Kevin Sumlin was trying to lend perspective to the ongoing, never-ending speculation about his status as Texas A&M’s coach. He related an anecdote from his first full-time assistant coaching job.
“I was the wide receiver coach at Wyoming and (head coach) Joe Tiller said, ‘If they don’t catch the ball, you’re going to get fired, and I was making $19,000,’” the coach said during his podium time at the Southeastern Conference Media Days on Wednesday in Hoover, Ala. “I had a red little (Pontiac) Fiero. Remember those things? … Where they caught fire in the back and all that other stuff.”
Telling a story about a 1980s Pontiac automobile with an engine that often flamed up had an interesting irony, considering Sumlin’s place on every coaching hot seat list headed into the season. At least the assembled media showed admirable patience before broaching the issue.
The seventh question posed to Sumlin was about his boss’s comments in late May. A&M athletic director Scott Woodward said at the SEC spring meetings that his football coach, who has never won fewer than eight games in his five seasons in College Station, has to “win more.”
“Scott and I have known each other for a while, even before he came to Texas A&M,” Sumlin said. “So, we’ve had a lot of conversations before that. For me, my job, nothing changes for me. And so whatever’s said, whatever the conversation, whatever’s written, it’s not going to affect how I do my job.”
The Aggies have yet to select a starting quarterback. They have to replace defensive end Myles Garrett, the NFL’s No. 1 2017 draft pick. They also face a challenging schedule starting with the season opener at UCLA on Sept. 3. Most of the preseason forecasts have Texas A&M finishing no better than fourth in the SEC’s rugged West Division.
SEC Network analyst and unofficial “Mouth of the South” Paul Finebaum doesn’t give Sumlin much of a chance to coach beyond this season.
Finebaum: 9 wins may not be enough to save Kevin Sumlin's job. https://t.co/OFvFifXwqR
— FanBuzz (@FanBuzz) July 12, 2017
“If he wins eight games, he’ll be gone,” Finebaum said Wednesday. “I do not believe, according to the people with whom I’ve spoken to in College Station, that eight wins is going to be enough. I’m not sure there is a good number for Kevin Sumlin. There’s so much heat on him. Nine (wins) is even debatable. What he does on the field will determine whether he’s back at media days a year from today.
“They’ll be picked fourth, maybe fifth in the SEC. I think the biggest game of the season is a non-conference game, UCLA. They go out there and lose, and the negativity will rain down on (Sumlin).”
Sumlin pointed out that the biggest sign in the Aggies’ football complex has the words “No Excuses.” If that’s true, excuses for the team’s second-half collapses have to be replaced by reasons and solutions for those fades.
“I look at what we do and what we do well,” Sumlin said. “We want to stay ahead of the curve. When we’re not doing well, it’s my job to analyze it and try to fix it. Here’s what we’re doing in the weight room, here’s what we’re doing in the recovery, here’s what we’re doing in nutrition, here’s what we’re doing from a toughness and physical standpoint in practice.”
Sumlin doesn’t appear to feel the pressure that comes with being on the hot seat. When he stepped to the podium, he joked that it was the sixth consecutive time that his introduction at the event was met with no applause. When he walked off after his interview session was finished, one person could be heard clapping.
After three decades in coaching, Sumlin says he quickly figured out that he was hired to be fired. He circled back to his time at Wyoming working on Tiller’s staff.
“One day he (Tiller) walks up to me in the middle of practice, and he’s just like furious,” Sumlin recalled. “He said, ‘If they don’t start catching the damn ball all the time, I’m going to fire your ass.’ Immediately I had the same conversation with wide receivers.
“I’ve known what’s at stake ever since I got into this.”
After going 11-2 in Sumlin’s first season with the Aggies – and the school’s first season in the SEC – Texas A&M went 9-4 followed by three consecutive 8-5 seasons. Sumlin was asked why he believed the Aggies can climb out of that rut.
“Because I’m the coach,” he said. “I’m inside of it. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be the coach. I came here to do a job and to win a championship. We haven’t done that yet. That being said, we’ve won more games than any (A&M teams) in the last 20 years.
“Are we better at Texas A&M now than when we got here? You bet. Is it where we want to be? No. Nobody wants to win more than me.”
Desire must lead to results if A&M’s head coach is to remain in the SEC next year.
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