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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Is Jimbo Fisher the better Texas A&M football coach?

Let’s be real here. There’s a reason that it feels like there’s something fishy when you see that Barrett Sallee graphic he loves to trot out. It’s because it is fishy. There’s not much of a question in my mind that Jimbo is the better coach, not only when it comes to winning, but program-building, recruiting, and all the auxiliary duties.

First of all, the statistic of raw record itself needs some context: the Aggies had three games—doubtless all wins—taken away from their 2020 schedule. They had North Texas, Abilene Christian, and Colorado replaced with Florida and Tennessee. Now, the Ags won both those game, but you cannot convince me that, had they played all the games they were scheduled to in 2020, we’re not looking back at a 12-1 Texas A&M football team from that year. And save me the piece about how it was easier on the road—the tougher part of playing away games is the travel itself rather than the crowd, and every single road win was by double digits. I don’t think a full-capacity Williams-Brice Stadium changes the 48-3 win over the Gamecocks very much that year.

What’s more, Sumlin never had to deal with the level of adversity at the most important position on the field that Jimbo has. 2023 makes three straight years where the Aggies have started a backup quarterback due to injury to their starter—the most that ever happened to Sumlin was a couple of games. If you only consider games where the original starter for the season played the game, Jimbo has a winning percentage of 67.4% compared to Sumlin’s 66.2%. And yes, that is considering all of Haynes’s starts in 2022 and none of Max Johnson’s or Conner Weigman’s.

Not much needs to be said about recruiting. Myles Garrett and Christian Kirk were great players, true. But Jimbo’s worst class is roughly the quality of Sumlin’s second-best class, per the 247sports Composite. The man can recruit. I know it’s about development, it’s true—but I’m not sure a man who chased off two five-star quarterbacks, including a Heisman winner and first overall pick in Kyler Murray, can claim the edge on player development over Jimbo.

Sumlin’s tenure is defined by Johnny Football, a player he did not recruit (or really develop at all, as we learned in the recent Netflix documentary). He came in ahead of the curve because of what he inherited: four first-round picks on the offense, including one of the best receivers in NFL history. Jimbo inherited no such talent. He developed Kellen Mond into an NFL-ready player, but his top prospects for the league were Donovan Wilson, Justin Madubuike, and Buddy Johnson. Recall how differently things immediately felt from 2017 to 2018—finally, it felt like the team (the defense in particular) was playing up to their talent. Trayveon Williams had a record-setting year, and transfer Jace Sternberger was a revelation. The offense is having trouble now, yes, but the Aggie defense is playing to its potential—when Sumlin was head coach of Texas A&M football, neitheunit played as well as it should have.

To me, the final word is this: everything apart from the on-field stuff, where there’s an argument to be made for a rough equivalency in wins and losses between the two coaches when stripped of context, is diametrically opposed between these two. Sumlin chased off two of the most talented signal callers the program has ever seen; Jimbo recruited a guy who looks like a day-one pick even as a sophomore. Moreover, Fisher kept that legendary recruiting class that he assembled together and tight even through one of the most tumultuous seasons the program has ever seen. This is what the snide comments and tiny graphic cannot capture: Fisher is a program builder in a way that Sumlin just wasn’t. This is why he has been able to draw Texas A&M football as near to the fulfillment of its vision as it ever has been.

It may end up that he’s not the guy. We could be having a very similar conversation at this time next year. But even so, I think it would be reductive and incorrect to compare him to Sumlin. To me, Fisher is categorically a better coach.

This defensive staff change by A&M was genius. dark. Next