On Sunday, FootballScoop.com reported that “Change is coming” in regards to Kevin Sumlin’s job status at Texas A&M. This comes after a 42-27 loss at home to SEC West foe Auburn. The loss brings the Aggies to 5-4 on the season. They currently sit at fifth in the West with a 3-3 conference record.
Kevin Sumlin’s tenure at Texas A&M thus far can be summed up with one word; underachievement.
The Aggies, for five years, have felt like a team that was almost there. They have the facilities, they have the fan support, and they are in a great conference that has made them, not the Texas Longhorns, the most profitable program in the state. Despite a multitude of positive factors, they have remained right on the cusp.
Part of the frustration in College Station centers around the aforementioned Longhorns. Since 2009, Texas has been mediocre at best. While TCU and Baylor have had their flashes of brilliance, if there is a program equipped to take over the state, it’s the Aggies. Yet, despite Texas gifting them the chance to do so, Sumlin has failed to grab the proverbial bull by the horns.
The one advantage the Longhorns have always had was monetary, and A&M has not just closed the gap, but surpassed them. In 2015-16, Texas made roughly $194 million in revenue, while Texas made just under $188 million.
However, the state remains a soup of average, disappointing football with no one standout. The window for A&M to become the state’s premier program has been wide open, but with Tom Herman in place at Texas and A&M about to go through a coaching change, it appears the Aggies missed their chance.
The problem certainly isn’t a lack of talent. Since Sumlin’s arrival in 2012, A&M has recruited alongside the powers of college football. In 2013, they finished 9th in the 247Sports composite rankings, ahead of schools like USC, Florida State, and Oklahoma. You could even move them up a slot, considering they finished behind an Ole Miss recruiting class that, as we’ve now learned, wasn’t exactly on the up and up.
In 2014, they jumped to 5th, with a class that included future number one NFL draft pick Myles Garrett and 5-star QB Kyle Allen. Since his arrival, the lowest finish for Sumlin was an 18th ranked class in 2016.
Many have theorized that Sumlin’s downfall was brought about by unmanageable expectations. While it’s certainly not reasonable to expect him to go 11-1 or 10-2 on a yearly basis, Sumlin hasn’t even performed at the level of realistic expectations.
After an 11-2 season in 2012, the Aggies have lost at least four games every year. That mark is made even worse when you examine how those seasons played out.
In 2014, A&M started 5-0, then lost five of their last seven regular season games. They again started 5-0 in ’15, then losing four of their last seven, along with a bowl loss to Louisville. The song remained the same in ’16, starting 6-0 and losing four of their last six, again losing their bowl game, this time to perennially average Kansas State.
Their great starts and slow finishes were perfectly encapsulated in week one of this year. They went into halftime against UCLA with a 38-10 lead, and extended it to 44-10 at the start of the third quarter. They then earned the distinction of having the biggest blown lead in college football history, giving up 35 straight and falling to the Bruins by a score of 45-44.
It was, in 60 minutes, an entire season. For many, it was the four quarter embodiment of a 6-0 start, followed by losing four of their last six. It was something Aggie fans had become all too accustomed to, just not that early in the year.
There was already unrest. However, it was the UCLA loss that not only ignited the conversation surrounding Sumlin’s future, but made it embarrassingly public.
— Stadium (@WatchStadium) September 4, 2017
On the surface, Kevin Sumlin has always seemed like a player’s coach. The image of him on the outside has been a coach who could relate to his players. He shows up at Drake concerts, sits next to Usher at UFC events, and rides around in what has been dubbed the “Swag Copter” on recruiting trips.
Coach Sumlin sat with Usher last night at UFC. Your move Drake, your move. pic.twitter.com/BcRiCQBBt3
— Justin Kaspar (@Ranger222) July 7, 2013
Sumlin is the polar opposite of guys like recently fired Florida head coach Jim McElwain. It wasn’t entirely surprising when Florida and McElwain parted ways. Where coaches like Sumlin have started to roll with the punches and learned to laugh at themselves, Mac was far too rigid and uptight, and in year three the message already felt as stale as late-era Mark Richt or Les Miles. Given the image that Sumlin has always projected, it becomes even more surprising that he ever got to this point.
However, that is where phrases like “on the surface” become important. What we see and what actually transpires behind the scenes, doesn’t always sync up. Sumlin always felt like a player’s coach, but the evidence may suggest otherwise. Are “player’s coaches” suffering mass exoduses of talent? Sumlin did.
Texas high school legend Kyler Murray left for a minimal role at Oklahoma. Kenny Hill left for in-state TCU. 5-star Kyle Allen not only departed, but did it for a Group of Five Houston program. Individual players may leave for bigger roles, but losing as much talent as the Aggies have is not a sign of a coach that players are passionate about playing for.
Sumlin had the world at his fingertips. He had the facilities and the conference. He had the players, but he either couldn’t squeeze out their potential, or couldn’t even keep them in College Station.
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With only New Mexico, Ole Miss, and LSU left on the schedule, there’s little opportunity for the kind of wins that can drastically shift the narrative on the program. With four losses already, the minds of the higher-ups at Texas A&M seem to be made up.
Barring a severe change of heart, the Sumlin era has under a month left, and the story has essentially been written. It is a story full of ups and downs, from a Heisman trophy winner in year one, to the biggest blown lead in college football history in what will likely be the final year.
Ultimately, it’s a story that can be summed up in one word; underachievement.