Saturday, December 10, 2011
New A&M coach Sumlin has plenty to prove
By David Ubben
Texas A&M has its man.
Kevin Sumlin is ready to get started in College Station, but he'll have to get his hands dirty very early.
Sumlin's become one of the hottest names in coaching after a 12-1 season in 2011, but he'll have a laundry list of things to prove during his first big-time job after leaving Houston.
The Cougars were his first head-coaching job after stops around the Big 12 at Texas A&M, his new home, and in a variety of positions (including offensive coordinator) in five seasons at Oklahoma under coach Bob Stoops.
Every coach with a résumé comparable to Sumlin's faces the same question: Can that small-conference success translate to a bigger pond with bigger fish?
For Sumlin, it's tough to imagine a more difficult scenario for a coach taking over a major program for the first time, especially as a coach who has yet to guide a team to a conference title.
Texas A&M will head into the torture chamber that is the SEC West, where Arkansas finished third after going 10-2, with both losses against teams that will meet for the national title.
Mississippi State? It won nine games in 2010 and finished fifth in the division.
Kevin Sumlin spent four seasons guiding the Houston Cougars in Conference USA, and now he'll tackle the SEC as Texas A&M's newest head coach.
Sumlin knows Texas. He's recruited it for a decade and will continue to do so at Texas A&M, where he'll go head to head with former Big 12 rivals Texas and Oklahoma to convince players to help the Aggies ascend the SEC totem pole after going 6-6 in their final Big 12 season.
Sumlin's a man with spread sensibilities, though. He'll have to prove he can adjust that system as necessary to succeed in the SEC.
Success in the SEC, as national title participants Alabama and LSU can attest, correlates with defensive success, with rare exceptions for 6-foot-5, 250-pound Heisman-winning quarterbacks/No. 1 picks who can throw for 30 touchdowns, run for 20 more and rack up 1,400 yards rushing.
Sumlin's job in that department will be finding the right man to coordinate his defense. Current interim coach Tim DeRuyter could certainly stay in that role, despite a rough 2011 season in which the Aggies at one point went 22 quarters without forcing a turnover and finished 66th nationally in total defense and 76th in scoring defense.
The Aggies' linebacker-rich roster suits DeRuyter's 3-4 scheme well, and is better suited to defend the power running games in the SEC versus the pass-happy quarterbacks' league that is the Big 12.
If DeRuyter's not the right man, Sumlin better find the right one.
Can he carry over his success without Case Keenum? He threw an outlandish 45 touchdowns to five interceptions this year, including one game with nine scoring tosses.
Two of those interceptions came in the conference championship game loss to Southern Miss, where Sumlin was denied a league title for the second time in four seasons. Last year, when Keenum tore his ACL, the Cougars went 5-7.
The Aggies brass believed Sumlin could succeed without Keenum, and now, Sumlin will have to convince plenty of others.
Sumlin's personnel will look much different at Texas A&M. In the immediate future, his best player on offense will be former blue-chip recruit and 221-pound power back Christine Michael, who packs plenty of speed but will be coming off ACL surgery on his knee in 2012.
Sumlin will have a first-year starter at quarterback and loses his most physically gifted receiver, Jeff Fuller, while he'll retain his most productive receiver, Ryan Swope.
Defensively, the Aggies will lose top talents like four-year starting safety Trent Hunter. Cornerbacks Coryell Judie and Terrence Frederick will be gone. Defensive linemen Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown will say goodbye, too.
Sumlin will have to adjust his wide-open passing attack at Houston that shredded Conference USA defenses to life among speedier, more instinctive SEC defenses.
He'll have the resources at Texas A&M, which built some recruiting momentum under Mike Sherman and will welcome a top-10 recruiting class in 2012 to some of the best facilities around.
Sherman proved that facilities and lots of talent don't equal wins. The Aggies were 1-5 in games decided by less than a touchdown in 2011.
Sumlin will set out to prove he's the right guy to fix that number and lots of others.