Wohl: Mediocre Football Recruiting Keeping Wildcats from Getting over Hump

Arizona must change its perception of itself as a program to land elite recruits

Posted on September 26, 2020

Ryan Wohl
  By Ryan Wohl of Dash Sports TV for SportsPac12

Imagine you’re booking a hotel for the next four years of your life. Do you want to stay at a five- or three-star place?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. No one wants to choose something that isn’t the best they can have, no matter what they’re doing.


Coming into Tucson, Arizona, head coach Kevin Sumlin had a lot of hype surrounding his hire because of his history at Texas A&M, taking them to a bowl game in each of his seven seasons at the helm.

In his seven seasons coaching in the SEC, Sumlin recruited nine five-star and 58 four-star players. Do you wanna know how many four- and five-star guys he has brought to Arizona?



This issue starts at the University of Arizona with its athletic director, David Heeke, who recently said in an interview with the Arizona Daily Star, “I’m a believer that this is a three-star program and that you’ve got to develop kids who stay in the program…”

It doesn’t matter if it’s in a medical office, school, clothing store, or anywhere else, when the “boss” or leader comes out and speaks negatively towards his workers it brings negative energy in that room.

Also, it doesn’t help your “three-star players” gain a whole lot of confidence when you talk them down and raise doubt in their heads.

Granted, a lot of Sumlin’s success at A&M stems from the fact that he was coaching in Texas because since he left, the Aggies still had a Top 15-20 recruiting class in the country every year. After all, it’s arguably the premier high school football state in the country, so there is a wealth of talent to choose from.

On the bright side, Sumlin’s only four-star recruit in three years in Tucson, Nathan Tilford, Class of 2017, is due for a breakout season after getting limited touches his first two years in the program.


Tilford is a dynamic running back with breakaway speed who excels in the open field. Pairing him with senior Gary Brightwell will give the Wildcats a potent one-two punch to go with star quarterback Grant Gunnell.

The burning question here is: Why has Arizona had trouble bringing in players from the upper-tier of recruits?

There are a few reasons, including the program’s failure to establish an identity, weak alumni presence. and being overshadowed by Arizona State University—to name just a few.

Since 2017, ASU has recruited 19 four-star players compared to Arizona’s one. In their last 10 meetings, the Wildcats have lost seven games against the Sun Devils.

Sure, Tucson is further away from a big city, being about an hour-and-a-half drive from Scottsdale or Phoenix, but UA coaches and the directors need to do a better job promoting this program to players not familiar with the area.

Something I have always wondered is why colleges with great basketball programs struggle to also be competitive with their football programs?

This isn’t just a problem with Arizona because other top basketball schools such as Duke, Kansas, and UNC have had limited football success as well. And none of those schools have had a top football team simultaneous with a great basketball team.

In recent years, Arizona Athletics has spent an average of $12 million more per season on its basketball program than its football program. Hiring a football coach with a track record in Kevin Sumlin was a step in the right direction, as was introducing a new $16.5 million practice facility last year.

Hopefully, in the near future, fans and outsiders will view Wildcat football the way they see Arizona basketball, as a team capable of making the postseason seven out of the last ten seasons.

Sumlin | David Dennis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Arizona football has been mediocre for the last 20 years, having posted just one 10-win season in that time. The only way that is going to change is by finding the right coach who fits the program and can recruit outside of the state of Arizona.

Bottom Line: Coach Kevin Sumlin is to blame for Arizona’s failure to become a Top 20 football program, and Athletic Director David Heeke was too harsh in labeling his team a “three-star program.”

This is not the reality Wildcat fans must come to accept.

You can watch Wohl’s related Wildcat Dash Sports Talk Show on Dash Sports TV, and read his other sports articles at the Daily Wildcat.

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