Myles Garrett’s rise should be a reason to celebrate Kevin Sumlin.
Yet again, a former Texas A&M player will be selected in the NFL draft’s first round. Yet again, a face of Aggies pride will be showcased to the world as the dynamic defensive end begins his professional career. Yet again, Sumlin’s program will be gifted a moment that can be used on the recruiting trail to tell prospects, “Your dreams can come true by joining us.”
But for Aggies fans, Garrett’s ascension as one of the top talents to make the transition from Saturdays to Sundays this year is no excuse to throw a ticker-tape parade near Kyle Field. In fact, it makes the idea of picking up a torch and a pitchfork more appealing.
Another elite NFL prospect breezed through Aggieland under Sumlin, who will enter his sixth season as Texas A&M’s coach next fall. And the Aggies accomplished … little.
Haven’t we seen this show before?
The act should be old for any 12th man. For Texas A&M fans, the 8-5 finishes the past 3 seasons had to be as enjoyable as listening to Creed on loop. That 11-2 run in 2012, when Johnny Manziel was more terror on the field than TMZ sensation, seems much longer than 5 years ago. The shine on Sumlin’s resume has been gone for a while, only to be replaced by ripped edges and faded ink.
In recent years, Texas A&M has treaded water with elite talent on its roster.
By now, it’s fair to wonder if Sumlin’s program will ever be more than meh material.
Garrett is the latest example of a missed opportunity. Under Sumlin, Texas A&M has developed an impressive pipeline to the NFL: 13 former Aggies players were drafted from 2013-16, including 6 in the first round. Before linebacker Von Miller went second overall in 2011 and quarterback Ryan Tannehill went eighth in 2012, no former Texas A&M players were taken in the first round from 2004-10.
Still, all that future NFL talent under Sumlin failed to produce anything meaningful.
It’s unfair to say Manziel, wide receiver Mike Evans, offensive tackle Jake Matthews and other NFL-bound players should have delivered an SEC West title. Like most of the SEC, the Aggies lived in Alabama’s shadow the past 5 seasons. Texas A&M’s victory over the Crimson Tide in 2012 stands as one of the brightest moments of Sumlin’s tenure, but the coach shouldn’t be judged by his 1-4 record against Alabama.
Instead, it was Sumlin’s job to build on progress made early in his time with the Aggies and prove Texas A&M was no 1-hit wonder. He has failed, even while drawing talent the NFL covets later.
Sumlin is a victim of fleeting success. He set the bar too high, too early. That 2012 season, capped by a victory over Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, made the Aggies the SEC’s hot, new thing. The problem with being a bright, shiny object is that you must stay that way to remain interesting. Otherwise, you’re tossed aside for the next fad.
At the moment, Texas A&M finds itself in the SEC’s attic, buried in a cardboard box with former fascinations like Bret Bielema’s aura and Hugh Freeze’s recruiting prowess. One step back can be excused. But 3 straight 8-win seasons is a great way to become boring.
It doesn’t help Sumlin’s cause that he’s paid $5 million per year to figure out how to make Texas A&M cool again. His seat should sizzle. He has underperformed, and the Aggies’ image has suffered.
There will be time in the months ahead to dissect Texas A&M’s chances in 2017. On paper, the road to recovery in the SEC West looks tough. After all, Alabama is Alabama. But Auburn is on the rise. Plus, LSU enjoys new momentum under coach Ed Orgeron. Arkansas and Mississippi State could take steps forward. Only Ole Miss looks down for the count for a long time.
At the very least, 9 wins should be the Aggies’ goal to snap out of that dreaded 8-5 malaise.
But given Texas A&M’s recent performance, who trusts Sumlin to deliver? Who knows if he has any magic left?
The coming weeks should provide more frustration. On April 27, it will be easy to look at Garrett’s selection in the NFL draft as another wicked “What if?” of the Sumlin era.
A star came to Aggieland, prospered and moved on to the sport’s highest level.
Texas A&M is left in the rearview mirror, spinning its wheels.