Kevin Sumlin’s days are numbered.
That’s because his boss said as much, even on national television, when he raised the bar.
Sumlin wasn’t happy with being called out, but then there aren’t a ton of Texas A&M faithful who are all that happy with Sumlin these days, either.
Scott Woodward, Texas A&M’s second-year athletic director, went on national television this summer and told Paul Finebaum that Sumlin has to up his game. And up his win total after three consecutive 8-5 seasons.
But why shouldn’t Woodward be so blunt?
The Aggies football program has been a sleeping giant for so long that it’s become the Rip Van Winkle of college football. Sleep any longer, and A&M will be in a coma.
It’s just a total mystery why the Aggies continue to slumber when they have awesome facilities, including a crown jewel of a stadium, along with tremendous resources, a die-hard fan base, the best student body support in the nation, a perfect location in a talent-rich state, the opportunity for a terrific education and — oh, yeah — they happen to play in the best conference in America.
That would be a conference in which they’ve been mediocre. If four straight seasons of 4-4 or 3-5 records in SEC play don’t spell average, I don’t know what does. Of course, playing in the toughest conference cuts both ways, both blessing and curse, because that’s the main reason for A&M’s patented second-half fades.
And that’s why this could be Sumlin’s last season. I’m not so sure that he isn’t as weary of his job in College Station as Aggies are of him. Not sure he wouldn’t be happier collecting his $10 million buyout in December as he would continuing to coach at A&M.
It just seems he needs a change of scenery and many Aggies would welcome that change. Has he lost his passion for the job?
Sumlin showed up at SEC media days in Hoover, Ala., warmly calling the media by name and even apologizing to an Arkansas reporter for cutting him off in mid-question some five years ago. Maybe a little late to make amends and play nice, but the normally brusque Sumlin did jovially announce he was the “newer, kinder me.” Let’s hope it takes.
At Coach’s Night in Dallas on Wednesday, 82-year-old Gene Stallings wowed about 1,400 Aggies as few others can while Sumlin gave what one attendee said was “an 8-5 speech” and “looked beaten down.” So is Sumlin just going through the motions?
An always challenging SEC schedule makes every year formidable, even with three cupcakes and a road trip to a UCLA team coming off a 4-8 season. A poor start, which is unlikely even with a new, as-yet-unnamed starting quarterback and a mortal replacing Myles Garrett, could seal Sumlin’s fate.
Woodward was not available for comment for this column, but he’s made his position clear: Do better than 8-5 — although no one knows if that means nine wins at the minimum or eight wins so long as one of the victories comes over Alabama, LSU or Florida, all SEC powerhouses.
If A&M does make a change, I could see Woodward making his first call to Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher because they shared time in Baton Rouge, La. But why would Fisher leave the castle he and Bobby Bowden built in Tallahassee, Fla.? A&M would have to really money-whip him. Woodward’s second call might be to Chris Petersen at Washington, where Woodward was AD, but I think Petersen would be a fish out of water. He’s all salmon, not Southern catfish.
Before either of those, Woodward would be smart to kick the tires of Bob Stoops. Maybe he’d be ready to get back in the game, recharged by a year away from football. Certainly Stoops would have his pick of every top job that comes open in the next three years.
Given negative responses from those three, I’d think A&M would look hard at Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy and Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente as well as North Carolina’s Larry Fedora.
Get one thing straight: Sumlin’s a very good coach. He’s won 79 games in his nine seasons and has gone 44-21 at A&M, but he has cupcake-soft nonconference games with impressive wins over only UCLA last season and Arizona State (6-7) during his five years. There’s a whole lot of wins over Rice, Sam Houston State, Prairie View A&M and Lamar.
Plus, A&M’s permanent East opponent is subpar South Carolina, not Florida or Georgia. Sumlin’s played lowly Vanderbilt twice but has played Florida just once and Georgia not at all in his five years.
If Sumlin does get fired after this season, it’ll be because he is in an 8-5 rut, has rubbed a lot of loyal Aggies the wrong way, has squandered all the momentum from the Johnny Manziel days, is weak on discipline, has been through a number of coordinators and hasn’t made A&M’s presence felt in the SEC as a clear-cut second-tier team in that league.
There’s more. He lost two five-star quarterbacks in the same week. He hired John Chavis, who has gone from defensive guru to defensive goat. He’s had eight players drafted in the past two seasons, but he recruited only two of them — defensive end Garrett and offensive lineman Germain Ifedi. He had the luxury of four straight years with an offensive tackle getting picked in the first round, but three were brought in by Mike Sherman.
Sumlin wouldn’t be the first Aggies coach to be fired after a winning season. Four of their last five head coaches were removed after seven-win years — Jackie Sherrill was let go because of looming NCAA probation after going 7-5 and 6-1 in the Southwest Conference — and the tremendously successful and popular R.C. Slocum was pink-slipped after going 6-6 and beating No. 1-ranked Oklahoma in the 10th week of the season. The last A&M coach who wasn’t fired or pushed out was Bear Bryant, and that’s been a minute.
In addition, it seems A&M lacks a clear identity.
Alabama is known for its physical play and total dominance on defense. LSU churns out NFL defensive playmakers, wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs with regularity. Ole Miss and Mississippi State have their share of explosive players. Florida has forged its identity around defense since Tim Tebow left campus. The rest of the league continues to search for a recognizable brand the same way A&M has.
Sumlin, meanwhile, plods on, hoping to improve.
“For me, my job, nothing changes for me,” he said in Hoover. “Nobody puts more pressure on me than I put on myself.”
Unless it’s his AD and a million Aggies.