Coaches Corner: Meet the 2018 football coaching staff
Arizona football’s coaching staff has been set since January. When Kevin Sumlin was hired to replace Rich Rodriguez, it was expected there would be a change of culture. Although the successes or failures of the team weigh heaviest on Sumlin, there still needs to be accountability at each level; Arizona’s assistant coaches play as significant a role in shaping the young men and defining the narrative of the program. For those who haven’t gotten to know the new (and old) Wildcat coaches ahead of the 2018 season, this can serve as a helpful guide.
When Sumlin’s name is mentioned, it’s hard not to think of Johnny Football. At Texas A&M, Sumlin and Johnny Manziel rose to prominence together. Although Arizona’s 32nd head coach has a history of developing a dual-threat quarterback into a Heisman trophy winner, Sumlin’s past success is much more expansive. Entering his first year in charge, Sumlin might be inheriting the most talented team of his career. With Heisman hopeful Khalil Tate behind center, a nucleus of offensive skill-players in place and a promising young defense, Sumlin should be the X-factor Arizona was in desperate need of last season.
An offensive coordinator must have an integral relationship with the head coach. That’s why Mazzone’s experience working alongside Sumlin — first on Minnesota’s staff in the early 1990’s, and most recently as Sumlin’s offensive coordinator at Texas A&M – bodes well for the Wildcats. Before joining Sumlin at A&M, Mazzone served as UCLA’s offensive coordinator from 2012-15.
Yates also has prior experience coaching under Sumlin – he served as a co-coordinator for the Aggies from 2012-13. Yates' defense has key returning starters at each position for the first time since his arrival in 2016. The one thing Yates doesn’t have anymore of? Time. Entering his third season in charge of Arizona’s defense, Yates knows that this season will determine his fate as the team’s defensive coordinator moving forward.
Gilbert returns to the collegiate landscape after spending the last six seasons serving as an offensive line coach for the Indianapolis Colts. Arizona’s rushing attack has been solid over the last three seasons, but it’s yet to reach maximum potential. The 2018 Wildcats boast the nation’s top rushing quarterback, a collection of rising stars in the backfield and an offensive line that lacks experience, but offers plenty in the strength and size department.
In addition to mentoring a number of future pros, such as former Seahawk and current Raider Bruce Irvin, Uiagalelei has formed key relationships with players of Polynesian descent. As much as it will be his job to ensure his defensive lineman are conditioned and prepared for game day, Uiagalelei will also be responsible for restoring the Polynesian pipeline – a facet of Arizona’s recruiting that was lost during the Rich-Rod era.
In 2008 McKinney joined Sumlin’s staff at the University of Houston. He served as the running backs coach and recruiting coordinator for four seasons for the Cougars until Sumlin headed two hours north to College Station, and McKinney followed suit. In 2016, Texas A&M became a force to be reckoned with on the ground, averaging 211.8 yards per contest. Entering his first season as Arizona’s running backs' coach and as associate head coach, he has plenty of talent to work with.
Entering his first season with the Wildcats, Martin brings extensive Pac-12 experience to the table. He’s highly regarded on the recruiting circuit, and has helped numerous defensive backs take their talents to the NFL. In 2014, four of Martin’s defensive backs earned All-Pac-12 accolades. In 2016, UCLA’s pass defense was ranked as the top unit in the Pac-12.
Before returning to the collegiate ranks in 2017 as Oregon State’s safeties coach, Rushing spent the better half of the last decade bouncing between NFL teams. From 2009-16, Rushing worked primarily as an offensive assistant for the Green Bay Packers. When Sumlin hired Rushing to coach Arizona’s safeties in 2018 it was a justifiable move. Rushing has a wealth of NFL knowledge, and a personality that is contagious to his players. In recent years, the Wildcats have produced a pair of safeties selected in the NFL draft. That trend has the chance to continue with rising senior Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. Rushing is the ideal candidate to help “DFlann” take his game to the next level.
Aych joined Rich Rodriguez’s coaching staff in 2017. He was one of just three coaches retained when Sumlin was hired in January. Prior to joining Arizona, Aych spent one season leading the UTEP Miners receiving corps. From 2011-15 he made a name for himself behind his offensive wizardry at Division II Angelo State. In Aych’s five seasons as the Rams offensive coordinator and assistant head coach, he dialed up one high-powered offense after another. In his final season, before leaving for El Paso, Texas, Aych was named a finalist for the Division II American Football Coaches Association Assistant Coach of the Year award.
The son of offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone, Taylor followed his father from the Midwest where he spent the last two years as an offensive quality control coach at Texas A&M. Entering his first season as a designated position coach, the younger Mazzone will bring energy and intelligence to the Wildcats outside receivers.
Upon Sumlin’s move to the desert, Springer withdrew his name as Kansas’ next special teams coach in order to take the next step of his coaching career in the Pac-12. Springer has spent the offseason, and fall camp, focusing on improving the third phase of Arizona’s performances. Sumlin clearly took note of Springer’s progress under the guidance of Banks, while at A&M. The former college quarterback-turned linebacker brings relentless energy and passion to the practice field each day.
Cecil doesn’t need an introduction in Wildcat country, he’ll always be remembered as one of Arizona’s top defensive players in program history. He’ll also always be recognized as the standard for future walk-ons. Cecil’s playing career was the epitome of an underdog story; none of his accomplishments came easy. That didn’t prevent the undersized, walking “hit-stick” from earning All-American honors while at Arizona, and enjoying a seven-year career in the pros afterwards. Every where Cecil went, he went with a chip on his shoulder the size of a pancake, and eventually his undying determination to be the best propelled him to a life full of reward.
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