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Q&A: UH Coach Kevin Sumlin

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I've made no secret of my admiration for Kevin Sumlin. His coaching acumen, enthusiasm, professionalism and personality are a perfect fit for UH, and he's made me eat my words after I wondered aloud whether the Coogs would find a suitable replacement for Art Briles, who I thought highly of and, save for an injury to RGIII, would have Baylor in a postseason bowl.

Sumlin led the Coogs to their first bowl win in a generation during his first season on Cullen, and he has UH poised to win the West Division of Conference USA in his second. I wanted to know the secret to his success, so I cornered him at the Bayou Bucket Luncheon Wednesday:

Q: You've enjoyed almost instantaneous success upon your arrival. Are you surprised by that?

A: When I got here I said the first goal was to win the West, and so you build your team and you look for ways to try to get that done. The age of the five-year plan, particularly this time of year, is over with for coaches. That's unfortunate but that's what we live in. It's an age of instant gratification.

Also, you owe it to the people in the program that were already there that you didn't recruit, that don't know you, and the fans that come in. Everybody wants to win but unfortunately everybody can't. Certainly from the outside looking in before I got here there was tremendous potential because of the city, knowledge of the high schools (and) knowledge of the community. Is it happening at a high rate? Yes. Is it ahead of schedule? Maybe. But we haven't really accomplished any of those goals yet, so if you ask me at the end of the year I'll have a better answer than I do today.

Q: Have you been able to identify why you have been so successful so quickly at UH?

A: Our staff does a great job. We struggled a lot early last year with not knowing the players and the players not knowing us - trust factor besides the system. So much of what coaches do is not as much of what you do but how you do it, and not what you know but what the players know and how they trust you. That's come along quicker. The biggest sign of that is the fact that we don't have a lot of seniors starting (five on offense and defense). Those guys could have easily turned their back on us, too. Because they're not starting doesn't mean that they're not important and that they're not playing. In a lot of situations the freshmen that just got here are playing ahead of them, and that's a tribute to those guys accepting us as coaches and believing in what we're trying to do and wanting to win as a team instead of being individuals. And that's the part that you have to overcome when you come into a new situation.

Q: How did you get the players you didn't recruit to buy in to you and your staff without pause?

A: You have to be yourself. If you try to be somebody that you're not, kids can see that before adults. We have some fundamental things that we believe in. We don't have a whole lot of rules, but we've got some fundamental things that we believe in that we really don't talk about outside of what we're trying to accomplish. Our guys have bought into that.

As I've told those guys, if I wasn't at the University of Houston it'd be another coach. And by the same token if you as a player weren't here, there would be another guy here for you. We're all in it together, we all win or lose together, and we all get criticized or praised together. It's an understanding that nobody is more important than anybody in our program, including me.

Q: How much did last season's Rice-UH game offer you insight on how important the Bayou Bucket is to this community?

A: When I walked in (Rice Stadium) and I saw how many people had come over wearing red and how many people were there and the emotion that's involved in it. Just like any other rivalry game, unless you've been in it you really don't have any feel for it. The first time I walked down the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl (as an assistant at Oklahoma) I didn't understand what was going on with that (Red River Rivalry with Texas). You'd better figure it out in a hurry, and until it's over and you reflect on it, you really don't understand all the ramifications and the emotions that go into it. I have a lot better feel for it right now, and certainly from the educational standpoint that we got last year in walking off that field and turning around to see everybody having a good time. Until you're in the middle of that, you can never understand it.

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1 Comment

MK - I share your admiration for coach Sumlin, and really appreciate that your judgement on the opposition drives you to get this kind of interview. An unfortunate reality (for city of Houston and CUSA sports fans) is that coach Sumlin will - sooner or later - move up the coaching ranks, but while he is at UH, we should all appreciate his coaching skills and success that he has there. Not today, but all of the other games...

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