If the latest reports are true, and they may not be given how this particular coaching search has unfolded, Kevin Sumlin, current head coach at the University of Houston, could be announced as soon as today (Saturday) as the new head coach of Texas A&M University. UPDATE: Sumlin has been offered and has accepted the job. He told his team this morning that he was moving on to a better opportunity.
I think this is a good move for Texas A&M. Sumlin was the best realistic candidate for the job and will likely do very well there. So when I say Texas A&M "lost," I'm not saying anything negative about him. He was the guy they should have hired all along. The guy they should have hired two weeks ago when they fired Mike Sherman. Sumlin is young (relatively, he's 47), energetic, has experience recruiting in the state of Texas (particularly the Houston area, A&M's most important area historically), is highly-regarded nationally, and as a former A&M assistant under Slocum in the final year of his reign probably "gets" A&M about as well as it can possibly be gotten.*
*I, for example, do not get A&M at all. I think that's obvious. I don't understand most of the traditions, the chants, the Yell Leaders, or the need for child indoctrination. But that's ok, those things have value to the Aggies that love them and it makes sense why they would seek someone who gets them for who they are. Kevin Sumlin probably does.
As a Baylor fan, I'm not excited about Baylor having to recruit against Sumlin armed with A&M's resources, history, and new conference affiliation. Not at all.
No, when I say Texas A&M lost I'm not speaking to what has happened or will happen on the field of play. I'm not even talking about the football team at all. I'm talking about the A&M administration and the way they went about conducting one of the most convoluted and ridiculous coaching searches in history only to end up hiring (if the reports are true) the guy who was the obvious choice from the beginning. As far as Bowtie McNotGonnaSign is concerned, it truly must be better to be lucky than good because this process was terrible.
I don't understand why it had to take so long.
If we start from the assumption that A&M had to fire Sherman, which is certainly debatable considering I don't think they did until they undermined him so badly that it was impossible to keep him around*, then A&M knew exactly two weeks ago yesterday that they were going to need a new coach. That's if we give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn't decide to fire him right after the excruciating Thanksgiving Day loss to Texas. Two frontrunners for the job immediately appeared -- Sumlin from UofH and Larry Fedora from Southern Mississippi-- and both supposedly interviewed with A&M officials in New York that weekend after having played each other on Saturday in the Conference USA Championship Game (Houston lost, sparing us all from a Houston-Michigan Sugar Bowl while simultaneously subjecting us to a Virginia Tech-Michigan Sugar Bowl. A true no-win scenario for everyone.) Most reports I saw speculated then that Sumlin's hiring was only a matter of time.
*I'll give you the short version: Sherman wasn't fired because of the second-half collapses or the fall from a preseason top-ten ranking. He was fired because of the way A&M lost the Texas game. Because Trent Hunter either made a stupid mistake or was flagged unnecessarily (depending on your point of view). Sherman was by all accounts a great recruiter, a good developer of talent, and a questionable in-game decisionmaker. With A&M leaving the Big XII for the SEC West, where they are likely to have their heads kicked in with a new coach, entirely new staff, and a schedule that now includes Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas (among others), I think A&M would have been best-served to keep Sherman, ride through a transition year in 2012, and then fire him (if he didn't improve) with the cover of a second consecutive poor year. You keep his recruits, he probably represents your university professionally throughout, and you don't owe nearly as big of a buyout next year.
I can understand why A&M didn't just hire Sumlin immediately-- it seems like one of the primary complaints of most Aggies regarding the hiring of Mike Sherman was the lack of a true nationwide search. Byrne just picked up what I imagine looks a lot like this, activated the Good Ol' Boy Network(TM), and came to work the next day to find Mike Sherman sitting in his office in an oversized sweatshirt sleeping on his couch. I can understand taking a few days, acting like you're really thinking it over, and then hiring Sumlin anyway after a long enough period of time has passed to convince Aggiedom that you were diligent in your search. You still get your man in a reasonably expedient manner and your fans coalesce around him as their new coach because they don't have any expectations of anything else. They don't have a choice but to buy in to Kevin Sumlin.
Instead of following that path, however, A&M decided to spend the last two weeks (especially the last week) flooding message boards and twitter with more ridiculous and impossible coaching rumors than anyone could have ever imagined. You name a high-profile coach and Texas A&M was rumored to be talking to him. Chip Kelly, Chris Petersen, Jeff Fisher, Urban Meyer (he approached THEM, no less), Jon Gruden, Barry Switzer (though I think that was a joke), Mark Richt and countless others. The Richt rumors were probably the worst; several well-connected A&M observers reported repeatedly that the offer was made and that A&M expected him to accept.
That he wasn't going to and didn't, and was probably using A&M to leverage an extension after Georgia's run to the SEC title game this season shouldn't have come as a surprise. Georgia is probably a top-10 job all things considered and he's done well there. But we're just talking about rumors, right, no harm done? Wrong. These kinds of rumors have consequences, and all they did here was feed the monster of outrageous expectation and ensure that what should have been a great hire of an obvious choice would look like settling. Fans exposed to those kinds of rumors are going to take them and run to the point that anything less than a Kelly, a Petersen, or a Richt looks terrible by comparison, though perhaps Sumlin shouldn't (particularly in the context of A&M's needs). That's what you expect from your fans, people that bleed your school colors, remember their days walking your halls (or that first time they saw your t-shirt in Walmart, whichever), and practice your chants and cheers with their children. Fan is short for fanatic; you expect irrationality.
That's not what you expect from your administration, the people you rely on as responsible and reasonable stewards of your university. You don't expect them to think that the grass on that other coaches' lawn is greener or that the bird in hand isn't worth the one in the bush. You expect them to identify the best candidate for the job, recognize that he is the best candidate, and then get rid of everything else as noise. You expect them to know that while A&M's greatest institutional strength is the passion of its fanbase for all things A&M, its greatest institutional weakness is that same passion. When harnessed that passion intimidates opposing teams and inspires courageous action, but when left unchecked it creates expectations that cannot possibly be met.
Disappointment is the difference between expectations and results. It is the responsibility of rational decisionmakers to manage expectations by managing information, not feed the fire of insanity by throwing out pipedreams as though they are real possibilities. Because let's be honest, none of the guys I listed above were taking the A&M job, as good as it has the potential to be, in its current situation without Byrne driving a dumptruck full of money up to their houses, giving them the GDP of Luxembourg as a buyout, renaming Kyle Field in their honor, and forcing Loftin to execute the contract live on ESPN. Sumlin, the obvious choice from the word "go" would and it seems will. Why it took so long to get to him, and why A&M had to go through such a ridiculous process to do it, I just don't understand. I guess you can add it to the list.
I think Kevin Sumlin is going to be a great football coach for Texas A&M University if they give him the time he needs. I really do. But it's a lot harder for him now than it had to be because his administration, the guys that will now sign his paychecks, undermined him before he ever got started. If he fails, this is where that failure started. And it didn't have to be this way at all. So congratulations, Texas A&M administration, for finding the right guy and going about it entirely the wrong way.