There is no shortage of story lines for the Arizona Wildcats football team this weekend as they travel to face the Houston Cougars. Questions have surrounded the Wildcats all week since their 28-23 loss last Saturday to BYU, ranging from the how the team used Khalil Tate to how the offensive line plans to slow down Houston All-American Ed Oliver. Lost amongst all this is the homecoming of Head Coach Kevin Sumlin.
Sumlin had worked as the co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops before taking the head coaching job at Houston in December 2007. Led by quarterback Case Keenum, the Cougars hit the ground running under Sumlin who conducted them to an 8-5 record and their first bowl win in over 28 years. The next season saw Sumlin named a finalist for the Paul “Bear” Bryant National Coach of the Year Award, posting a 10-4 record and an offense that led in passing, total yards and scoring offense.
After a 2011 season in which the Cougars went a perfect 12-0 and rose to as high as No. 7 in the polls, Sumlin was offered the head coaching job at Texas A&M. He accepted the job and informed the players of his intentions a little over a month before the Cougars were scheduled to play a bowl game against Penn State, a move that wasn't exactly well-received by the community.
Speaking in May at the Touchdown Club of Houston luncheon, Sumlin told the Houston Chronicle of his return to play the Cougars.
“They say time heals all wounds. We’ll see. I don’t think time has healed that wound,” Sumlin said.
At his Monday press conference in Tucson, Sumlin changed his tune and spoke of the homecoming as another opportunity on the schedule.
“If you're lucky to be around this business long enough, you know you've got friends, you've got places you've played. It’s football,” Sumlin said. “You’ve got twelve opportunities that you’re guaranteed every year and for us this will be opportunity number two. The excitement level for one, two, three, four, five is gonna be the same.”
This weekend, Sumlin faces the task of proving the sky isn't falling in Arizona. A debut that had been advertised as the "New Era" didn't go as planned as the 12-point favorite Wildcats were upset by a BYU squad that won four games in 2017.
Arizona's head coach was questioned and criticized for his usage of junior quarterback Khalil Tate, who rushed for only 14 yards and completed just 50 percent of his 34 passes.
“There’s a lot of feeling that we could do better as coaches. We’re not gonna make excuses or anything. We’re gonna continue to try and put our players in better position to be successful," Sumlin said.
While the stadium in Houston might be new, and none of the current players on the Houston roster played under Sumlin, it remains to be seen how the fans will treat him upon his return. Hopefully, the Wildcats will provide the best treatment in the form of a win.
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