Simply listening to Jon Sumrall recall his first month as a college football head coach leaves you a little bit dizzy.
He was the newly minted head coach at Troy. He was the co-defensive coordinator and inside linebackers coach at Kentucky, which was a month away from playing in a New Year’s Day bowl game. He was trying to make sure recruits didn’t fall through the cracks at Kentucky while trying to fill out an early signing period class at Troy. Concentrating on Xs and Os during practice for a Citrus Bowl game against Iowa was interspersed with building a staff at Troy.
It all began with his hiring on Dec. 2, followed by meetings with his new players the following day. He hustled back to Kentucky for an official visit weekend, then brought his family back to Troy for an introductory press conference.
“I was trying to do two jobs at once,” Sumrall said. “Doing one is not easy. Doing two is pretty challenging.”
Now Sumrall, a Huntsville native, is settling into the reality that his first fall camp as Troy’s head coach is just around the corner. He endured that first hectic month. He completed two signing periods as a head coach. He ran his initial spring practice as a head coach. He barnstormed around Alabama as the face of Troy football.
In other words, he did a bunch of things that weren’t on his plate as a coordinator or position coach.
“There is definitely some added responsibility, being out front, being engaged, being on campus,” Sumrall said. “We’re charged with developing young men in our program and working hard to win games, but we’re also charged with being engaged with our fan base, our local community and the community at large. One thing I do think makes it a little bit more natural is at Kentucky or Ole Miss, you may have some things that pull at you because of the media stuff, even when you are an assistant.”
However, there is also a bottom line to being a head coach.
“You have to balance that my number one job is to coach our football team,” Sumrall said. “You can’t lose sight of the focus of what is the main thing. We’re focused on making the most important things a priority; that is our football team.”
Sumrall began working toward this opportunity a long time ago. He was a four-year starter and two-time all-state safety at Huntsville’s Grissom High. As a senior, he helped the Tigers reach the Class 6A semifinals before losing to the first Rush Propst-coached Hoover team to win a state title. He played collegiately at Kentucky, leading his team in tackles from his linebacker position as a senior.
Sumrall transitioned quickly into coaching. He was a grad assistant before spending five seasons at San Diego and three more at Tulane. He served as the assistant head coach under Neal Brown at Troy from 2015-17. He coached at Ole Miss and Kentucky before returning to Troy. Sumrall was a reported finalist for the Troy job following the 2018 season when Brown left for West Virginia. Chip Lindsey was hired and subsequently fired after finishing 15-19 in three seasons.
Sumrall said his practices will look much like the ones that Mark Stoops runs at Kentucky and Brown ran at Troy but will include his own stamp.
“I think you have to be who you are, have to do things you believe in as a coach,” Sumrall said.
It’s safe to say that Troy will be salty on defense, but that has as much to do with personnel as Sumrall’s background as a defensive coach. Linebacker Carlton Martial, who has 443 tackles in four seasons, is one of eight returning starters off a defense that was in the top 25 nationally in total defense. Javon Solomon came off the edge to contribute 11 sacks and 17.5 tackles for a loss.
“I think defensively we’re positioned to be really strong, really solid,” Sumrall said. “I think offensively, we’re really leaning on what are we going to be about, what are our strengths and how do we enhance our weaknesses.”
Time will tell how returning quarterback Gunnar Watson and the offense progresses. Sumrall said Watson has been diligent in “improving his body and his craft,” but is also being pushed by some younger quarterbacks.
For now, though, Sumrall is focusing on the clock ticking down to the first practice.
“I just want to make sure we have created an environment where our guys know that we care about them, we love them, we want them to go and develop and be their best,” Sumrall said. “It’s just having a plan to develop each individual player on our team, on top [of] how we’re going build the team and help the team achieve its goals.”
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