Sum­lin not steamed by heat from his seat

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - SPORTS - BOB HOLT

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.”

AP/SAM CRAFT

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.

AP/BUTCH DILL

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.

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