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Arizona Football: 12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Kevin Sumlin

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats Football

Kevin Sumlin, Arizona Wildcats Football

Arizona fired coach Kevin Sumlin on Saturday, becoming the third Power 5 job to open this offseason. The Wildcats never found their footing under Sumlin, who came to Tucson after a six-year stint at Texas A&M. Arizona finished 5-7 in 2018, followed by a 4-8 mark in ’19. The Wildcats went 0-5 in 2020 and are riding a 12-game losing streak. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads will work as the program's interim coach. 

Who could replace Sumlin at Arizona? Here are 12 names to watch in the coaching search:

12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Kevin Sumlin at Arizona

Andy Avalos, Defensive Coordinator, Oregon

After going with coaches who specialized on offense with the last two hires, could Arizona go defense this time around? Avalos – a native of California – could get a look with this job. After a playing career at Boise State, he spent time as a graduate assistant at Colorado and Sacramento State before joining the Broncos’ staff coaching defensive line. After seven years as an assistant in Boise, Avalos took over as Oregon’s defensive coordinator in 2019. The Ducks held teams to just 16.5 points a game that season and have a strong group to build around for ’20 and beyond.

Craig Bohl, Head Coach, Wyoming

Bohl isn’t the flashiest name on this list, but he should get a look from Arizona. The Nebraska native had stints as an assistant at Tulsa, Wisconsin, Rice, Duke and Nebraska before taking over as North Dakota State’s head coach in 2003. The Bison went 104-32 and claimed three FCS national titles (2011-13) under his watch. Bohl departed for Wyoming prior to the 2014 season and is 38-43 over the last seven years. The Cowboys went 6-18 over his first two seasons but posted at least six victories in each of the next four years (2016-19).

Brent Brennan, Head Coach, San Jose State

Brennan has plenty of experience in the Pac-12 thanks to a playing career at UCLA, along with stints as a graduate assistant at Washington (1999) and Arizona (2000), along with a six-year run coaching Oregon State’s receivers from 2010-16. Brennan worked as an assistant at San Jose State from 2005-10 and became the program’s head coach in ’17. After a 3-22 start, Brennan is 11-7 over the last two years, with San Jose State becoming significantly more competitive in the Mountain West in that span.

Kalen DeBoer, Head Coach, Fresno State

DeBoer is in his first season at Fresno State, but he’s a coach on the rise and a name to watch. DeBoer went 67-3 as the head coach at Sioux Falls from 2005-09 and also had successful stints as an offensive coordinator at Fresno State, Indiana and Eastern Michigan.

Alex Grinch, Defensive Coordinator, Oklahoma

Arizona’s last two head coaches (Rich Rodriguez and Sumlin) both had a background on offense. Could a change to the other side of the ball be in the works? Grinch spent time as an assistant at New Hampshire, Wyoming and Missouri before landing the defensive coordinator job at Washington State (2015-17). After guiding the defense to big improvement over three years, Grinch left to work at Ohio State in 2018. He was brought to Norman after one season in Columbus and has helped Oklahoma’s defense take a big step forward over the last two seasons.

Jeff Grimes, Offensive Coordinator, BYU

Grimes popped up in the rumor mill for the opening at Utah State this offseason. The Texas native has never been a head coach at the FBS level, but he’s assembled a solid resume from stints as an assistant at Boise State (2000), Arizona State (2001-03), BYU (2004-06), Colorado (2007-08), Auburn (2009-12), Virginia Tech (2013) and LSU (2014-17). Grimes departed Baton Rouge to take over the play-calling duties at BYU in 2018, helping the offense show marked improvement over the last three years. Prior to the season finale against San Diego State, the Cougars averaged 44.5 points a game – a significant bump from the 27.2 mark in ’18.

Graham Harrell, Offensive Coordinator, USC

Harrell is a coordinator on the rise and it’s only a matter of time before he gets a chance to run a Power 5 program. After a record-setting career at Texas Tech, he had a stint in the NFL with the Packers and Jets before becoming an assistant coach at Washington State (2014-15). He was hired as the offensive coordinator at North Texas in 2016 and remained in that role until ’18. Harrell assumed the play-calling duties for USC last fall and has helped the program develop one of the top offenses in the Pac-12.

Bryan Harsin, Head Coach, Boise State

Harsin is probably a longshot here, but he’s worth a mention for this opening. He’s 68-18 at Boise State since replacing Chris Petersen and also went 7-5 at Arkansas State in 2013. Harsin has not won fewer than nine games in a full season of action with the Broncos and has a strong background on offense.

Lance Leipold, Head Coach, Buffalo

Leipold doesn’t have any previous Pac-12 experience, but he’s assembled an impressive coaching resume from stints at Wisconsin-Whitewater and Buffalo. The Wisconsin native went 109-6 with six Division III titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater from 2007-14. He took over at Buffalo in 2015 and went 7-17 through his first two seasons. The Bulls showed big improvement in 2017 with a 6-6 mark, followed by a 10-4 record with a MAC East title in ’18. Leipold guided Buffalo to an 8-5 finish last season and is 36-32 overall with the program.

Sean Lewis, Head Coach, Kent State

Lewis is a rising star and one of the top minds on offense in the Group of 5 coaching ranks. Kent State is one of the toughest jobs in the MAC, but Lewis has brought instant improvement. The 34-year-old coach went 2-10 in his debut (2018) but guided the Golden Flashes to a 7-6 mark with the program’s first bowl victory. Kent State went 3-1 in its four games this fall, bumping Lewis’ overall mark to 12-17. Prior to taking over as Kent State’s head coach, Lewis spent time as an assistant under Dino Babers at Eastern Illinois (2012-13), Bowling Green (2014-15) and Syracuse (2016-17).

Jay Norvell, Head Coach, Nevada

Norvell is 24-22 through four years at Nevada and has guided the Wolf Pack to three consecutive winning records after a 3-9 debut in 2017. Prior to taking over in Reno, Norvell worked as an assistant at a handful of programs, including, Iowa State, Nebraska, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas and Arizona State. The Wisconsin native also has two stints as an assistant in the NFL with the Raiders and Colts. With a background on offense, Norvell would be a good fit in the Pac-12.

Steve Sarkisian, Offensive Coordinator, Alabama

Sarkisian is due for an opportunity to run a Power 5 program once again after directing Alabama’s offense over the last two years. Under Sarkisian’s direction, the Crimson Tide have averaged over 40 points a game and consistently pieced together versatile and productive offenses. Sarkisian previously worked as the head coach at Washington from 2009-13, compiling a 34-29 mark before departing to USC. Sarkisian’s tenure ended due to off-field concerns after a 12-6 mark over 18 contests. The former BYU quarterback also worked as the Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator from 2017-18.