HOOVER, Ala. — This day didn’t have to be this way. It could have gone so much differently for Kevin Sumlin.
In an alternate universe, perhaps the Texas A&M coach would have discussed the momentum gained after another double-digit win season in College Station. Or he could have highlighted the fact that his program had become a worthy threat to Alabama in the SEC West.
Instead, the seat under Sumlin is as hot as a cracked sidewalk in a West Texas ghost town during the dead of summer.
And he deserves all of it.
“I’m feeling the same pressure I feel all of the time,” Sumlin said Wednesday at SEC Media Days. “And so nobody puts more pressure on me than me. And my job is every year; I look at what we do and what we do well. We want to stay ahead of the curve. When we’re not doing well, it’s my job to analyze it and try to fix it.”
Clearly, Sumlin doesn’t have much room for error this season. Texas A&M has resembled a fancy four-wheel drive truck with chrome rims spinning its wheels in mud. The Aggies look the part, but they have gone nowhere the past three seasons. They have produced three straight 8-5 finishes, which would fly at Vanderbilt or Missouri.
But such mediocrity shouldn’t be accepted in College Station anymore. It’s past time the Aggies develop a pulse again. It’s way past the moment to show more than an ability to perfect the art of face-planting late in the season.
The thing is, how can you trust Sumlin to stage a revival?
Oh, there are doubts wrapped in frustrations. The Aggies will be without defensive end Myles Garrett, taken No. 1 overall by the Cleveland Browns in the 2017 NFL Draft. They will be without Trevor Knight, leaving them to choose between three unproven options at quarterback — senior Jake Hubenak and freshmen Kellen Mond and Nick Starkel. Then there are the concerns about the recent late-fall follies, which have become a bizarre tradition unlike any other in Aggieland.
“People are going to talk regardless of what you do, win or lose,” Texas A&M safety Armani Watts said. “So, there are always going to be naysayers and everything. We just take it as a chip, put it on our shoulder and go out there and work and play for Coach Sumlin, because he’s not on the field. We are. So, we’re going to have to win games.”
Earlier in the offseason, Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward made it clear that Sumlin must get better in a hurry when he talked about his coach on The Paul Finebaum Show.
But unless the Aggies shock the college football world and win the SEC West, what changes about Sumlin’s situation? The same shadows will linger.
If Texas A&M wins nine games, similar doubts about Sumlin’s ability to make the most of the talent around him will remain. A season with at least 10 wins seems unlikely, given the Aggies’ situation behind center and their recent track record of treating October, November and December like a banana peel they can’t avoid. Optimism is hard to find.
The upcoming schedule presents its usual frights. Alabama comes to Kyle Field on Oct. 7. A trip to Florida on Oct. 14 will be no joke. There are home games against Mississippi State and Auburn. Then a journey to LSU on Nov. 25 will be as enjoyable as having a tooth pulled with a pair of rusted pliers.
“Whatever’s said, whatever the conversation, whatever’s written, it’s not going to affect how I do my job, and it’s not going to affect my day-to-day operation,” Sumlin said.
That sounds fine. That’s what Sumlin is supposed to say.
But the heat is on at Texas A&M.
All of it was avoidable.