- Arizona fired Kevin Sumlin a day after the Wildcats were destroyed 70-7 by archrival Arizona State in Week 15
- Oregon’s Co-Defensive Coordinator Joe Salave’a and Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin top the list of possible replacements
- See below for which candidate is the best bet to take over the reins in Tucson
The Arizona Wildcats jettisoned Kevin Sumlin following the program’s beyond-embarrassing 70-7 blowout loss to archrival Arizona State in Week 15. Sumlin compiled a 9-20 record in Tuscon in nearly three seasons and UA has lost 12 in a row dating back to last season.
Now, the Pac-12 team looks to replace the former Houston and Texas A&M leader with a slew of possible candidates. Oregon Co-Defensive Coordinator Joe Salave’a and Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin top the list of possible successors.
Odds to be the Next Arizona Head Coach
Odds as of Dec. 14
That’s a long list of football minds to choose from. And there’s surely other possibilities out there.
The Wildcats have a confusing football history. The school fired the only two coaches (Dick Tomey and Rich Rodriguez) who achieved double-digit win seasons. Prior to Utah and Colorado joining the conference in 2011, Arizona was the answer to a dubious trivia question: which conference program is the only one not to play in the Rose Bowl Game? That ignominious achievement still holds true.
Let’s further investigate a handful of possible Sumlin successors.
Salivating Over Salave’a
UA Athletic Director Dave Heeke should make this a short search and hire Salave’a immediately. The 45-year-old Associate Head Coach for the Ducks checks off all the boxes. And as a long-time staffer in the Oregon athletic department, Heeke still has plenty of connections in Eugene to perform informal background checks on Salave’a.
Salave’a played defensive tackle for Tomey at Arizona between 1994-97 (sandwiched between the program’s two best seasons ever in 1993 and 1998) and went on to have an eight-year career in the NFL with four teams, five of those with Tennessee.
Following his playing career, he has fulfilled numerous coaching duties at four West Coast schools, including three in the Pac-12. Now, he’s ready to become a head coach.
Salave’a pedigree is perfect. He understands the UA program’s unique history as an alum, played in a Super Bowl (which will woo recruits), and knows the region. Plus, as an American Samoan, Salave’a has been one of the territory’s foremost ambassadors. He’s the obvious choice.
Truly National Pool
What if Salave’a wants to stay put in the Willamette Valley? There’s a pair of names on the board that stand out.
Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo was a finalist for the UA job in 2017 before Arizona pivoted to Sumlin. If Niumatalolo doesn’t harbor resentment, Heeke would be smart to hire him this time. He’s compiled a 101-67 record in Annapolis since 2007 and owns a 6-5 bowl record.
The other intriguing name is Brennan.
The San Jose State head coach played at UCLA and was a graduate assistant at Washington (1999) and Arizona (2000) before being a wide receiver coach at Oregon State between 2010-16.
Brennan had a rough start in Silicon Valley, going 3-22 in his 25 games. But the 47-year-old is 11-7 since (and 6-0 this season). He also made the bold decision to move the Spartans’ 2020 operation to remote Humboldt County in remote Northern California ahead of the current pandemic, which recently forced restrictions in Santa Clara County.
Has Brent Brennan been hired yet? He spoke at Tomey’s funeral. How is that for ties to UofA? And his brother, Brad, was a walk on stud at UofA.
— Taylor Lewison (@TaylorLewison) December 14, 2020
Also, where did Tomey coach after being unceremoniously relieved of his duties in Tucson? San Jose State.
Off the List
Some names that should not be considered are Harsin (there’s a strong sentiment he could be in line to take over at Texas), Harrell (the Trojans could push out Clay Helton — even with USC’s success this season — if it thinks Harrell will go elsewhere) and Sarkisian.
No Steve Sarkisian? https://t.co/dj92lfdgz1
— Tom Dienhart (@TomDienhart1) December 12, 2020
Yes, Sark has the Alabama offense playing at an unprecedented level. But he’s twice failed in the Pac-12 (Washington and USC) already. Arizona doesn’t need to give him a third chance.
There’s long been an inferiority complex at the Old Pueblo. There’s been a sense for two decades the Wildcat program is capable of competing consistently with the upper echelon in the conference. Salave’a — as an alum and coach at Pac-12 schools that have achieved such success — is the perfect candidate to replace Sumlin.
Best Bet: Joe Salave’a (+450)