Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin officially on hottest seat in SEC thanks to own AD
You can’t make a list of coaches on the hot seat in the SEC this year without including Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin.
Entering his sixth season with the Aggies, Sumlin hasn’t been able to sustain the early momentum he gave the program in 2012. A&M arrived from the Big 12, upset defending national champion Alabama and finished 11-2.
Of course, Sumlin had a redshirt freshman quarterback at his disposal named Johnny Manziel, who won the Heisman Trophy and went on to be a first-round pick — the fact that his NFL career turned out to be a disaster is immaterial. However, since Manziel departed College Station, the Ags have posted three straight 8-5 campaigns.
We already figured that Sumlin was skating on thin ice. Then his own athletic director, Scott Woodward, confirmed it.
“We’ve had a heck of a spring and recruiting continues to go well, but Coach knows he has to win and he has to win this year and we have to do better than we’ve done in the past,” Woodward said Tuesday on the Paul Finebaum Show.
There was no ambiguity in Woodward’s comments, which clearly caught Finebaum by surprise on live radio/television. It’s now safe to assume that Sumlin has to surpass eight wins in 2017 if he wants to keep his job.
That could be a tall order, too. On the offensive side of the ball, Sumlin still hasn’t decided who starts at QB — Jake Hubenak, Nick Starkel and Kellen Mond will continue their competition in fall camp. Defensively, pass rusher Myles Garrett was the No. 1 pick in the draft and a once-in-a-decade talent that can’t be replaced.
Most alarming for Sumlin is his 7-9 record in November the last four years. His teams continue to start strong but fall flat.
“Last year was extremely disappointing,” Woodward said. “We were ranked as high as No. 4 and got up there and played very well, hard, competitive games and then fell off, like we’ve been doing. We were very disappointed, very disappointed as a program, both coach and I. We just want to make darn sure that we’re going to get it right.”
Instability at the game’s most important position has surely been a factor. Texas A&M was 6-0 this past season with graduate transfer Trevor Knight at the controls bringing some much-needed leadership to the locker room.
But the Aggies went 2-5 down the stretch, including double-digit defeats to West blue bloods Alabama and LSU and upset losses to both Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Knight was in and out of the lineup due to injury, although he was supposedly healthy when A&M went down to unranked Kansas State in the Texas Bowl.
While Sumlin won his first three bowl games with the Ags, including the Cotton Bowl in Year 1, he’s lost his last two.
“I’m very proud of the job Coach Sumlin has done building this program and getting what we’re doing,” Woodward said. “I, like him, am very disappointed in what’s happening with these late-season swoons, and we have to figure it out. We have to get it right.”
As Woodward pointed out, Sumlin has done well for himself on the recruiting trail. Texas A&M signed the No. 12 class nationally in February according to 247Sports, even if that was only good enough for sixth place in what is a loaded league.
The aforementioned Mond might be his most important acquisition. A 4-star signal caller, he enrolled early and was able to participate in spring ball. Hubenak is a backup at best in the SEC and Starkel doesn’t appear to have as much upside, so it’s possible that Mond will be given the keys to the offense as a true freshman.
That being said, Sumlin now can’t afford to play for 2018 or 2019. Maybe that’s a factor in his search for a field general.
“I have full confidence that Coach will figure it out and will get it right,” Woodward said, “and he will continue doing the things that we do well, which is give our kids a great experience, compete at the highest level.”
Assembling top-shelp talent hasn’t been a concern for the Aggies. They have had at least one first-rounder in the last seven drafts, highlighted by three in 2014: Jake Matthews, Mike Evans and Manziel.
Depth up and down the roster — that’s what you really need in this conference — has been a problem, though. As a matter of fact, that 2014 draft is indicative of what’s been going on at A&M. While Matthews, Evans and Manziel all came off the board in Round 1, not one of their teammates had his name called in Rounds 2-6.
Perhaps a thin depth chart has contributed to the Ags playing so well early before eventually crumbling late.
“People forget: Up until November, we were fourth in the nation,” Woodward said. “Now we’ve got to figure out how to stay there, and that’s going to be an important fact going forward. We have that pressure, and I say a collective we, Coach Sumlin, the program, the athletic department, that, hey, we have to take it to the next level. It’s an expectation that we have.”
Prior to Woodward’s comments, a case could be made that the hottest seat in the league belonged to Tennessee coach Butch Jones. The Volunteers couldn’t break through in the East last season despite everything lined up in their favor.
Still, Jones wasn’t put on double-secret probation — in such highly publicized fashion, too — by his own boss. That’s the hand Sumlin has been dealt following Woodward’s appearance with Finebaum. According to what has been reported, it would cost the school about $10 million to fire him, which is nothing in an SEC Network world.
Texas A&M hosts Alabama on Oct. 7 and then travels to Florida on Oct. 14 prior to a bye. Just in case, circle Oct. 15 on your calendar.