Analysis: Arizona football changing its culture with music, simplicity
As the shadow that Arizona Stadium provides during sunset slowly crept over the football practice field on Saturday night, one thing was for certain: College football is finally back and the Wildcats are turning a new leaf.
The 'Cats took to the practice field for the first practices of fall camp this past Friday and Saturday. Arizona players, both the veteran and inexperienced, looked to impress Head Football Coach Kevin Sumlin and his new coaching staff as they put the finishing touches on implementing their new offensive and defensive schemes.
Perhaps more importantly, they are trying to establish the foundation to a positive and winning culture in the Arizona football program, something that has been non-existent for quite some time.
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“You set your culture by giving expectations. We talk about it all the time, you can’t hold somebody accountable if they don’t know what your expectations are,” Sumlin said. “Your expectations on, off the field, how you practice, how you do things, what’s going on, all that creates a culture.”
As Sumlin made his way around to different drills during Arizona’s fast-paced, late-afternoon practice, the Migos “Culture 2” album blared in the background in perfect unison, acting as Sumlin’s unintentional movie soundtrack as he strolled around the field at his own pace, swinging his whistle around his finger and observing everything through his dark-tinted sunglasses.
Sumlin made his way over to the quarterbacks to keep an eye on potential Heisman trophy winner Khalil Tate, while Quavo's vocals on "Supastars" echo off the mesh walls that separate the field of grass from its under-construction surroundings. After being away from each other all summer, the star player and coach are in tune, and so is the music.
As Sumlin lays the foundation of his philosophies in the lot next door to where the foundation of the new indoor facility is set, he inches closer to his much-anticipated Arizona debut.
The expectations for Sumlin and this group of Wildcats are high but they come with a bit of reservation. It's excitement tangled up in strands of doubt and memories of former Arizona coaches who were once paraded into town much like Sumlin, dubbed as the program savior and then getting chased out of town for not delivering on the field. Tucsonans and Arizona alumni are waiting before falling head over heels for the possible savior from Texas A&M. But the expectations Sumlin has for his own group? It’s as straightforward as you can get.
“My expectations are to win,” Sumlin said. “Our expectations will never change. The greatest compliment you can have from another coach or fans is when they watch the team play and they say ‘Boy, those guys play hard.’ Once that happens and you establish that type of culture, really good things are going to happen.”
It will take time to sort out whether wins lead to a good culture or a good culture leads to wins.
In the meantime, the Arizona coaches weren’t the only ones excited to be back on the field, as senior wideout Shun Brown couldn’t be any more upbeat for the change of scenery and overall mood going into his last year as a Wildcat.
“Compared to last year, I feel like we are more developed and are ready for the season,” Brown said.
The new offense that’s being installed under experienced coordinator Noel Mazzone? Brown can’t wait for that, either.
“You all know I love passing, and there will be a lot more passing,” Brown said, also mentioning a tweak in how he now runs his routes under the new staff, which are locked routes that do not change, to limit confusion.
Under former head football coach Richard Rodriguez, option routes were preferred and put all of the pressure on receivers and quarterbacks to not only be on the same page tempo-wise, but to also understand the defensive coverage to base a route. It's a complicated scheme to grasp and often left UA's offense frustrated when the quarterback and receiver couldn't connect. That isn’t the case anymore.
“You gotta understand the game, because if the quarterback sees one thing, and you see another thing, there can be a miscommunication,” Brown said. “So if the routes are locked, [the quarterback] knows where I’ll be, and I’ll know where I'm supposed to be, and that’s it.”
And the guy planning on throwing him the ball? Well, Tate is coming along just fine, according to his new quarterback coach and offensive coordinator Mazzone, who followed Sumlin from Texas A&M. Mazzone was pleased with how the redshirt sophomore was adjusting to the new demands of different spread offense.
“Some of this stuff is a little bit new for him,” Mazzone said. “Obviously it’s a new offense. Right now, he’s kind of going through the process of learning about progression reads and reading coverages and doing those types of things. I think the summer really helped him ... so he’s a little bit further along right now than I anticipated. So I’m kind of excited about moving forward from today."
Tate is learning, along with his teammates, but in just a few short weeks, we will all get to see for ourselves how far along Arizona really is, and how much farther they have to go.
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