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Deconstructing R.C. Slocum - The SWC Era

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Part 1 of a deeper look at the career of A&M's winningest coach and his legacy.

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Of all sports, college football requires the greatest sense of perspective.  The distinct lack of parity among the "haves" and the "have nots" of the world dictates that some victories mean more than others, and some victories mean practically nothing. Universities and their fans should be careful before heaping praise (and salary) on coaches for "ten win seasons" or "bowl appearances". A 12 game season, the proliferation of cupcake games, and an abundance of lower tier bowls has reduced the value of such accolades. Rather, fans should ask themselves if there is any value in meaningless wins. I maintain there is very little. At the end of the day, a coach should be judged by the quality of the opponents he defeated, not merely the quantity.

Keeping this in mind, I decided to examine the career of R.C. Slocum. A&M's winningest coach, Slocum led the Aggies to 123 wins in 172 games, finishing with a career record of 123-67-2.  Is that good?  It seems good, but exactly how good?

R.C.'s 14 year coaching career was split evenly, 7 years in the SWC and 7 years in the Big 12 (when it was the Big 12). Lets look at how he fared in the respective conferences:

SWC conference record:  44-6-2

Big 12 conference record: 34-22

That's a bit revealing. Obviously, the Big12 was a better football conference than the SWC.  That's not news. What might be news to some is exactly how bad the SWC was in its final years. The first part of this series examining R.C.'s career takes a look at R.C.'s SWC days. The second part will examine the Big 12 era and its effect on Slouch’s legacy.

THE SOUTHWESTERN CONFERENCE WAS BAD AT FOOTBALL

R.C. Slocum's SWC tenure (1989-1995) coincided with the end of that conference.  The table below contains the overall records of the conference members during that time, and demonstrates just how badly scandal, probation, and general malaise had decimated the conference by the time R.C. came along.

Team

Wins

Losses

Ties

Bowls

Notes

TCU

35

42

0

0-1

Baylor

45

34

1

1-2

Rice

24

40

2

0-0

Houston

31

45

1

0-0

12-42-1 from 1991-1995

SMU

13

61

3

0-0

10-42-3 from 1991-1995

A&M

68

15

2

2-4

Texas

49

30

2

1-2

Tech

45

36

0

2-2

Arkansas

19

16

0

0-2

left the conference in 1992

Total

329

319

11

6-13

0-6 in Cotton Bowls

That's not good.  It much worse if you take away Texas A&M.  Without A&M, the SWC's overall record from 1989-1995 was 261-304-11.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A&M’s SWC brethren during R.C.'s tenure lost 43 more games than they won.

The SWC was also 0-6 in Cotton Bowls.

Still, R.C. couldn't help who he played, and at first glance, the 44-6-2 record seems pretty damn good right? Well, lets dig a little deeper.

THE SIX SWC LOSSES

It’s worth noting that all of Slocum's SWC losses (1989 Tech, 1989 Arkansas, 1990 Houston, 1990 Texas, 1995 Texas, 1995 Texas) came at the hands of teams that won at least 9 games back when winning 9 games meant something. That's GOOD!  But did you know, those were practically the ONLY good SWC teams R.C. ever faced? The only other SWC team R.C. faced that won 9 games was 1989 Houston, whom he beat. You can look it up.  Overall, Slocum was 1-6 against SWC teams that won 9 games or more.

HISTORICALLY BAD RIVALS

Coincident with the historically bad SWC, between 1989 and 1995 A&M and Slocum also benefitted from an unprecedented dismal period for its geographic rivals.  As shown below, all of these programs were in tremendous flux during this period. LSU had only 1 winning season during that period thanks to Mike Archer and Curley Hallman (also thanks to A&M and Slocum). During the same period, Texas won more than 6 games only 3 times, straddling the regimes of David McWilliams and John Macokvic. In 1989 when Barry Switzer's tornado left Norman, Gary Gibbs was hired to replace him.

Year

LSU

Texas

Oklahoma

A&M

1989

4-7

5-6

7-4

8-4

1990

5-6

10-2

8-3

9-3-1

1991

5-6

5-6

9-3

10-2

1992

2-9

6-5

5-4-2

12-1

1993

5-6

5-5-1

9-3

10-2

1994

4-7

8-4

6-6

10-0-1

1995

7-4-1

10-2-1

5-5-1

9-3

Total

32-42-1

49-31-2

49-28-3

68-15-2

This tremendous amount of chaos created the perfect opportunity for A&M to emerge as the dominant program in the region, and to Slocum's credit, that's just what happened.

THE GOLDEN YEARS:  1991-1994

Looking at Slocum’s SWC years, you can't help but observe that A&M had no SWC losses in 1991, 1992, 1993, or 1994.  That's GOOD!  However, of the 29 conference opponents A&M faced in that stretch, only 1991 Baylor was ranked. (By comparison, Kevin Sumlin has faced THIRTEEN ranked conference opponents in his three years as A&M's head coach)

Still, the 1991-1994 era was a time when A&M was dominant, going 42-5-1. Four ten win seasons.  Three conference titles (A&M was ineligible for the 1994 crown).  Three Cotton Bowl appearances.  That's GOOD!  A&M's dominance over the SWC elevated the program to a level of prestige it had never known, and kept it at the forefront of college football.

It was a good time, but it could have been even better if not for some tragic missteps.  Lets take a look:

The 1991 loss to Tulsa - The first of the dominant SWC years didn't begin that way with the Ags dropping their second game 34-35 in front of 30,000 screaming fans in Tulsa.  TULSA?!?!  TULSA?!?!  The fact that the Golden Hurricanes gave A&M a better game than any of their SWC opponents that season is telling. But TULSA?!  That loss prevented the Ags from entering the national title conversation, not that it would have mattered, as the Ags dropped the Cotton Bowl to FSU, 10-2, finishing the year with the same record.

The 1992 Cotton Bowl loss - The Aggies went 11-0 during the season and rolled into the Cotton Bowl undefeated before losing 28-3 to Lou Holtz and his Fighting Irishthhhh. A win here could have established A&M among the elite programs in college football. (Interesting fact:  The Irish's only loss that year came to Stanford at home, whom A&M beat in their season opener)

The 1993 disaster in Norman - The Ags opened the year with a thorough dismantling of LSU at home and rolled into Norman ranked #5 for a matchup with the #16 Sooners.  They were taken apart, losing 14-44 and never entered the national title conversation after that despite completely woodshedding their next 9 opponents (outscoring them 366-75!!!!) before dropping a close Cotton Bowl to the Irish.

The Unfathomable 1994 tie with SMU - Ineligible for the postseason, the Ags were still a recognized powerhouse in 1994.  They proceeded to steamroll their first 7 opponents to the tune of 204-89....UNTIL.... tying SMU 21-21 in the Alamodome. (The ridiculousness of tying SMU aside, HOW IN THE HELL ARE WE PLAYING IN THE ALAMODOME?!? Old Ags feel free to comment below if you know).  The Tom Rossley led Mustangs arrived in San Antonio on a roll sporting a gaudy 1-7 record, smack in the middle of a 3 year stretch where they would go 4-26-3.  This has to be the most unfathomable result in modern A&M football history, and it did damage, depriving A&M of an undefeated season, and another opportunity to stake its claim nationally.

1995 Texas Loss at Kyle - A&M opened the season ranked #3 and (yet another) destruction of LSU.  They then dropped back to back contests, memorable defeats both, to Colorado and Texas Tech (I hate you, Zach Thomas).  Still, in the Aggies still had the opportunity to take the final SWC crown when Texas arrived at Kyle Field on December 2, 1995.  It was not meant to be.  R.C. and the Aggies went down 16-6 in their last SWC game.

BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

At first glance at the stats indicate that the end of the SWC was a tremendous time for R.C. and A&M. t A&M finished ranked all 7 of those seasons, 3 of them in the top 10. hat seems incredible, reading between the lines tells a bit of a different tale. As demonstrated above, the SWC was exceptionally terrible. Of the 52 SWC conference contests R.C. coached in, only 6 of his opponents were ranked. He went 2-4 against them. Only 7 SWC teams he faced ended up winning 9 or more games. He went 1-6 against those teams. He also went 2-4 in bowl games, and 0-3 in Cotton Bowls. R.C. rarely faced any tough conference competition during the SWC era, and when he did, he didn't fare well.

Is this a condemnation of R.C.?  Of course not.  After all, very few coaches do great against top level competition (otherwise the competition wasn't that great was it?).  Slocum’s predecessor Jackie Sherrill had gone 26-4 in the SWC the previous four seasons before leaving the program on probation. Slocum took over and maintained that momentum, while placing his own stamp on the program. No small task. He also went 5-2 against Texas during that time.  It just so happens that the 2 losses were significant. If I could some up R.C.’s SWC tenure it would be to say he achieved many good things, but greatness simply eluded him.

When 1995 concluded, R.C.'s record stood at 68-15-2 and 44-6-2 in the SWC. 1996 arrived. However, the SWC was dead, and R.C. would have to deal with an entirely new animal.  Gone were doormat cupcakes Houston, SMU, TCU, and Rice. Taking their place were the likes of Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado, and Kansas State. How effectively (and how quickly) R.C. could adjust to this new landscape would ultimately prove his worth as a coach.

I will breakdown that era in the next piece.