Math suggests Texas A&M is preparing to look for another football coach.
Back in late May, A&M athletic director Scott Woodward drew a vibrant red line, saying in a radio interview of embattled coach Kevin Sumlin: “He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past.”
The harsh reality in that statement is this: The best that Sumlin’s Aggies can do this regular season is 8-4. And that’s only if A&M sweeps its remaining three games against New Mexico, Ole Miss and LSU.
Sumlin’s past three seasons at A&M, the ones that have left a fan base and administration so dissatisfied, have ended in 8-5 mediocrity. All featured late-season swoons. A&M is in the midst of another late-season collapse having lost three of its past four games, including the last three home contests against Alabama (27-19), Mississippi State (35-14) and Auburn (42-27).
Simply put, there’s no room left in the season to show improvement.
“Nobody’s happy,” Sumlin said Tuesday. “What I do is focus on what we have to do this week to win games. The big picture will take care of itself.”
“These guys are fun to be around,” Sumlin said. “They love to play football. They give great effort and get frustrated just like everyone else. For me, they’re great to be around. I’ve done this long enough. I’ve been on every end of social media as an assistant and head coach.
“As long as you deal with it and do your job the way you feel it needs to be done and are around people that care and give great effort, you feel good about going to work. Whatever happens happens, but it doesn’t change the way you go about your business. You understand what it’s about from day one, and you understand what you signed up for.”
Speculation as to who might replace Sumlin already has started. Penn State’s James Franklin has been mentioned. This week, the hot name is Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who worked with Woodward at LSU.
Players try not to pay attention, but it’s difficult to avoid the chatter.
“Coach Sumlin is a great coach,” said tailback Keith Ford. “People talk, they don’t understand what we’re going through.”
Sumlin’s team will get a respite from SEC play this Saturday with the Aggies playing host to New Mexico (3-6). The Lobos, coached by former A&M defensive coordinator Bob Davie, are 3-6. Oddsmakers believe the Aggies are 17.5-point favorites.
In his six seasons at A&M, Sumlin never has had an issue beating non-conference opponents, especially in the regular season. Including bowl games, A&M is 25-3 away from the SEC. He’s 24-22 against the conference. Since Heisman winner Johnny Manziel left after the 2013 season, the Aggies are 2-8 against SEC opponents in November.
Why do Sumlin’s teams start so strong only to finish with such a whimper? All teams are different. This year’s group is decidedly young - 60 percent of the players who have seen action are underclassmen.
Defensive end Jarrett Johnson, who is one of six senior starters on the team, said he believes players might not have been as detail-oriented as they needed to be on minor issues. He gave as an example players not turning in their backpacks, which contain the team clothes they wear on the road.
“Some guys will slip up and not turn in their backpack,” Johnson said. “It’s a punishment and the punishment leads to a certain attitude and they’re like ‘You know what, I don’t want to do anything the right way anymore because there’s still a punishment.” You’ll see this chain effect kind of happen and it goes from not turning in your backpack to not going to class and those actually build up. That’s going to affect how you practice and watch how often people get into the treatment room and so that’s those little things by what we mean.”
New Mexico at Texas A&M, 6 p.m., ESPNU, 1370