The college football coaching world is full of difficult decisions.
This one, for Tulane co-defensive coordinator Jon Sumrall, was one of the hardest. But in the end, Sumrall chose to leave the Green Wave’s staff to become Troy’s assistant head coach.
Sumrall joins former college teammate and mentor Neal Brown, who took over the Trojans program two weeks ago. Sumrall said leaving Tulane was a personal decision and wasn’t caused by any issues stemming from the Green Wave’s 3-9 season or discomfort with head coach Curtis Johnson.
“Being a guy that’s from Alabama had a big part of me wanting to accept the job here and to take over maybe a little bit of a larger role with more responsibility, obviously did as well,” Sumrall said. “Nothing changed at Tulane, because I love it there and always will and I will remain close with all of those guys and speak highly of the university. It is a special place to us as a family. But this situation was just something I couldn’t say no to.”
In the past two offseasons, Sumrall declined offers to become defensive coordinator at San Jose State under coach Ron Carragher. However, the Huntsville, Alabama, native and recent father said this situation is entirely different.
Not only does his relationship with Brown date to in official visit at Kentucky in 2000, he’s now within a three-hour drive from several family members who reside in Alabama.
“This is a great opportunity for Jon to go back to his home state and be near his family and to also coach with one of his college teammates, head coach Neal Brown,” Johnson said. “Jon was one of my first hires when I was named head coach and has done a tremendous job, not just with coaching, but also mentoring our student-athletes and helping them both on and off the field. I wish Jon and Ginny and their family the best of luck at Troy.”
Sumrall shared the co-coordinator title with Lionel Washington in each of the past three seasons, which saw Tulane transform from on of the nation’s worst defenses into the program’s most reliable unit. Both served on Johnson’s first staff in 2012, and Sumrall worked with the defensive line that season and in the breakthrough 2013 campaign — recording Tulane’s first winning record since 2002.
“It’s a huge testament to what those kids did, that they weren’t going to allow Tulane’s defense to be a joke,” Sumrall said. “They wanted to be taken seriously. They took ownership of the product they put on the field and they came to work. I couldn’t be more thankful to coach those guys and it was so much fun to watch and be a part of.
“That part of it is the part that’s really hard to leave. Obviously, there are tough decisions that need to be made and those are family decisions as well as personal.”
The health-related departure of former linebackers coach Barry Lamb forced Sumrall to focus on that position in 2014, spurring Johnson to hire former graduate assistant Kwahn Drake. It means Tulane’s linebackers will work with their third different position coach in three years when spring practice opens on Feb. 18.
“This staff is incredibly talented and CJ will do what’s right for this team and he has a guys who will do what it takes to win,” Sumrall said. “I expect nothing but success at Tulane.”