On a gorgeous, cloudy fall afternoon, Texas A&M’s mystifying team played dominant football for the better part of a half against one of the league’s best teams before a multitude of mistakes and a bunch of big plays doomed the Aggies to yet another resounding defeat.
At home, no less. Not that the locale has seemed to make much difference of late.
The loss probably also doomed Kevin Sumlin to his fate. Or should.
The pattern of successful starts by Sumlin teams, only to be followed by embarrassing, if but predictable, finishes in the second half of almost every season, continued once more as 14th-ranked Auburn scored 28 unanswered points to build a huge lead and win going away 42-27 to edge the besieged Aggies coach ever closer to the unemployment line.
The end is near. And needs to be.
Sometimes a situation can get so bleak and so stale that both parties simply need a change of scenery. It seems Sumlin might want to part ways as badly as A&M and its fan base do. Of course, he’d leave with a $10 million buyout, so that makes a nice parting gift.
“Our athletic director will make that decision,” A&M Chancellor John Sharp told me, “and I’m confident it will be the correct one.”
It should be Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward’s call.
And then his second call should be to Bob Stoops, then Jimbo Fisher, and then Chris Petersen at Washington, Woodward’s previous employer. Make all three of those turn you down. If all three do, knock on Mike Gundy’s or Justin Fuente’s or Scott Frost’s door.
What is obvious is that Sumlin never really has been able to establish a clear identity. He rode the talents of Johnny Manziel and an NFL-quality offensive line to instant success, which included a stunning upset of Alabama, but Sumlin has never really been able to sustain that momentum or produce more offensive gold despite solid recruiting and players like Myles Garrett and Mike Evans. The defense has vastly improved, but the offense too often sputters. Running off five-star quarterbacks didn’t help any. Nor does Sumlin’s prickly personality.
To his credit, he’s handling the micro-inspection very well. There was no surliness, no smugness in Saturday’s press conference.
Although when I asked how much the constant speculation about his future weighed on him and affected his coaching and his team’s performance, he said brusquely, “No.”
It’s time for A&M to say no, too. No more.
After almost six very frustrating seasons, but also some highs like bowl victories over Oklahoma and West Virginia, the fit’s not working. Not any longer. The problem is, for every one of those big uplifting moments, there are bigger letdowns like the excruciating, come-from-way-ahead loss to UCLA and the recent home loss to an average Mississippi State team. This is what A&M has become, and that can’t be acceptable.
In three-plus seasons, A&M is 2-8 in the month of November. And you thought Halloween and October were scary.
“We try not to look at the overall picture,” Aggie running back Trayveon Williams said. “It’s frustrating.”
Even Woodward, A&M’s athletic director of almost two years, is on record as saying Sumlin’s broken record of 8-5 seasons aren’t acceptable and not good enough to save his job. Hard to put that back in the box.
With A&M now sitting at 5-4 with a gimme next week against New Mexico but tougher ones at Ole Miss and LSU to close out the regular season, only wins in those three games and a bowl game would assure improvement. And should Sumlin rally and win out, A&M would probably have to not only keep Sumlin but give him an extension past his two years remaining on his contract (but without a higher buyout).
The bright promise of explosive offensive football under a rising star that was Sumlin has evaporated into a swirl of roster dysfunction and disastrous finishes. On Saturday, for instance, despite controlling the action almost the entire first half, a 53-yard bomb by Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and a blocked punt that was recovered in the end zone irreversibly altered the game. “That was a game changer,” Sumlin said.
Sumlin’s a good coach. He’s a win shy of becoming one of only four Aggie head coaches to win 50 games, but he’s had a heckuva time trying to obtain that 50th, what with back-to-back losses to Auburn and MSU and three defeats in the last four games.
“We’ve been up and down this year,” Sumlin said. “We’ve shown some good things, and we’ve shown some not-so-good things.”
Now he needs to be shown the door.