Did Texas A&M Football Trade One Mediocre Coach for Another?

Nov 4, 2017; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin on the sidelines against the Auburn Tigers at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 4, 2017; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin on the sidelines against the Auburn Tigers at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports /
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Past two coaches for Texas A&M football by the numbers

Sumlin finished his career as Texas A&M football coach with a record of 51-26 (Jeff Banks was the interim coach for the Belk Bowl loss), for a winning percentage of 66.23%. Jimbo currently sits at 43-24 as head coach of Texas A&M football, for a winning percentage of 64.18%.

It should go without saying that those two numbers are not created equal. There’s some obvious nuance to these. What about the COVID year, and the out-of-conference games that the Aggies lost? Should we maybe account for the fact that Sumlin inherited one of the most electrifying college football players of all time? We’ll get into those two admittedly salient points later on, but for now, let’s try and give some context using other numbers.

Is Jimbo just a Chalk Coach?

My personal sense going into this was that Jimbo was more of a chalk coach, and Sumlin had more volatile results. If Jimbo had the better squad, he won, and if he didn’t, he lost; conversely, Sumlin’s teams were far more susceptible to losing to less talented foes. I went through and I charted each coach’s results by whether or not they were favored in the game. I found that, as a favorite, Jimbo is currently 40-9 (81.63% winning percentage) and is 3-15 as an underdog (16.67% winning percentage). Sumlin was 44-8 as a favorite (84.62% winning percentage) and 7-19 as an underdog (26.92% winning percentage).

What I found interesting was that through the first three years of his tenure at A&M, Jimbo was the definition of chalk: from 2018 through 2020, Jimbo lost exactly one game as a favorite (2019 Auburn) and won exactly one game as an underdog (2020 Florida). In other words, going into 2021—notably, the year the unfortunate streak of QB injuries began for this Texas A&M football program—Jimbo was 25-1 as a favorite (a 96.15% winning percentage) and 1-9 as an underdog (a 10% winning percentage). That 2021 year saw the Aggies enter only one game as an underdog: the game against the Crimson Tide (which, of course, they won). That meant that the four losses all occurred with the Aggies favored.

The Ags lost 3 games as a favorite in 2022 (App, South Carolina, Florida), but won a game as an underdog against LSU in the last game of the year. So far in 2023, Texas A&M football is 4-1 as a favorite (loss to Miami) and 0-2 as an underdog (Bama and Tennessee). So in the post-Mond era, Jimbo is 15-8 as a favorite (65.22% winning percentage) and 2-6 as an underdog (25% winning percentage). Things were a lot less predictable with Texas A&M football in 2021 and 2022 (8 unexpected results out of 24 games), though they’ve returned to being a bit more predictable since then (1 unexpected result out of 7 games so far in 2023).

For Sumlin’s part, he was indeed more volatile overall, but much more so after Johnny Football departed. With the Heisman winner behind center, the Aggies only encountered 2 unexpected results in 26 games (win vs. Alabama in 2012 and loss vs. Auburn in 2013). Interesting that the inherited QBs for both coaches provided such predictability for each—though likely for far different reasons. 2015 was the only post-Johnny season with one or fewer unexpected results; every other season saw at least three (5 in 2014, 4 in 2016, and 3 in 2017).

Overall, the idea that Jimbo is a coach who wins the games he’s supposed to has taken on some water in recent years—since the game of QB musical chairs started in 2021, things have been significantly more volatile. Sumlin’s teams were roller coasters all throughout the season, though Johnny Football dampened that effect a bit. To my mind, Jimbo is still a guy who is more reliably able to out-talent those teams that come in at a disadvantage in that area, and the gap between he and Sumlin as far as jumping up and beating those opponents who are more talented may not be as wide as the numbers suggest—which we’ll get into shortly.