This is what offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone left behind when he said goodbye to UCLA: A 6-foot-4, 210-pound sophomore in quarterback Josh Rosen who threw for 3,669 yards and 23 touchdowns as a freshman, and a wide-open race in the Pac-12.
This is what Mazzone arrived to when he said hello to Texas A&M: A down-on-his-luck graduate-transfer quarterback from Oklahoma and a third-string signal caller on his third school, plus the brutal SEC West that includes the defending national champion.
What exactly did Sumlin sell to get Mazzone to College Station?
“He played the friend card,” Mazzone told Gridiron Now’s Tony Barnhart.
People tend to hire people they know, and that’s certainly the case in college football. Sumlin’s relationship with Mazzone goes back to 1994 when both were on Jim Wacker’s staff at Minnesota (Mazzone was also on Wacker’s staff at TCU in the 1980s).
Mazzone moved on to a number of stops, including Auburn, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, Oregon and Arizona State, plus the NFL’s New York Jets.
“We were real early at Minnesota, and basically a one-back or empty team,” Sumlin said during a recent appearance on Fox Sports’ The Audible podcast with Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel. “Now, things have progressed over time and he’s had a lot of different experiences in two-back offenses, different situations, even in the NFL with the Jets, and being in the Pac-12 the last couple of years where the RPO (run-pass option) concept has really taken off. Over the course of time, we’ve all changed, we’ve all adapted, we’ve all tried to get better and obviously his package and knowledge of the game has really, really increased with his experiences.”
Mazzone traded in a potential season of quarterback fireworks at the Rose Bowl for total uncertainty, both at the quarterback position and possibly even Sumlin’s job security, at A&M.
The Aggies’ promising 2015 season ended in total chaos when its two highly touted quarterbacks, Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray, both deciding to transfer. Those moves opened the door for graduate transfer Trevor Knight, who lost his starting job last year at Oklahoma to Baker Mayfield. His main competition for the Aggies’ starting job is Jake Hubenak, who was behind Allen and Murray on the depth chart.
“We can win with those guys,” Mazzone told Barnhart.
That is to be seen. What was seen in the Aggies’ spring game Saturday was an offense that did quite well under Knight’s direction. The OU castoff with one year of eligibility appears to be the short-term answer as the Aggies head into the summer.
Whether Mazzone can find similar success with Knight and Hubenak as he has in recent seasons with Brock Osweiler at Arizona State and Brett Hundley (now with the Green Bay Packers) and Rosen at UCLA, remains to be seen.
“Spring football right now to me and to him (Mazzone) as been about, OK, we have a lot of different things we can do, but we have to play to the strength of our players,” Sumlin said on The Audible podcast. “And with two older quarterbacks, two guys that are experienced with Jake and Trevor, guys who have been around, who can handle that type of thing, let’s figure out what they do best. We’ve got good skill on the perimeter, but we’ve also got to be able to run the ball a little bit better, and to do that some of these RPO concepts have really helped us in the spring offensively.”