Kevin Sumlin hit a perfect drive, splitting the water hazards on the treacherous 18th hole at Omni Tucson National Resort. He then sliced his approach shot so far to the right that it nearly reached the tee box on hole No. 1.
Sumlin wasn’t brought to Tucson for his golf game.
Sumlin is here because of his football acumen, and he finally will get to display it when the Arizona Wildcats begin spring practice in about 2½ weeks.
Sumlin and his staff already have been working with the players, spending about 90 minutes a week on playbook installation. (The NCAA allows coaches to meet with players for two hours a week, without footballs. The players spend six hours a week working with the strength and conditioning coaches.)
Sumlin took time out from his spring-ball prep to participate in the Cologuard Classic pro-am Wednesday morning. He hadn’t picked up a club since July, and it showed. But whenever he hit a wayward shot, he laughed it off.
Sumlin played with Arizona President Robert C. Robbins, Hall of Fame-bound former Wildcats baseball standout Trevor Hoffman, Champions Tour pro Scott Verplank and UA senior associate athletic director Mike Ketcham. After their round, Sumlin — wearing a blue Arizona pullover and matching visor — stopped behind the 18th green to talk to the media about his new team.
Here’s a portion of that conversation, which has been lightly edited for context and clarity.
How do you like the way the guys are taking in all the information?
A: “I think it’s been great. Yesterday, there was a lot of energy. Anytime there’s something new, two things happen: There’s some anxiety at the beginning, but then there’s a little more focus. It’s a two-way street. You’re learning the players, and they’re learning how you want to get things done. It’s gotten better every week as they start to figure out what the process is and how it works.”
What have you liked about your early interactions with quarterback Khalil Tate?
A: “It’s not a big departure from what he’s been used to. There’s some similar concepts, which I think he’s been comfortable with. As we start to expand throughout the spring, there’s a learning process for both sides. What Noel (Mazzone) wants to do is play to his strengths. You don’t really get to see those or where he is until we get to spring football, get pads on and see how he operates.”
What can we expect out of a Noel Mazzone-led offense?
A: “He’s been in the Pac-12. He’s been with me the last few years. The one thing he’s been able to do, and we’ve been able to do, is play to our players’ strengths. Not force things that guys can’t do. As I said, that takes time during spring ball — to kind of figure out players’ strengths and (work on) the weaknesses that Khalil has. But it’s up to the other 10 guys to make this offense quarterback-friendly. It’s not just one guy’s development. It’s figuring out what we can do to make first downs and score points.”
What are your feelings on the signing class you were able to finalize?
A: “It’s an athletic group. You’ve gotta make a decision: Do you use those scholarships that are left in that two-week period? And then you’ve gotta evaluate your roster. The roster’s different for every coach. Not (in terms of) talent, but numbers at positions. You don’t know what the talent level is at those positions and where you need to try to increase that talent and fill holes. That’s an ongoing process.
“We’ll see where we are after spring ball. There might be some guys moving around positions, too. That happens when there’s change.”
You added a second QB to the class in Kevin Doyle. How did that come about, and why was it important?
A: “It just was. Just where we were at quarterback. We have a guy who’s going to be a grad transfer (Brandon Dawkins). That’s what the numbers say. (But) we weren’t just going to go out and get a guy to get a guy. Obviously, he’s a talented guy. Had some choices in life. We had a prior relationship. And I’m glad it worked out.”
- Arizona’s pro day is scheduled for March 12. Spring practice is set to begin one week later.
- Dawkins will not participate in spring football with the Wildcats. Dawkins announced last week that he will transfer after graduating in May.
- QB Rhett Rodriguez will participate in spring ball, Sumlin said. Rodriguez is another possible transfer candidate after the UA fired his father, Rich Rodriguez, in January.
- With Dawkins out and Rhett Rodriguez in, Arizona should have four QBs in spring: Tate, Rodriguez, K’Hari Lane and walk-on Andrew Tovar.
- Sumlin said he will coach Arizona’s tight ends. When the UA announced his staff, no assistant was assigned that position.