The Saint Mary's Huskies' loss may prove to be the Carleton Ravens' gain. SMU's surprising decision to axe head coach Steve Sumarah in December paved the way for Carleton to announce Sumarah as the head coach of their new football program Monday. . The Ravens, who will begin CIS play in 2013, aren't guaranteed immediate success, as they'll be starting from scratch in a conference with plenty of existing football powerhouses, but they are attempting to build a perennial powerhouse along the lines of what Laval has done. With the hiring of Sumarah, it looks like Carleton has met one of the most important criteria for sustained success at the CIS level; having a solid head coach.
Sumarah's resume is incredibly impressive, which made his firing in December such a surprise. He had great success at Saint Mary's as an offensive coordinator (with the team winning six straight AUS titles, going to four Vanier Cups and winning two), and that largely continued when he moved up to the head job in 2006 following the departure of Blake Nill for Calgary. Sumarah's Huskies went 35-12 (a .745 winning percentage) in the regular season, won four straight AUS titles from 2007-10 and went all the way to the Vanier Cup in 2007 (where they lost to Manitoba). Even this past season, supposedly a step back, was still quite solid; SMU went 6-2 during the regular season, thumped St. Francis Xavier 25-2 in the playoffs and only lost in the AUS title game. He also was the offensive coordinator for Team Canada at the 2011 IFAF World Championships, and helped them to a silver medal. It would be awfully tough to find a CIS coach on the market with a better body of work.
That won't necessarily translate into a dominant team in 2013, though. Carleton has a long football history, having fielded teams in the sport from 1945 to 1998, but the current Ravens are starting from square one. Moreover, Sumarah won't have some of the advantages he had at SMU: the Huskies were by far the most proven team of the four AUS squads during his tenure there, which gave them a substantial recruiting boost. The population base out East meant they had to recruit nationally, but Saint Mary's profile provided an edge in doing so. Carleton won't have that profile, at least at first, and talking recruits into a program that's starting from scratch may be a difficult task. Moreover, unlike Sumarah's AUS days, he'll have to go head-to-head with other recruiting powerhouses in conference; McMaster, Western, Queen's and Laurier tend to field perennially strong teams, Windsor is on the rise again, Ottawa still has talent and Guelph can be impressive at times. Even recent bottom-feeders like Toronto, York and Waterloo may not be down forever, so the Ravens will have to earn their success.
It's not hard to picture them doing so reasonably quickly, though. Keep in mind that Laval only started playing football in 1996 and won their first Vanier Cup in their fourth season, 1999. (Funny note there: the Ravens' last football win was Sept. 27, 1998, at Laval.) Carleton will enter a tougher conference than Laval did at first, and it may take them a little longer to achieve those kinds of results, but the Ravens have announced plans to follow the Rouge et Or model of heavy investment in facilities and coaches, and that seems likely to bring substantial results. It's also worth noting that their primary rival, Ottawa, appears to be in a bit of a downward trend; that could give the Ravens a huge edge in picking up homegrown talent, and there are always plenty of good players in the 613 area code. Announcing a head coach this early also looks like a solid move; that should give Sumarah time to plan, recruit and promote the program, allowing the Ravens to hit the ground running in 2013. It's not going to be an easy road to football success for Carleton, but the hiring of Sumarah appears to be a great first step.
(Hat-tip to Neate Sager for stats and thoughts on Carleton.)