A couple weeks back, A&M’s rarely seen athletic director, Scott Woodward, joined Finebaum on a beach to discuss the future of Kevin Sumlin.
Woodward had the audacity to calmly state that Sumlin needs to win in 2017 and that Sumlin is aware of this. Naturally, the internet humped this piece of news into sawdust because that’s what the internet does - particularly college football internet.
You mean to tell me that the boss* of the second highest paid coach in the SEC is suggesting winning eight games three years in a row might be falling short of expectations? HOTTEST OF TAKES.
*No one really knows who Kevin Sumlin’s actual boss is. Picture a moody Texan Al Capone that makes more in interest in one day than you will make in your career.
The college football hot seat is a year-round story line that makes for juicy fodder for media blowhards and fans who self-appoint themselves the CEO of their football program (why, A&M has thousands!). It’s not as creepy as recruiting, but it is an odd bloodsport hoping for the tumultuous uprooting of an entire staff of human beings and dozens of their family members. Fun!
This time of year, hot seat prognosticating gets boiled down to rudimentary algebra:
Coach X + Y Wins = FIRED OR NOT FIRED.
If one of you Aggie engineers well actuallys that equation I will leave a digital turd on your doorstep.
It’s a tidy equation that doesn’t trip up the hottest takes. You know the question that gets floated - “How many wins does Sumlin need to keep his job?”
There is just a little something from that equation that makes all the difference - context. It’s not how many wins does Sumlin need? Rather, it’s how does Sumlin get his wins?
In a vacuum, the 2016 loss in Starkville is bad. Can’t happen, but this is college football. But in the context of being ranked in the Top 4 of the College Football Playoff? That loss is devastating and raises all kinds of questions about the culture of the team and how they could go into that game with such entitlement and lethargy. Context.
Human beings are emotional, irrational, short-sighted, and prone to all sorts of blind spots in the simplest of life’s decision making. Multiply that by a few factors of one hundred for college football.
Recency bias is rampant in college football. What was the shelf life of Charlie Strong’s win over Notre Dame? What if A&M went the same 8-5 in 2016 but lost to UCLA and beat LSU? Would the discussions happening right now sound a little different?
Let’s take a look at some scenarios that could potentially occur in 2017 and impact the trajectory of A&M football in 2018 and beyond. Many think Sumlin is a dead man walking. I’ll just set up some possibilities that do not include bowl season. I’m willing to wager we will know Sumlin’s future on November 26th. If not sooner.
Lose any of these and we’re going coach shopping
September 9 - Nicholls State
September 16 - Louisiana Lafayette
November 11 - New Mexico
Oh look - half way to bowl eligibility and maybe another December trip to a languishing southern metropolis. Sure, lose to one of these fake schools or Bob Davie and there is a way out. You just need to beat Alabama. Easy peasy.
Steal two wins out of this trio and you can start that kitchen remod
October 14 - at Florida
November 18 - at Ole Miss
November 25 - at LSU
Well ain’t that a daisy of an SEC road slate? I view each of these as winnable. No, seriously. I touched on recency bias earlier. The timing of each of these happens to be so, so critical. A trip to the Swamp seven days after hosting Alabama? A win there would garner a huge amount of goodwill.
Take a look at November, por favor. The tale is no secret - if Sumlin’s seat is indeed hot, then Novembers of yore are the tire fire roaring beneath. Wrapping up the regular season with trips to Oxford and Baton Rouge is both a blessing and a curse. From my vantage point, these two games will make it crystal clear what needs to happen. This is come-to-Jesus stuff. Head into these tough road games at a blah 6-4 or even 5-5 and manage to win both? Sumlin is coaching in the bowl game and most likely in 2018.
Lose both? Well, let’s just say we here at GBH have always known that we’ll set our traffic records once we have a coaching search.
Here are your toss-up lemons - make some lemonade
September 2 - at UCLA
September 23 - Arkansas (Jerryworld)
September 30 - South Carolina
October 28 - Mississippi State
November 4 - Auburn
A couple of these are damn-near must-win. A loss to the Cocks at home is a hefty douse of gasoline on the tire fire. If the team isn’t out for blood at home against Mississippi State after last year, that is a damning indictment of culture and leadership.
A loss or two here is not the end of the world, but there can’t be a blowout. Again, it’s HOW you get to that 8-4, 7-5, 9-3 or whatever record. Context. Is this a scrappy, hungry, talented young team with a bright future? Or, is this a program with a shitty culture that needs a reboot?
You can beat the best coach in college football history again, right?
October 7 - Alabama
Knock off the immortal warlord and you’re not only the toast of Aggieland, you’re the toast of the SEC/college football/sports.
I can hear your brains churning. You’re being pulled back toward the traditional equation, aren’t you? “8-4 he stays” “7-5 he is gone”...
I point you back to November. Who the hell knows what the mood is going to be on November 5th - the day after Auburn. Maybe Sumlin’s fate will have already been sealed, but I tend to think otherwise.
Knock off the Davie Lobos on Senior Day (please God) and then it’s really put up or shut up. At Ole Miss. At LSU.
Sumlin doesn’t necessarily need to win both, but all eyes will be on how the team shows up for those games. They sure as shit can’t be soft.
tl;dr - let’s just go 12-0 and take a trip to Atlanta, OK? Gig ‘em.