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As Arizona Shifts Blue, Their College Football Teams Shade To Black

The State of Arizona has been described by realclearpolitics.com, as ground zero for the battle within the Republican Party this year, with a three-way GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake pitting controversial hard-liners against establishment forces aiming to halt the momentum of party outsiders. 

Democrats, meanwhile, are gearing up for a long, nasty and fragmented primary on the Republican side that can weaken the party and potentially pave the way for the first Democratic senator from the Grand Canyon State in three decades.  

As the Sun Belt region sings the blues, the state’s universities are also shedding their outdated philosophies as it relates to leadership positions within their flagship multi-million dollar sports programs. The growing diversity of the region is coinciding with a shift in culture by the major schools in Arizona in particular. 

The hiring of former NFL coach and analyst Herm Edwards at Arizona State University and the recent hiring of former Texas A&M program-builder Kevin Sumlin by Arizona is proof of this shift and marks a watershed moment in the racial history of these universities.  

The Shadow League on Twitter

Herm Edwards blesses his last SportsCenter set before heading to Tempe: https://t.co/MSZ0UowDd2

Diversity at leadership positions was never really in play in this region of the country. Remember, Arizona was one of the last five states, Virginia, New Hampshire, Utah and South Carolina being the others, to recognize the Martin Luther King Day by name and celebrate it as a paid holiday, and that was after the state got hit in the pockets. 

U2 Three Chords on Twitter

@U2’s statement on Governor Mecham of Arizona and his decision to cancel MLK Day as a paid holiday. https://t.co/SCehdYq6aE

In 1990, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue threatened to move the 1993 Super Bowl out of Arizona if the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Voters turned thumbs down on the holiday and the NFL moved their biggest event to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena instead. Arizona subsequently voted to recognize MLK Day in 1992 and the 1996 Super Bowl was played in Tempe’s Sun Devil Stadium.

This years Martin Luther King, Jr. Day marked the 31st anniversary of the celebration of his birthday as a federal holiday. Still, it was only in the year 2000 – 14 years after MLK Jr.s birthday was made a national holiday by federal law – that all 50 states made it official. 

In November, Edwards became ASU’s first black football head coach and just the eighth black head coach in school history replacing Todd Graham. Thirty-eight days after Grahams firing, the University of Arizona dismissed former coach Rich Rodriguez and hired Sumlin, who was recently let go from the Texas A&M job. With his new gig, Sumlin becomes the first African-American head football coach in the university’s history. 

He signed a 5-year, $14.5 million deal with Arizona with incentives. 

Houston Chronicle on Twitter

Reports: Kevin Sumlin has a new job https://t.co/E4KBrBlj65

According to tucson.com, “Sumlin will earn a base of $2 million in 2018 and 2019 and $3.5 million per year over the following three seasons. Sumlin will owe the UA money if he leaves before the five-year term is up, and Arizona will buy him out with the mitigation clause if he is fired. The contract is subject to approval by the Arizona Board of Regents, which next meets Jan. 25.”

That base salary is substantially less than the $5 million base salary he was getting from the Aggies program and the $6 million his predecessor was getting. Rodriguez was the highest paid coach in the Pac-12. Stanfords David Shaw ($5.7 million) and Washingtons Chris Petersen ($4.1 million) were the only other Pac-12 coaches to place in the Top 20 in NCAA Football head coach salaries. 

The Wildcaster on Twitter

Kevin Sumlin’s 5-year contract gives UA some protection if new pairing goes south https://t.co/Xpxx7SZndS

Sumlin’s resume is impressive and his hiring elevates the stature of the Pac-12 coaching crop, which saw five new head coaches take over for 2018. Arizona was 7-6 last season and college football junkies are already picking Arizona to finish in the Top 25. In the six years prior to Sumlin, A&M went 42-34. Sumlin has an 86-43 career record, including four bowl wins and the school’s first Top 5 finish in 50 years during the Johnny Manziel era. Only Alabama, Georgia and LSU have won more games in the past six seasons. 

Edwards will make $2 million a year in guaranteed salary under contract terms. That’s $1.2 million less than the annual salary for the guy who preceded him.

A guy with Herms experience as a winning NFL coach and former player is worth his weight in gold. However, Herm hasn’t coached in a decade and his situation had more to do with his desire to return to the field than Arizona State begging him to elevate the program. 

When you see the modesty of the contract, you will know that Herm Edwards has put skin in the game, Arizona State Athletic Director Ray Anderson told azcentral.com.

ASU Football: Ray Anderson discusses the hire of Herm Edwards

ASU Athletic Director, Ray Anderson, names Herm Edwards the 24th head coach of Sun Devil Football. Anderson discussed why Edwards is the right choice.

In short, Herm agreed to work on the cheap so to speak. His choice was about self-fulfillment. Nothing more. 

Herm locked in a five-year contract through Dec. 31, 2022, with annual raises of $250,000. The salary is among the lowest in the Pac-12, according to salaries compiled by USA TODAY. Oregon State just hired Jonathan Smith as its head coach for $1.9 million a season, and California head coach Justin Wilcox makes $1.9 million.

Both brothers probably accepted salaries below their name value to move forward in history and, in essence, their hires reflect the larger battle within our country between the rigid and traditional conservative establishment and a diverse, blossoming, culturally-driven populace which inevitably brings an inclusive way of thinking to certain regions of our country. 

As we exist in the Colin Kaepernick Era, sports remains a powerful reflection of society’s development. 

In Arizona, Republicans still have more registered voters, but Dems have been closing the gap. The 2016 Presidential Election election marked the acceleration of Arizonas Blue moving trend. Republican Mitt Romney defeated President Obama in the state by 10 percentage points in 2012, but Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton by just 3.5 points. 

The state’s sports landscape is experiencing a similar transformation. The faces of that trend, the faces of Arizonas new direction of diversity, and the guys who are carving out unique places for themselves in football history are Sumlin and Edwards. 

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