When is “adequate” not enough? Sports Illustrated recently dropped a top ten list of college football coaches under the most pressure to win in 2017.
Surprise! Three of ‘em are in the SEC. Hugh Freeze cracked the #1 spot, even ahead of Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly, showing that success in the nation’s premiere conference builds insane expectations. Butch Jones is also on the list, hovering in the bottom half like the mediocre automaton that he is. Our own beloved Kevin Sumlin is ensconced firmly at #4.
Consider this: in the 12 seasons this century before Kevin Sumlin took over, the program reached eight wins only three times: once under R.C. Slocum in 2001, once under Dennis Franchione in 2006, and once under Mike Sherman in 2010. Kevin Sumlin has hit that mark in all five of his seasons.
But it’s not enough. Modern college football is seasoned with a healthy dose of perception and timing. Going 11-2 in his first season in the SEC while producing the first-ever freshman Heisman winner was Sumlin’s crowning achievement. It may yet still prove his downfall.
The Internet is a clamorous loony bin that serves as a de facto echo chamber for every awful opinion imaginable. Journey through any corner of Sports Twitter and you will find the worst of humanity on display in the name of team pride and a million other overprocessed and ultimately meaningless tropes. Aggie Twitter has its own special corner of hell inhabited by armchair athletic directors, amateur behavioral scientists, fantasy league CEOs, and a hundred other obnoxious shells that form the most bitter pill coatings of sports fans telling us about business sense and TV ratings and returns on investments when all we want to do is watch some goddamned college football. Jump into its midst on any autumn Saturday and you will rapidly descend into a harrowing tunnel that is deeper, darker, and more terrifying than a close-up of Ron Perlman’s nostrils.
Kevin Sumlin knows he’s under pressure. Has lived there, and at times thrived in that place. He doesn’t need reminding, but it probably doesn’t bother him all that much. Unlike most critics, he has the luxury of being able to choose to focus purely on football. His former boss and mentor just walked away from the game at the zenith of his career, but don’t expect Sumlin to do the same. He wants to be better than adequate. Whether or not that’s enough is not entirely up to him.