
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His arrival should create energy among the increasingly-dispassionate fan base at a crucial time for facility renovations.
He enables the Wildcats to retain valued defensive coordinator Marcel Yates, and to make the most of quarterback Khalil Tate’s dynamic skills.
Most of all, Sumlin’s presence gives the Arizona program instant credibility and a big-time feel throughout the college football world.
Few hires are without risk. Sumlin isn’t without risk; Chip Kelly to UCLA isn’t without risk.
But kudos to Arizona athletic director Dave Heeke and DHR International for the search. It was done in a reasonable time frame and ended with a top target acquired.
With Sumlin on board … and assuming there will be no other Pac-12 vacancies this winter … let’s take stock of the new conference landscape.
Five of 12 schools changed coaches, the most high-stakes and disruptive personnel matter an athletic department can endure.
Please note that the judgments below are not projections of future success, of conference titles or win totals, so much as an assessment of the quality of hire on a relative basis:
How did each school fare compared to the ideal? How close did it come to making the best hire possible given its unique budget and tradition and facilities and recruiting base.
UCLA and Oregon State aren’t in the same stratosphere on so many levels — nor are Oregon and Arizona, for that matter — and the nuance must be accounted for in the final analysis.
(Make that the final preliminary analysis, because the final final analysis will come in two or three years.)
Coach: Kevin Sumlin
Comment: The only (longstanding) program in the conference that hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl … a college-town team that toils in the shadow of its basketball brother with an ancient stadium, limited local recruiting pool and dire need for facility upgrades … hired a coach who won more than he lost in the death trap that is the SEC West. Well done, Wildcats. Well done.
Coach: Chip Kelly
Comment: The Bruins hired the coach they had to have. For sure, they must be ultra-diligent on the compliance front — not only because of Kelly’s past but because he hasn’t worked under the NCAA umbrella in five seasons — but Kelly brings UCLA the center stage prestige it has lacked for much longer than should have been the case. Let’s not overlook the groundwork that made it happen: The impressive facility upgrades that place UCLA on par with any program in the west.
Coach: Jonathan Smith
Comment: Should the Beavers have hired Beau Baldwin, the former Eastern Washington coach and current Cal playcaller? You could make that case. Even so, they could have done worse than Smith, a former star quarterback who understands the challenges in Corvallis, apprenticed under Chris Petersen and recognizes the need for a top-tier staff.
Coach: Mario Cristobal
Comment: Can’t help but look at all Oregon has to offer and wonder: Did the Ducks sacrifice long-haul success in order to save continuity and a recruiting class? That’s a difficult decision to make and an easy nit to pick, especially after losing a first-year coach. We won’t know on Cristobal for several seasons — recall the trajectory of the Helfrich era, which also began with an elite QB in place — but his tenure begins with a hint of skepticism.
Coach: Herm Edwards
Comment: I have been struck most by this: The overwhelming number of Hotline contacts within the coaching industry … contacts who know far more about running a major college operation than I do … believe the Edwards hire will be an abject failure. I instinctively lean to the center in the face of extreme reaction: Whatever the issue (coaching hire, recruiting class, team performance), the situation often isn’t as great or awful as the perception. But the Edwards hire is testing my inclination, severely.