I remember days like today. They used to be called "Texas Junior Days."
At least in those times, several years back when Mack Brown was still getting commitments from every blue chip recruit in the state of Texas, the hype for Texas A&M's upcoming recruiting class would die before it even got started. The pain and grief came quickly. Now, the heartache of recruiting has struck during the holidays with very little time to recover, both emotionally and with regards to holding a recruiting class together.
What happened? What led to this?
A lot of today's fall-out is being blamed on Kevin Sumlin's lack of urgency in hiring a new defensive coordinator to replace departed Mark Snyder. The process has no doubt been frustrating for Texas A&M fans, as little is clear on what has actually occurred up to this point, who has been and are still real candidates for the open position, and when the search might reach any sort of conclusion. There is a real possibility that no new defensive coordinator will be named by next week, and then the search gets put on hold while Texas A&M prepares to play West Virginia in the Liberty Bowl. It may take longer than a month before the process is completed; we're already sitting at three weeks.
While it appears Kevin Sumlin could have avoided today's disaster by simply finding a candidate and ending the process earlier this week before Poteet LB Malik Jefferson made his decision, that may not have been the case. During his recruitment, Jefferson always seemed to talk favorably about Texas, and his family strongly supported the Longhorns. As for Gladewater DT Daylon Mack, he has flirted with numerous schools since committing to Texas A&M, including Auburn, Florida, LSU, and TCU. From the outside looking in, it seems like Daylon was only interested in remaining committed to Texas A&M if he could play with Malik Jefferson. When that wasn't going to happen, he decided to re-open his recruitment to schools he was truly interested in.
Did both players really have their hearts set on playing at Kyle Field for Texas A&M and Kevin Sumlin? It doesn't appear that way, or else both would be committed to Texas A&M tonight. Instead, both only wanted to play at Texas A&M because everyone else seemed to be and there was peer pressure to choose the Aggies. Once someone broke away from the group, everything unraveled. This unraveling may have been inevitable when other defensive assistant coaches are let go at a later date, EVEN if Kevin Sumlin had tabbed a new defensive coordinator earlier this week. It also is amazing to see this process play out over social media, which is a new medium to allow these high school players to interact with each other, significantly impacting their college choices.
While Kevin Sumlin had an option of concluding his defensive coordinator search earlier, he also had another option: not terminating Mark Snyder's employment so quickly after the season finale loss to LSU. Instead of trying to hire a defensive coordinator so quickly after the completion of the regular season, he could have waited until after Texas A&M's upcoming bowl game, when lots of coaches become free agents and are on the move. Sumlin made the decision to fire Snyder quickly for one reason and one reason only -- to enter the Will Muschamp sweepstakes. Muschamp was the hot commodity on the coaching market, and prospective schools had to act quickly if they wanted him. It was an all-in move by Sumlin to get his man. And when Muschamp chose Auburn over A&M, the process for Sumlin changed. Instead of going after a free agent without any responsibilities, he was courting coaches who had large current obligations to their programs. For instance, rumored candidate D.J. Durkin is serving as interim head coach of the Florida Gators, and Bud Foster, another rumored candidate, was taking on a larger role for the Virginia Tech program while head coach Frank Beamer underwent throat surgery. While an agreement with those candidates still could have been made, it was much more likely they would have negotiated after their bowl game coaching obligations had been fulfilled.
How much heat should Kevin Sumlin take after the way today unfolded? As someone told me earlier, today was the first time many Aggies had their first bout with losing faith in Sumlin. By now, the 'good graces' that Johnny Manziel's short tenure afforded him are almost entirely depleted. Things could get ugly very quickly if Texas A&M under-performs in the upcoming Liberty Bowl against West Virginia. Sumlin would then likely be on the proverbial hot seat. Many would still have him there with an underwhelming hire at defensive coordinator, but I now feel any hire for Texas A&M will be viewed as underwhelming after going all-in on Will Muschamp. The 2015 season could be a 'make-or-break' in Kevin Sumlin's coaching career after the momentum of the program seemed to surge after the defeat of South Carolina just this past August.
The only issue with improving the program in 2015: you have to have the impact players to make it a reality. And that is what Texas A&M lost on Friday. While the offense will continue to improve, there is no guarantee of defensive improvement in 2015, even with the hiring of a new defensive coordinator. Impact defenders such as Malik Jefferson and Daylon Mack could have made the defensive improvement process much, much easier. Texas A&M continues, as a program, to strike out on the elite-level talent that is at the high school level in the state of Texas, especially at the linebacker position. Both players would have been huge factors in Texas A&M's ability to compete with programs like Alabama, LSU, and Auburn. The only difference between these programs and Texas A&M is the complete lack of high level talent on defense. And the hard truth is that Texas A&M has no potential in correcting this issue any time soon. Daylon and Malik were the foundation to getting the program where it needed to be, but once again, the Texas A&M program is not able to take the proper step forward.
Is all lost? No. But the momentum that has been building around Aggie Football took a massive dive today. And things will probably get worse before they begin to look better. Worst of all, it appears that today has given new life to the program in Austin and Charlie Strong. Today's events will surely be recalled and discussed for some time, and may come to be known as 'Black Friday' among the Aggie faithful.