Sumlin not steamed by heat from his seat
HOOVER, Ala. — The pay is a lot better now, but Texas A&M Coach Kevin Sumlin said he feels the same pressure to win as when he got his first full-time job as Wyoming’s receivers coach in 1991.
Sumlin, hired by Cowboys coach Joe Tiller, said he was making about $19,000 and driving a red Pontiac Fiero.
“Remember those things?” Sumlin asked a room of reporters at SEC media days this week. “Where they caught on fire in the back?”
Sumlin, who is making $5 million annually now, should be feeling intense heat after three consecutive 8-5 finishes by the Aggies to seasons that started 5-0, 5-0 and 6-0.
Despite Texas A&M’s 11-13 SEC record since 2014, Sumlin said his stress level remains the same since he broke into the coaching profession with Tiller providing him a lesson in job security when the receivers were dropping passes.
“One day he walks up to me in the middle of practice, and he’s just furious,” Sumlin said. “He said, ‘If they don’t start catching the d*** ball all the time, I’m going to fire your a**.’
“Immediately I had the same conversation with the wide receivers.”
Scott Woodward, in his second year as Texas A&M’s athletic director, had a similarly blunt warning for Sumlin in late May when he appeared on the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum Show during the conference’s spring meetings.
“Coach Sumlin knows he has to win,” Woodward told Finebaum. “He has to win this year. He has to do better than he has done in the past.”
Sumlin, asked about Woodward’s comments, said no one wants to win more than himself.
“Nothing is going to change the way I approach life, and nothing is going to change the way I approach my job,” Sumlin said. “I’ve known what’s at stake ever since I got into this.”
Texas A&M’s players at media days offered strong support for Sumlin.
“We love Coach Sumlin,” junior offensive tackle Koda Martin said. “We know that he’ll fight for us and prepare us to win.”
Junior wide receiver Christian Kirk said it’s the players’ responsibility to win.
“Coach Sumlin doesn’t go out there and play on Saturdays,” Kirk said. “That’s up to us. We’ve got to be ready.
“We’ve got to do better as players. We have to take that upon us to go out there and win games. That’s our main focus right now … is finishing games.”
Martin said players don’t worry about speculation Sumlin could be fired if Texas A&M doesn’t win enough games to
satisfy Woodward and the program’s boosters.
“We don’t think about that,” Martin said. “That’s not our concern.
“We have a saying, ‘It’s about us.’ So we don’t worry about the voices that are going on outside of the program.”
Texas A&M lost the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft in defensive end Myles Garrett and starting quarterback Trevor Knight from last season’s team, but Sumlin said the Aggies have a chance to improve.
“I know that we’re doing the things that we need to do to be better,” Sumlin said. “And I would not be surprised if the results don’t bear that out.”
Martin said the Aggies are
using their string of 8-5 records as extra motivation.
“I feel like the culture is good right now,” Martin said. “We’re united. The leaders on the team are really pushing everybody to remember that it’s not fun to go 8-5.
“That’s not our standard. Our standard is winning, so we’re getting after it. We’re doing the little things to really prepare to win and have a great season.”
Kirk said the Aggies need to be tougher physically.
“Everybody battles injuries, especially in the middle of the season,” he said. “That’s on us to stay healthy, doing the right things off the field in preparation and recovery.
“To be a top 10 team in the SEC you’ve got to go out there
and play those LSUs, Alabamas the second half of the season, especially when you’re banged up, and that’s been an emphasis for us.”
Sumlin is 44-21 in five seasons at Texas A&M, but that includes records of 11-2 in 2012 and 9-4 in 2013 with Johnny Manziel — the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner — at quarterback.
After the 2013 season, Sumlin was given a six-year, $30 million contract extension, so three consecutive 8-5 finishes isn’t what Texas A&M’s administration and fans were expecting.
Sumlin fired defensive coordinator Mark Snyder after the 2014 season and hired John Chavis from LSU for a $1.6 million annual salary.
After the 2015 season, Sumlin fired offensive coordinator Jake Spivital and hired Noel Mazzone from UCLA for $800,000 annually and a $165,000 signing bonus for 2016.
Larry Jackson was fired as strength and conditioning by Sumlin last season. Sumlin hired Mark Hocke from Florida State, where he was an assistant. Hocke previously was Georgia’s strength and conditioning coach and an assistant at Alabama.
“We made some tough decisions about last year,” Sumlin
said. “Our emphasis has been to finish and be a tougher football team.
“Going out and hiring Mark Hocke I think has made great strides toward that. The things we’ve been doing in the offseason are a lot different than what we’ve done in the past.”
Martin said Hocke’s hiring has been well received by the players.
“He’s high energy and has a passion for football and for work,” Martin said. “He’s hard on us. He brings a lot of energy to the weight room.
“We have the mindset that we’re training to compete and win. We want to be violent, physical football players. It’s not just get through the workout, this is about winning football games.”
Sumlin said making staff changes is part of his job evaluation as a head coach.
“We want to stay ahead of the curve,” he said. “When we’re not doing well, it’s my job to analyze it and try to fix it.”
Sumlin is running out of people to fire, which adds to speculation about his own job.
“The biggest sign in our building says, ‘No Excuses,’ ” Sumlin said. “We’re not giving any excuses and that starts with me.
“We want to be a championship football team.”
Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk, who caught 83 passes for 928 yards and nine touchdowns while being a first-team, All-SEC selection last year, returns in 2017 for the Aggies, who’ve finished 8-5 in each of the past three seasons despite getting off to fast starts.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who has a 44-21 record in five seasons with the Aggies, still has the support of his players despite the team’s late-season struggles in each of the past three years.