The opportunity to return to Lexington was too much for former Wildcat Jon Sumrall to pass up. After spending just one season as a linebackers coach at Ole Miss, Sumrall is back in Lexington and coaching at his alma mater.
“The University of Kentucky means a lot to me,” Sumrall said. “I had the opportunity to play here. To be able to wear the UK logo on my chest gives me a little extra juice. I’m already a firey, emotional coach, but it gives me a little extra excitement. That had a definite pull.
“Coach Stoops and what he’s accomplished here and what he’s building here speaks for itself,” Sumrall continued. “The opportunity to be a part of that and help build upon what they’ve been doing, couple that with the opportunity to come to where I played, was something I just couldn’t turn down.”
Sumrall takes the place of departed defensive coordinator Matt House. House coached the inside linebackers, along with running the defense, in the previous two seasons. Outside linebackers coach Brad White was promoted to defensive coordinator, leaving a spot to fill at the inside linebackers spot. Sumrall, who played at Kentucky from 2002-04, was hired last month.
“I think he’s a phenomenal football coach,” White said. “We’re excited to have him. I mentioned it earlier: I think we’ve got great position coaches across the board. With Coach (Steven) Clink and Coach LeBlanc and Coach Hood and Coach Sumrall, they’re all really really good technicians in terms of what they’re teaching their position groups. I’m still obviously with the outside backers. I think we have really good coaches, teacher s communicators.”
Much has changed in Lexington since Sumrall was a player. Commonwealth Stadium is now Kroger Field. The Joe Craft Football Training Facility, which is where his interview took place, was still over a decade away from being built. Kentucky is coming off its best season in over 40 years; the Wildcats went 2-9 Sumrall’s senior season.
The best days of the Rich Brooks era were after Sumrall left. Brooks led Kentucky to four straight bowl games from 2006-09 before retiring. Sumrall said he sees similar traits between Brooks and current coach Mark Stoops.
“Coach Brooks had a humongous impact on who I am as a person and a football coach,” Sumrall said. “That’s kinda been fun for me to see. They’ve both built their program here similarly I think. They weren’t looking for an overnight quick fix. They did things sort of blue-collar, tough, hard-nosed. Just kinda consistent, daily process and driven. I see a ton of carryover and a lot of similarities, which is really fun for me because I had the opportunity to see how Coach Brooks did it and see the way Coach Stoops is doing it, it’s really neat to see how similar it is.”
Sumrall takes over a room with talent. Kash Daniel was third on the team with 84 tackles last year. Sophomores Chris Oats and DeAndre Square had solid freshman campaigns.
“Obviously everybody talks about Kash,” Sumrall said. “He’s what you’re hunting. He’s Kentucky through and through. Loves football. He’s fun to coach. I’m already excited about having my hands on him and be able to work with him on a daily basis. You’ve got Oats who’s coming on. He’s got a great looking frame. He’s learning the game. He’s got a lot of things you’re looking for from a measurable standpoint. Jamin (Davis) has a chance to make some steps forward this spring. Square is going to be a good player here. He sort of has a little bit of a knack for some stuff. He’s not necessarily the biggest guy, but I think he’s really instinctive and an aware player, which I think at the linebacker position matters a lot. There’s a lot of guys in the fold getting reps that I’m excited to see their development and growth.”