Why Texas A&M fired Kevin Sumlin, though he argued he should stay

Sumlin won big quickly, then never again.

Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Texas A&M is firing coach Kevin Sumlin.

Official: Texas A&M University Director of Athletics Scott Woodward has relieved Head Football Coach Kevin Sumlin of all duties effective immediately. Assistant Coach Jeff Banks will serve as interim head coach.

Scott Woodward: “Kevin’s tenure included some remarkable achievements and he leaves our program as one of the winningest football coaches in our storied history. Kevin made us a better all-around football program and led our program with dignity & character.”

And they’re doing so with a hefty price tag.

Texas A&M has fired Kevin Sumlin. Aggies owes him a $10.4 million buyout under the terms of his contact, which is to be paid in the next 60 days and isn’t reduced if he takes another coaching job.

The Aggies finished the season 7-5, and Sumlin defended himself in a postgame press conference:

“I don’t know” he said. “It’s just business as usual for me. I don’t have anything scheduled, meetings. That could change here in the next couple of minutes or whatever. But as of right now, the contact period (for recruiting) starts”.

Sumlin then was asked if he should be retained.

“I always think I should be retained” he said. “I wouldn’t do this job because I know what goes into it. I know how hard these guys worked I know lot of things don’t work out but you plan and I wouldn’t do this job if I didn’t think that. I wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t coach football. So in my mind, I do my job as best as I can and if you think otherwise, if you start doubting whoever you are, you’re in the wrong business.”

Also, Sumlin says:

Sumlin: No matter who you are or what you do, you’re able to live with yourself if you leave something better than where it was when you got there. To watch the change in culture into a national brand. You go to sleep at night knowing you left it better off.

On Tuesday, Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reported Texas A&M was planning on firing him after the LSU game, adding that a win wouldn’t save his job (which would make the second time in three years that a head coach was set to be fired right after this game), as well as the following:

The Aggies’ top target is Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, according to people with knowledge of the school’s plans. Fisher won a national title following the 2013 season with the Seminoles, but FSU is 4-6 so far this season, easily his worst showing in eight years as head coach in Tallahassee, Fla. He’s won at least 10 games in a season six times at FSU, something Sumlin has managed once at A&M in six seasons.

Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated reported TAMU’s assistants learned of Sumlin’s firing after practice.

Why’s he out?

He didn’t make progress for the last five years.

Sumlin’s first season, 2012, was brilliant. With Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback, the Aggies went 11-2, beat No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, won the Cotton Bowl, and finished No. 5 in the AP Poll. Sumlin had taken over a 7-6 team from Mike Sherman and, with Manziel’s help, made it both fun and really good.

Then Sumlin went from great to good, and he never got back to great. A&M lost at least four games in every subsequent year of his tenure and faded from SEC West contention every year.

Sumlin recruited well and consistently stocked his rosters with talent, including a No. 1 NFL pick in defensive end Myles Garrett. He had top-15 talent in each of the last three seasons but didn’t produce results anywhere near that good.

Many A&M fans have been extremely over Sumlin for a while.

Was this the right move?

I think so. There’s truth to the old mantra that if a program isn’t moving forward, it’s moving backward. Sumlin’s Aggies stopped moving forward long ago.

It felt increasingly untenable for Sumlin to stay in his job. His bosses in Texas A&M’s administration had made plain for the last year that his status was up in the air.

Athletic director Scott Woodward said in May that Sumlin “knows he has to win and he has to win this year.” After a devastating loss to UCLA in the season opener, an A&M regent asserted he supported Sumlin’s firing. Later, the university chancellor said he was “not the athletic director” when asked if Sumlin was safe.

There was a case for keeping Sumlin. He was consistently well above .500 at a place that hasn’t always been, and he had to deal with lots of loud voices. He recruited.

But A&M fans wanted more than Sumlin offered. A&M blog Good Bull Hunting:

Kevin Sumlin never took us the places we all wanted to go. He took us to some pretty good places, but not the ones you dream of in your most wishful moments. The heights everyone imagined following the 2012 season, and even after the chaos of the 2013 season when we steamrolled through the first month and a half of 2014 are all a distant memory now. This football program over the last four seasons has a history of tantalizingly building up hope among us and then crushing that hope in the most cruel and cartoonish fashion. We’ve all been the coyote, and Aggie Football the anvil. The roadrunner is still at large.

His tenure grew stale and uncomfortable, and A&M decided to chance it in the coaching marketplace instead. It’s a fair decision, though not one without risk.

Where was Sumlin before A&M?

He was the head coach at Houston, a job he held from 2008-11. Sumlin went 35-17 leading the Cougars, where he had elite offenses that once finished No. 1 nationally in scoring. Sumlin was the second in a line of three recent UH head coaches to get hired up to a power-conference job, after Art Briles left for Baylor and, later, Tom Herman left for Texas. Before Houston, Sumlin was co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops. He was an assistant head coach at A&M in 2001 and ‘02 under R.C. Slocum.

It wasn’t all bad, right?

A&M fans will always have 2012, which wasn’t a national title season but was still pretty damned good. Here, watch the Aggies beat the Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium:

Just try to forget that the five seasons after that one happened.


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