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Six Degrees From Kevin Sumlin; Potential Coaches for the Houston Gamblers

The Houston Gamblers lost more coaches than any other team to the XFL. With that in mind I decided to dive into some coaches we could see replacing these men. Here are 18 coaches that Sumlin could consider.

For anyone watching the updates on the XFL we got news that several assistants from USFL teams left for the new league. No one was hit worse by this than the Houston Gamblers. Kevin Sumlin’s staff was picked apart. Losing his entire defensive staff, and his special teams coordinator/tight ends coach.

With that in mind I started diving into potential names to watch who have previous ties to Kevin Sumlin. I came up with a list of eighteen names to watch for these openings on his current staff. This was relatively difficult because the USFL offers lower pay for coaches than the NCAA, XFL, or NFL can provide. Some of these coaches might opt to remain at the college level or as an NFL position coach rather than take a perceived promotion with the USFL

Defensive Coordinator Candidates

Paul Rhoads 

Coach Rhoads spent one season under Kevin Sumlin as his defensive coordinator at Arizona in 2020. Currently he holds a defensive assistant position for Ohio State under Ryan Day. He could opt to return to the college level in 2023 given his resume and hope he sees interest from college programs as a coordinator once again. 

With nine seasons as a defensive coordinator at the college level he is certainly qualified for the position with the Gamblers. He has also spent many years coaching defensive backs which is a role former coordinator Tim Lewis filled as well. This would allow Sumlin to bring in a very experienced name who might even have some assistants in mind as well. Also has experience as a head coach which could prove vital to the league longterm.

Chuck Cecil 

Chuck Cecil served as an NFL defensive coordinator for two seasons with the Tennessee Titans. He has many years coaching defensive backs as well as seven seasons of playing experience in the NFL as well. His connection to Sumlin came with Arizona where Cecil still coaches to this day. 

Sumlin hired Cecil as his senior defensive assistant with the Wildcats in 2018. In 2019 he served as the interim defensive coordinator but was not hired for the full time position given to Rhoads. Cecil stuck with Arizona even after Sumlin left. Currently he serves as the safeties coach with Arizona. 

I could see Cecil jumping at the chance to run a defense again but his ties to his alma matter might keep him from accepting the job. It is interesting to note that the majority of his coaching career has come under two current USFL head coaches in Jeff Fisher, and Kevin Sumlin. 

Mark Hagen 

Hagen is currently the co-defensive coordinator and defensive line coach at Purdue. Hagen served as the defensive tackles and linebacker coach under Sumlin at Texas. He has some experience running defenses but never as the stand along defensive coordinator. He could see a defensive coordinator role with the USFL has the step he needs to get a more prominent coordinator or head coaching role long term. 

His experience coaching nearly every defensive position would allow Sumlin to get creative with the rest of his defensive assistants.His specialty is defensive line which could prove to be crucial given the fact that the Gamblers watched two starters leave for the NFL this offseason. 

Has worked with names like George Karlaftis, Ryan Kerrigan, Anthony Spencer, Cliff Avril, Mike Neal, and Kawaan Short. This is the exact guy I want overseeing my defense. Everything started with the pass rush for Houston last season. 

Marcel Yates

Marcel Yates is currently the secondary coach for Texas Tech. Previously he served as co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach for Sumlin during his first couple seasons a Texas A&M. He served next to Mark Snyder who was the LB coach for the Gamblers in 2022 but has jumped ship for the XFL in 2023. Yates would get a chance to run his own defense, and serve as the DB coach. Perfectly filling Lewis’s now vacant shows. 

Special Teams Coordinator Candidates

Clarence McKinney 

McKinney is currently the head coach at Texas Southern sporting a 5-23 record. Having started 2022 with a 1-2 record there is a good chance that he ends up being shown the door this offseason if he doesn’t turn things around quick. McKinney has spent time at every stop Sumlin had as a head coach. 

In each stop he served as a running backs coach. This role was held by coach James Runnels in 2022. He is still a part of the program which is why I propose a different position for McKinney. Special teams coordinator/tight ends. He may never have served this role before but he has coached or played nearly every skill position on offense, spent time as an assistant head coach, and a head coach. Something tells me coaching special teams would be a fairly simple transition, and it would reunite Sumlin with his right hand man. 

Tony Levine

Coach Levine is a guy who has been out of coaching since 2017. His last two years coaching he had one year stints with Purdue, and Western Kentucky. At both spots he pulled double duty, coaching on offense and running special teams. Most of his experience has come coaching special teams and tight ends. Making him a perfect replacement for the role vacated by Greg McMahon. 

From 2008-2011 Levine worked under Sumlin his entire stint with Houston. He served as…you guessed it the tight end coach/special teams coordinator, as well as handling outside wide receivers. He later replaced Sumlin as head coach before being fired in 2014. He spent 2015 out of football. Collectively he has nine seasons coaching tight ends, and eleven years overseeing special teams. 

Given that he is out of football and focusing on his business ventures he may turn down an offer…then again the time span he has to dedicate to the USFL isn’t nearly as long as the needs for a college program. 

Gordon Shaw

Coach Shaw is the current offensive line coach for the Gamblers. He has experience coaching both offense and defense. He has never by title coached special teams. He actually started his career coaching defensive line. In 1980 with Cal Poly. He would jump back and forth between offense and defense throughout his career as needed. 

His most recent stint on defense came with the University of Minnesota. Where he coached both offensive and defensive lines at times over his 15 season run with the school from 1993-2007. He also has experience coaching tight ends, as well as coordinating both offenses and defenses. Maybe I’m over simplifying it, but if any coach on this staff could handle the duties with no previous experience it is Coach Shaw. 

Defensive Line Coach

Iona Uiagalelei

Coach Uiagalelei spent time under Sumlin as his defensive line coach with Arizona. Prior to his stint with Arizona he had served as a defensive coordinator at the Division III level. Unfortunately he was fired by the Wildcats and Sumlin during a mid season staff rebuild. Ultimately these things happen and there is still reason to believe Coach Iona Uiagalelei would consider a DL Coach position with the USFL. 

David Christensen 

Christensen spent all four seasons of Sumlin’s time in Arizona on the staff as offensive line coach and run game coordinator. However early in his career he started on the defensive side of the ball coaching the line. He spent four of his first five seasons coaching defensive line. It wasn’t until he served as head coach of Spokane Falls Community College for one year he made a transition to offense. Granted this switch was 35 years ago. However Christensen has been out of football since Sumlin was dismissed by Arizona. Perhaps 3 years is long enough. 

Jim Jeffcoat

Jim Jeffcoat is a veteran spring football coach. He has experience with the AAF, and 2020 XFL. He also spent three seasons under Sumlin with Houston from 2008-2010. This former NFL player has a total of 21 years of coaching as well as 15 seasons as a player in the NFL. He commands respect when he walks in a locker room. I was surprised he wasn’t hired in year one. 

Stan Eggen 

This move would become more likely if Sumlin opts to hire Paul Rhoads as his defensive line coach. Eggen spent the 2020 season with the Wildcats under Rhoads, and Sumlin. Eggen is best known for his work with Von Miller. Spent four seasons coaching under Rhoads at two other stops. Eggen also spent two seasons coaching under Skip Holtz of the Stallions with Louisiana Tech. Eggen also has experience coaching linebackers and could serve either role. 

Linebackers Coach 

Brendan Donovan

Current defensive assistant Brendan Donovan has never overseen one position but has been involved with football at the NFL level since 2013. He also spent several years at the D1 level for prominent teams such as Notre Dame,  Florida and Rutgers. He may be inexperienced but the linebacker group for Houston isn’t which would help his transition. 

Jim Skladany

Coach Skladany Is 73 years old and he hasn’t coached since 2014. However he served as the Defensive coordinator in Houston for three years under Sumlin, while also coaching defensive backs as well. In 2010 he moved on to UCF where he helped coach linebackers and assisted on special teams. This could be the exact role we see him in if Sumlin decides to tap his former assistant. 

Hank Hobson 

Hobson is a longtime Arizona Wildcats assistant, his alma matter. He joined the staff in 2015 as a graduate assistant. He moved into an analyst role. He would outlast both Mike Stoops and Rich Rodriguez. He was promoted to linebackers coach by Kevin Sumlin after he shuffled his defensive staff 8 games into the 2019 season. 

Defensive Backs Coach 

Charles McMillian

Having served under Sumlin as a defensive backs coach with Houston all four years Sumlin was there. He has bounced around the college level for years after that. Finally in 2017, he left to become the head coach of a high school program in Houston…what better way to grow a connection to the host city than to tap another beloved Houston coach? Technically with the timing of the USFL season, he would end up missing the last couple months of the high school season so that would have to be discussed but it would certainly create an interesting dynamic. 

Ron Cooper 

Ron Cooper is a current head coach for Long Island University. He spent the last season Sumlin was at Texas A&M with him serving as his defensive backs coach in 2017. After that season Cooper moved on to Arkansas also coaching defensive backs. In 2020 he was out of football before returning as an analyst for Alabama. After just one season he was offered the head coaching job at LIU an FCS school. Now I may be listing him as a defensive backs coach but honestly he could serve in any opening on the staff. He has experience coaching special teams, linebackers, defensive backs, coordinated defenses, and assisting head coaches. He could be a huge asset. IF the USFL can lure him away. 

Greg Burns

Currently an analyst at UCLA, the former college player jumped into coaching immediately after he left school. He is in his 27th year of coaching but is just 49 years old. He has spent the majority of his career coaching defensive backs. He spent the 2020 season coaching cornerbacks for Sumlin, his last year in Arizona. It’s unclear if he would consider a role in the USFL. 

Tight End Coach

Throughout the history of Sumlin as a head coach, he has rarely had a stand-alone tight ends coach. He seems to like to wrap this job with that of special teams coordinator which could be due to his own experience serving this dual role for Oklahoma. With that being said I found just one option as solely a tight end coach. 

Bj Anderson 

Anderson is the former offensive line coach for Texas A&M and Houston under Sumlin, and first met Sumlin in the early 2000’s when they were both assistants on the Texas A&M staff. He has experience coaching tight ends as well in 1998 with Sam Houston State. Nearly his entire career has been spent coaching in the state of Texas. Another stop representing Houston only makes sense. 

Final Thoughts

This is 100% speculative at this point, but when doing my research on this article I was surprised to see how many coaches in the USFL and XFL ranks have ties to Kevin Sumlin from one of his three stops as a head coach in the college ranks. We aren’t even strictly talking on Sumlin’s staff. 


OC/QB Noel Mazonne of the Breakers

assistant DL coach Greg Patrick of the Breakers

WR’s David Beaty with the Gamblers

DC John Chavis with the Stallions


DC Brian Stewart 

Co-DC Tim Lewis

LB’s Mark Snyder

DL Ty Warren

STC Greg McMahon 

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Ken Granito

    October 11, 2022 at 3:09 pm

    Great research and connecting the dots. I am not saying this will not come to fruition. One or a couple of these spots may come to play. I, personally, have thought that depending on DC from there HC meshing, Jim Jeffcoat would make great sense in Houston and is on my shortlist. The fact the XFL did not get him makes me wonder if he sees himself as retired. In my mind I still think Jerry Holmes would be a good candidate as well as his mentor Ted Cottrell. Both have had Walt Michaels as their head coach. Ted Cottrell when he coached the DL with the Generals. Age might be a question, but definitely an avenue to search.

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