This year was different compared to the previous few years. The football team went from having little to no expectations to nearly winning the Pac-12 South with an undersized defense, yet the season ended with disappointment. And then there were the off-field issues…
This athletic department has gotten away from its roots. There’s a disconnect between the Tucson community and Arizona sports. It started under Greg Byrne, but now it’s Dave Heecke’s problem to deal with.
The football program struggled to fill the stadium. Worse, the athletic department struggled to fill the ZonaZoo (btw, Zoo, y’all need to chill. Great, you won some award, but I was there — we don’t deserve it). Why? First off, it’s because the team was atrocious. Rich Rodriguez running the same four plays every damn possession isn’t fun to watch. Furthermore, the students were charged way too much. The ZonaZoo pass that included basketball and football cost $175, which is on top of the $100 brand, spanking new student athletic fee. That definitely made it more difficult for students to get to games.
However, that doesn’t explain the emptiness of the rest of the stadium, especially after the emergence of Khalil Tate as the most exciting player in college football (he is — don’t @ me). The reason for the lack of attendance by Tucsonans is simply because they had no connection to the program. When RichRod came to Tucson, he made it clear that it was HIS football program, not the university’s or the communities. That worked a little bit when the program was competing for Pac-12 South championships, but not when they won three games in a season, and especially not when they lose to ASU.
Kevin Sumlin has already started to help fix the problem but is making it hard on himself to fix it completely. One of the first things Sumlin did after the announcement of his arrival was pay a visit to a local recruit. He also reached out to legendary Arizona coach Dick Tomey, whom RichRod inexplicably shunned from the program. Sumlin has also opened a scrimmage this Saturday to the public. This is all great.
However, Sumlin had a bizarre first interaction of the spring season with the media. This football team needs to have a good relationship with the media, because that’s how the Tucson community is going to be able to get to know the team. That’s how Tucson is going to forge relationships with the team. That’s what’s going to put butts in the seats.
Finally, the on-field product needs to change. Arizona initially succeeded under RichRod due do RichRod’s arrogance, but that was also his demise. RichRod practically invented the spread offense (editor’s note: Bold generalization, Max — go on…), and due to his success at West Virginia forever ago, thought that he could force players to his system, rather than tailor a system to his players’ strengths (like, say, featuring the most explosive player in college football).
Kevin Sumlin tailors his offenses to his quarterbacks very well. I’m not worried about having the RichRod bore of an offense that Arizona featured for the last few years. Under Sumlin, the ‘Cats need to establish an aerial attack, and run with both their running backs and Tate, off the throw, rather than the other way around. Rodriguez was adamant about establishing the run first, but it obviously didn’t work.
Arizona football can easily return to being both a dominant force in Tucson and in the Pac-12 South. Several changes need to be made to get back to there, though, and 2018 will be the first test.