Two straight November wins didn’t do anything to temper the chatter suggesting Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin likely will coach his final game this Saturday.
The Aggies are preparing for their regular-season finale against LSU. It’s set for Saturday night in Baton Rouge. The outcome of the game probably only will impact the bowl positioning.
The Houston Chronicle, quoting multiple people with knowledge of the situation, reported Tuesday night that Sumlin will be fired “in the day or days following” Saturday’s game. But earlier Tuesday, Sumlin spent 17 minutes with the media Tuesday at his weekly press availability. It was an abbreviated version of a normal Tuesday, when his press conferences typically run about 30 minutes as Sumlin answers questions about the Aggies game the Saturday before and what he thinks about the next opponent.
He was asked specifically if he thought he’d still be coaching at A&M next season.
“Yes,” Sumlin said, then paused. “Why wouldn’t I?”
The reasons why he wouldn’t all date back to a statement in late spring made by A&M athletic director Scott Woodward, who said that Sumlin knows “he has to do better than he has done in the past.”
Woodward has kept a low profile since he made the comments. A&M chancellor John Sharp said the decision to keep Sumlin will be Woodward’s.
By beating New Mexico on Nov. 11, and then Mississippi last Saturday, the Aggies improved to 7-4 overall and 4-3 in the SEC. Beat LSU and the Aggies get to an eighth win. But eight-win seasons the past three years weren’t good enough for Woodward, especially considering A&M is paying Sumlin $5 million a year.
Sumlin’s salary is the 10th highest in the country. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the only SEC coach who makes more than him. Saban has won five national titles and his team is ranked No. 1 this season whereas Sumlin’s most significant post-season victory came in the Cotton Bowl after the 2012 season.
What seems certain is the SEC coaching carousel, as soon as next week, will start spinning at a dizzying pace.
Florida and Tennessee already have openings. Bret Bielema’s situation appears dire with Arkansas as the Razorbacks limp through a 4-7 season. There’s talk that Auburn’s Gus Malzahn could bolt his job and head to Arkansas, where he played for two seasons in the mid-1980s. There could be as many as five openings among the 14-team conference.
If A&M does cut ties with Sumlin, the school would owe him the $10.4 million remaining on his contract.
A&M players acknowledged that they’ve heard the talk that Sumlin won’t be their coach much longer. Receiver Christian Kirk, the Aggies’ top offensive player, has been vocal in his support of Sumlin.
“The outside noise gives us a lot of motivation,” Kirk said Tuesday. “To be able to win for coach Sumlin would be awesome. He does a lot for us.”
If A&M did beat LSU, it would be the first time a Sumlin-led team would notch a victory over the Tigers. LSU versus A&M used to be a semi-regular non-conference game when the Aggies played in the SWC or Big 12. A&M is 4-6 in their last 10 games against the Tigers. The last victory was in 1995.
A year ago, LSU humiliated A&M in a 54-39 defeat. Tigers tailback Derrick Guice, then a backup, rushed for a school-record 285 yards.
Aggie defensive tackle Kingsley Keke said he’s trying to ignore what’s being said outside the team.
“I try not to pay attention,” Keke said of the rumors. “That’s not within my control. What is is the way I play.”
That’s basically the message Sumlin has tried to stress to his team all season. He said he’ll worry about the noise after the season.
“I came here to Texas A&M to win football games,” he said. “What we do and how we’ve done it has been the right way and will continue to be the right way. I’m in the process of working on winning this week. This team has focused on what’s going on in this building.
“As a coach and as a player, you can’t worry about what people say. What you can worry about is the response level of this team … That’s where my focus is right now.”
Texas A&M at No. 19 LSU, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network