- Sam Khan Jr., ESPN Staff Writer
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- When it comes to questions about coaching job hot stove speculation, Kevin Sumlin has his answers down pat.
He should. He has been through this drill before.
On Tuesday the Texas A&M head coach fielded questions regarding the latest rumor that he will be near or at the top of the wish list for USC, which fired Lane Kiffin in the wee hours on Sunday morning.
"That's always going to be around," Sumlin said. "They only talk about coaches two ways: one of them is you're not going to be around and the other way is you're either moving on or something else is happening. As long as I'm not in that first conversation, you're doing something right."
Sumlin has become adept at saying a lot without saying much. But then again, this is not his first time around the coaching rumor mill.
During his first head coaching tenure at Houston, speculation surrounded his name on several occasions. After the 2009 season, when the Cougars won 10 games, Sumlin's name was linked to several jobs, including Tennessee, Cincinnati and Kansas, but he eventually signed a contract extension to stay at Houston.
After the 2011 season, the rumors ramped up again but that time he did leave, eventually accepting the A&M job. Late that season, it seemed as if almost every opening had Sumlin's name speculated as a potential candidate.
In five-plus seasons, Sumlin has a 50-20 career record. He's one of the most highly-respected names in the industry and even brushed off overtures from NFL teams last offseason.
But Sumlin's right: no matter what he says, the public will speculate on his future when a "big job" comes open, college or pro. And Texas A&M fans have to get used to that, because it's the price that comes with success.
"If they're not talking about you at all, there probably are some other issues," Sumlin said Tuesday. "That's part of it. That's always going to be the case I hope. It means that you're winning and that you're winning the right way and you're doing things that are helpful and being real positive about it. So from my standpoint, it's not a job to manage, I just don't even approach it."
USC isn't the first and won't be the last job rumor involving Sumlin. The NFL might be a bigger threat than another college program. He's at a ripe age (49) to give it a shot if he wants -- not too young, not too old -- and would still have time to return to the college game if he takes the dive but doesn't like it or doesn't succeed.
He has plenty of qualities sought after in coaches. He can relate to current players and high school recruits as well as his fellow coaches. He can make decisions and manage like a CEO but also has the knowledge to dive into the X’s and O’s of the game. His charisma is evident and it projects a positive image from him and his program.
"He has the ability to relate to 15-, 16- or 17-year-olds and then, in the next meeting, he can sit down with a 70-year-old donor and relate to both of those pretty distinct audiences like they've been long lost best friends," A&M senior associate athletic director for external affairs Jason Cook said. "Not a lot of people can do that, but he can do that and bridge that gap."
After the Aggies' 11-2 inaugural SEC campaign, Texas A&M gave Sumlin a contract extension in January that lasts through the 2017 season and pays Sumlin $3.1 million a year currently. The contract includes a $2 million buyout if it’s terminated before March 31, 2014, and that buyout is reduced by $400,000 on March 31 of each following year. The school is also in the process of renovating Kyle Field to the tune of $450 million. Since Sumlin became head coach, the Aggies have added other expensive items: a new football-only weight room, a nutrition center and they renovated the lobby of the football complex. Resources aren't a problem in Aggieland and they're playing in the best conference in college football. It's a pretty good job in its own right.
Is that enough? The only people who truly knows what makes Sumlin tick and what personal and future goals he has are him and his family.
But while the rumors swirl outside, don’t expect this to become a distraction inside the program, at least not in the near future. The team has enough on its plate trying to get through the SEC schedule without having to worry about the future of their head coach. And let’s face it, the Aggies have had bigger distractions this season, from all the talk surrounding Johnny Manziel to the NCAA's investigation into an autograph controversy surrounding the Heisman Trophy winner to unprecedented buildup for the Sept. 14 clash against Alabama. Focus wasn't an issue for the team then, so this likely won't become an issue anytime soon.
Still, Sumlin’s name is one of the hottest in coaching circles right now. That speaks volumes to how he's viewed, considering he doesn't have a conference championship or BCS bowl appearance attached to his name yet. He has shown he can win though, and A&M is back in the national college football conversation in large part because of Sumlin and Manziel.
It's natural for fans to fret over whether their coach is staying or going. But for now, the Aggies will have to get used to it, because that's what happens when you win.
10hEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf