Texas A&M Football has parted ways with head coach Kevin Sumlin after six years at the helm. Are fans right to have mixed emotions about the end of his tenure?
Sumlin went 35-17 at Houston, winning the Conference USA West title twice. Unfortunately, he lost both times the Cougars made it to the title game. In 2009 they lost came to East Carolina and to Southern Mississippi in 2011.
Most Aggies including me wanted Sumlin instead of Mike Sherman in 2008, the problem that group had was Sumlin had never been a head coach. Did that setup Sherman for success? It probably did not knowing several people wanted the guy 90 miles down the road. Sherman did not do himself any favors going 25-25 over his four years.
When the job came open, we all knew who was going to get the job. I remember calling Sumlin and telling him the job is a great one, but everything surrounding the job may not be that appealing. As a friend, I advised him not to take the job, but if I was in his position I would’ve taking the job myself.
I remember during bowl practice against Northwestern, we chatted on the sidelines and basically went through the entire offense. He gave me his thoughts; what he hoped to find out during the game and during spring practice. He knew that team had talent, but had struggled to close teams out. We joked how similar the 2011 team and season was to what happened to all of us in 2002. (I was a graduate assistant in 2001 and 2002 and was one of the staff members that had to get all the coaches back to College Station when Slocum was fired.)
An instant energy boost
Sumlin coming in gave all Aggies a ton of excitement. The post Slocum plan that everyone wanted had failed and really put the program back. From 2003 to 2011, Dennis Franchione, Gary Darnell, Sherman and Tim DeRuyter led the Aggies to a record of 58-54. That included four (2003, 2005, 2008, 2010) losing seasons, the first since the 1984 season.
The 2012 team had a crowded meeting room. Ryan Tannehill had just been drafted so Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury needed to decide on the quarterback. That decision ultimately went to Johnny Manziel. Looking back they made the right decision, but the long-term impact on Sumlin turned out to be negative.
Sumlin would end up winning 11 games in 2012, the first time that had happened since 1998. That level of success and what that brought to the program was ultimately the reason he would be fired after the 2017 season. His success elevated the expectations around Aggieland and whether that is right or wrong, he could not replicate it once he had his own roster.
When I was asked to write this piece, I struggled with taking my own emotion out of the equation. Being a coaches kid, I’ve been around the situation of hiring and firing coaches my entire life. Did I want a change? I did not. Did I think something needed to change? I did, but what that was I did not know. Making staff changes is always dangerous. Maybe the routine or the concept of a being a player’s coach needed to be evaluated. Recruiting had been very good, but it wasn’t great when you look at the roster turnover year to year.
So thinking about that, let me outline the five reasons a change at the top was a mistake.