Color Scheme: The New Faces of Arizona Football
For the first time in the state of Arizona’s history, all three major football programs will have a black head coach next season.
Updated: Jan. 28, 2018 • 4:52 PM ET
Kevin Sumlin is the first-ever black head football coach at the University of Arizona.
Football in Arizona made some surprising moves heading into this offseason. With the dismissal of Todd Graham from his duties at ASU, former Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians announcing his retirement from the NFL and the firing of Rich Rodriguez amidst allegations at the University of Arizona, all three major football programs in the state were recently in the hunt for their next head coach. And with the Cardinals’ recent hiring of Steve Wilks, all three major programs have chosen their guy to lead them into the future.
For the first time in the state of Arizona’s history, all three major football programs will be headed by an African-American coach, including the University of Arizona’s first-ever African-American head coach.
Football is ever-changing and evolving — whether it be new rules instigated for player safety or strategies thought up by coaches that are ultimately adopted by other teams — even the faces of some of the most prominent organizations. And one of the biggest changes in football is the rise of African-American coaches taking lead positions.
With the majority of football players being African-American, it makes sense that the coaching statistics would reflect the same. That’s not to say that coaching is about skin color, but who’s right for the job. With a surplus of players taking the next step in their careers to coaching, we should start seeing the natural shift occur.
That’s not to say that programs won’t still try to play it safe. Teams don’t always want to take a gamble on a guy who’s unproven or didn’t come from a coaching lineage that has had a lot of success. Just look at the SEC, where four of next years’ head coaches were all assistants under Alabama head coach Nick Saban at one point, or how NFL franchises are eager to poach coaches who served under New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. Some teams are eager to look for the next Sean McVay or Lincoln Riley, hoping for gold.
Arizona State was the first program of the three to nab a head coach this offseason with the hiring of Herm Edwards. Many fans and analysts alike feel uncomfortable with the decision, and for good reason. It has been nearly a decade since Edwards last coached (Kansas City Chiefs - 2006-09) and roughly 30 years since he last coached in college (San Jose State - 1987-89).
For Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson, who’s also African-American, this is the type of out-of-the-box hire that could propel ASU to one of the top programs. With a big name to take the mantle, ASU looked at the energetic approach Edwards will take when tackling recruiting and bringing in top-notch talent. Whether the old dog still has some tricks up his sleeve is yet to be seen.
Kevin Sumlin is the first African-American coach in the history of the University of Arizona. Coming from a successful career at Texas A&M, where he went 51-26 and oversaw the production of Heisman Trophy winner Johny Manziel, Sumlin now looks to extend his success to the Wildcats. What has even more fans excited is how he should help mold Heisman hopeful Khalil Tate, who took the country by storm last season after breaking the FBS rushing record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single game with 327 yards.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals took less than a month after Arians’ retirement to decide who their next head coach would be. It seems like the Cardinals were set on hiring Wilks, who brings intangibles to the table reminiscent of what general manager Steve Keim and President/Owner Michael Bidwill saw in Arians.
What stood out the most was the commanding presence Wilks had of any room he walked into, and the respect his players had for him. As the Carolina Panthers’ defensive coordinator last season, he led one of the most aggressive defenses in the league, blitzing more than 40 percent of the time. Wilks may not have the Arians’ mantra of ‘No risk it, no biscuit,’ but he certainly brings his own type of tenacity with him to Arizona.
The most important thing, however, is that each of these teams are comfortable moving forward and have all the faith in their head coaches. For all the programs involved, these coaches aren’t there to bridge anything, they’re there for the long-term.
Though the ASU fans have their doubts, the rest of the state is not only content, but excited to see how the futures of their programs unfold.