Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: a fantastic start to the season. A disastrous stretch where the wheels come off. Hope is slowly crushed. You turn your rage and frustration outward. The team limps across the finish line into yet another disappointing finish. You hate everything now. That’s correct, it’s Aggie Football 2016. And 2015. And 2014. And you get the point.
“We have to do better” is so much easier said than done. It’s also not exactly a shocking revelation there, Woodward.
"Coach (Sumlin) knows he has to win & he has to win this year & we have to do better than we've done in the past" https://t.co/IkJDybt0kq— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) May 30, 2017
To declare Kevin Sumlin is “on the hot seat” because the current Texas A&M Athletic Director mentioned a need to improve performance in an interview with Paul Finebaum is to insult the sanctity of the hot seat. This is Kevin Sumlin’s third AD. He’s been taking heat from all of them. His seat’s been hot at A&M since Scott Woodward was watching Steve Sarkisian eke out 7-6 finishes at Washington. He’s gotten more votes of confidence the last few years than most politicians these days.
First he was the new kid on the block in 2012, who didn’t stand a chance in hell in the toughest division in college football. He was brand-new at the helm and his experience all came at a C-USA upstart. He was an afterthought in pre-season coaches meetings and media days. A few months later he was SEC Coach of the Year. A year later might as well have been five.
The fact is, he’s been on the hot seat since that glorious night in early January 2013 that capped the magical 11-2 run. While the confetti was being neatly cleared from the turf with leaf blowers and the last of the Cotton Bowl lights were extinguished in JerryWorld, he was already faced with the daunting task of living up to the expectation he’d set. Without all the seniors who led the defense. And with a loose cannon at quarterback.
Sumlin’s battle has been constant since 2012: to find that perfect balance of personnel, scheme, attitude, and most of all, a little luck. He’s managed to tap into all these factors individually or in pairs at times throughout the years, but they’ve never come together at once the way they did in 2012.
And he absolutely should do better. He shouldn’t fall to losing Mississippi State and Ole Miss teams after climbing to a #4 ranking in October. He shouldn’t be snakebit against Thanksgiving rival LSU every year. But he also probably shouldn’t have pulled off the stunner against #3 Auburn on the road a few years ago, or somehow survived that Tennessee game last season that was laced with gut-wrenching mistakes. There’s a balance there that just hasn’t synched up yet in the same season, and we all hope that this is the year it happens. Most of all Sumlin.
Sumlin’s never had a losing year. His worst season is only one win fewer than his predecessor’s best effort. He’s built a functioning program that is now (finally) staffed with experienced professional assistants. If 8-5 is the floor, what is the ceiling?
It really doesn’t matter, because in this results-driven era, his deadline for building it has almost expired. Sumlin managed to stick around after an exact repeat performance in 2016 through a bizarre combination of mitigating circumstances: a playoff ranking, a patchwork QB position, and a couple of huge home wins that were sorely missing from his resume. This year won’t be as forgiving. For better or worse, Sumlin’s well-worn hot seat will be temporarily cooled or empty by the end of the season. Until the next offseason rolls around.