The Case of Kevin Sumlin

First off, I’m not advocating the firing of Kevin Sumlin. My intentions in doing this was to take as an objective look as possible at Sumlin’s head coaching career. Based on the results of this season and especially the Kyle Allen transfer there’s a whole lot of emotion and concern with Aggie Football right now. Is it justified? It sure feels that way but maybe it’s not.

From my standpoint college football is based on wins and losses. Nothing else matters. Rankings, players, style, and everything else is just window dressing. Wins get you to conference championships which in this day and age get you to the College Football Playoffs. Sure it’s possible to win it all without winning your conference but it’s really rare. You have to win games. Plain and simple.

So with that I decided to take a look at some various aspects of Sumlin’s win and loss record. Here’s the various categories below:

Overall at UH – 35-17 (.673)
Record with Keenum – 32-11 (.744)
Record without Keenum – 3-6 (.333)
Overall at A&M – 36-15 (.706)
Record with Manziel – 20-6 (.769)
Record without Manziel – 16-9 (.640)
SEC Record Overall – 17-15 (.531)
SEC with Manziel – 10-6 (.625)
SEC without Manziel – 7-9 (.438)
SEC Record at Home – 6-9 (.400)
SEC Record on Road – 9-6 (.600)
SEC Record Neutral – 2-0 (1.000)
UH Bowl Record – 1-1 (.500)
A&M Bowl Record – 3-0 (1.000)
Conference Championship Game (CUSA) – 0-2 (.000)
Highest SEC West Rank – Tied for 2nd with Manziel. 4th, 6th, and T-5th in other seasons.

 

So what does all of this mean? For me it means Sumlin is not as bad as it seems right now. My main concern in doing this was to check and see if he’s the product of a two great QBs in Keenum and Manziel. It’s certainly the case with Keenum at UH but the overall A&M record with and without Manziel weren’t as stark as I thought it might be. It’s definitely improved with Manziel but not as much as I thought. The SEC record with and without Manziel is pretty concerning though. So looking at the various win and loss isolations doesn’t show cause for major concern but he’s definitely a much better coach with Keenum and Manziel. How much better with Manziel is up for debate. Keenum is not. The SEC record at home is just embarrassing and needs to be fixed immediately.

Tossing all the win/loss stuff aside I think the most concerning thing right now is the perceived negative trend of the Aggie offense and it does seem justified. The main culprit is Jake Spavital as OC. Our offense the last two seasons has been woefully inconsistent and flat out not productive at times. We’ve shuffled through three different starting QBs and our line play has regressed the last two seasons. There’s been a definite drop in talent with the loss of NFL tackles but the line has not even been serviceable at times. If you can’t compete at the line of scrimmage you’re not going to win very many games. While Spav is the QB coach the line still falls under him as the OC has to understand its ability so he can design and call plays in accordance with how the line performs. Spav seems clueless of any issues with the offensive line. It seems he’s calling plays in a vacuum of a struggling offensive line. That’s a concern beyond the offensive line struggling itself.

There have been a lot of flags with the offense the past two seasons but I’ll point out two in the last two games. Against Vandy we had one touchdown and it was a 95 yard bomb where Kyle Allen was able to throw deep to Josh Reynolds. Kyle Allen has an NFL arm and we have a bevy of deep threats at receiver so any OC in the country could design a play to get man coverage for a deep ball. Hell, any of us could do it. It’s the staple of Thanksgiving games everywhere. In that game we kicked SIX field goals but only scored one TD on that 95 yard bomb. We were in field goal territory SIX times but couldn’t sustain a single one of those drives to score a TD. Now the Vandy defense is decent but not that great to keep our offense in field goal range SIX times and prevent us from scoring a SINGLE touchdown. That’s on the OC for not being able to call plays to score a SINGLE TD.

Against LSU we scored 7 points. Now most people probably don’t see the issue in that as we’ve struggled against LSU since joining the SEC. However this is the first time we’ve ever had single digits against LSU. Even worse we were the ONLY team in 2015 that didn’t score double digits against LSU. Actually, the next lowest amount of points given up by LSU in 2015 was 19. We were 12 points off the second lowest amount of points given up. The likes of Syracuse, Eastern Michigan, South Carolina, Florida, and Western Kentucky scored at least 12 more points than Jake Spavital’s highly vaunted offense. Unreal.

In games 11 and 12 of this season our offense is still sputtering along against decent but by no means outstanding defenses. With the weapons we have at receiver and the arm of Kyle Allen there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have scored 3 touchdowns in each of those games. I’m dead serious about that. Based on Spav’s two year body of work I don’t know how Sumlin could not let him go a day or two after the LSU game. Spav is just not getting it done but yet Sumlin appears to be unsure of his next move unless he’s working in some stealth mode that even the United States Air Force wouldn’t know how he’s doing it.

To make it worse this week comes the transfer of Kyle Allen. Despite what you think of Kyle Allen there is no doubt that at this current moment he’s the most productive QB on the roster. Maybe Kyler turns the corner but if you look at the production of Kyle and Kyler objectively up to this point it’s not even close. Kyle has been the better quarterback by far. Kyle would be going into his third season in the program so it’s safe to assume he would continue to progress as a QB. Kyle is likely going to be a first round draft pick and play for a long time on Sundays. He has that kind of talent and at times showed he can read a defense. Now he’s gone.

The rumored stories of the reason for his transfer are concerning. He got hurt in the Bama game but gutted it out because of the issues with Kyler and Spav apparently. He then had to play hurt in the Ole Miss game due to Kyler’s double secret suspension but Kyler still traveled with the team. That still boggles my mind why Kyler traveled if he wasn’t going to play. Kyle got hung out in the Ole Miss game WAY too long because Kyler couldn’t play. I think Spav was afraid to go to Hubenak when it was clear something was wrong with Kyle. Kyle was then relegated to third string against South Carolina and Auburn while his injury was kind of hidden for whatever reason. He comes in the Western Carolina going for 6/6 and looking stellar. He gets the starting job back and plays the entire game against Vandy and LSU. It was actually Hubenak and not Kyler who closed out the LSU game. Sumlin and Spav TOTALLY botched how they handled the QBs this season. TOTALLY BOTCHED.

Sumlin is apparently wavering in what he’s going to do offensively next season. To make it worse two weeks after the last game Kyle shocks the staff and says peace out. I don’t blame Kyle at all based on the way they handled him this season. I think we all knew there was a chance Kyle or Kyler would transfer but Kyle seemed to have the starting job locked down but he still decided to move on. He should be moving into his third season with a roster full of guys he knows but instead will transfer somewhere he’s unsure of and sit out a season. It makes no sense on the surface.

So here Aggie football stands with no proven QB under center no matter what we do at OC. Kyler was a stud in high school and can flat out move but his passing has been less than stellar this season. He definitely doesn’t have the arm of Kyle Allen so having a fleet of stud WRs doesn’t mean as much as with Kyle. I will also say it was maddening to watch Spav run the same offense with Kyle and Kyler. They both have different skill sets so some of Kyler’s struggles are on the lack of an OC that should have designed and called plays to Kyler’s strengths. Once again what does Spav see with his players? I don’t get it.

If I’m the A&M AD I tell Sumlin he has to remove Spav ENTIRELY from the staff. He’s had three seasons on staff and hasn’t developed as a QB coach and OC. Both starting QBs to open the last two seasons have now transferred. That’s pretty damning as one is okay but both shows the lack of development the last two years offensively. They transferred because they weren’t entrenched as the starter. You can’t have a QB carousel with guys that aren’t seniors. I’m fine with the Baylor approach of developing a kid on the roster for a couple of years and then plugging them as a junior or senior and never missing a beat. That’s not what’s going on at A&M right now. It’s utter confusion by staff and players at the QB position. The most important position in the program has no identity.

I don’t really want to go 8-4 again next season but that’s my bar for Sumlin in 2016. Anything less and A&M is going to have to make a tough financial decision. Sumlin should probably go but it’s going to cost A&M a ton of money to move on. 8-4 or better and it would be tough to justify firing Sumlin despite more of the same.

My biggest fear on Sumlin is waiting too long with him and losing Chavis as well. Chavis is the most valuable person associated with the football program. I know there were frustrating moments with the defense this year but if you truly watched the defense you saw a defense that never quit and made adjustments throughout the game to improve. Chavis was a flat out miracle worked compared to what Snyder had done. Without Chavis we’re probably 6-6 and the heat is cranked on Sumlin despite what goes on with Spav and Kyle Allen. If it becomes clear Sumlin is not a great head coach I don’t want to wait too long. The ideal scenario would be to hire an offensive mind like Chad Morris or Tom Herman to pair with Chavis as DC. Not saying Morris or Herman is the answer but finding a true offensive minded coach that works with Chavis would be ideal. Dude is at worst a Top 5 defensive coordinator in the country. I think he’s the best. Dude can flat out coach a defense.

If Sumlin does decide to keep Spavital I think next year will be his last season. I can seriously see us going 1-3 to start out losing to UCLA , Auburn, and Arkansas. There’s a good chance we could go 1-6 losing to South Carolina, Tennessee, and Bama as Muschamp at home against Spav is not a matchup I have much faith in. Tennessee is super talented and we all know about Bama. Miss St. loses Prescott so that game won’t be as tough even on the road and we get Ole Miss and LSU at home. No idea right now how tough those games will be. Although Sumlin has shown playing SEC games at Kyle is not an advantage for his squads. I could see us going anywhere from 4-8 to 7-5 but not much better with Spav as OC. Yes, he’s that bad.

Conversely, if Sumlin brings in a bona fide OC and QB coach along with getting an improved offensive line then 8-10 wins is very doable. With a stud OC and Kyle Allen coming back I think we’re a potential threat to win the SEC. But that’s not the case anymore. I just don’t see wining the SEC even if the new OC is a true stud without Kyle. Developing Kyler will be tough as he’ll likely only have him over the summer as during the Spring Kyler will be playing baseball. 2016 is all of a sudden a major question due to Kyle Allen transferring.

Right now is truly a swing moment for Sumlin . If he can turn Kyle Field into an SEC home field advantage and hold his other tendencies we’re all of sudden an SEC West contender praying Bama stubs it toe more than once a season. I have no idea which way it will go but I can see it going either way assuming Sumlin makes some hard decisions about his offensive staff. What he has now isn’t working or even close to working. If he sticks with the current staff he’s a dead man walking and we’ll be looking for a new coach 12 months from now. I personally hope Sumlin pulls it off and contends for the SEC in the next season or two as the only thing worse than a QB carousel in a program is a coaching carousel.

If Sumlin does get let go it will be a fascinating tale of luck to amazing wealth. To the best of my research he might not be the offensive guru he is portrayed as. It looks like he only called plays for half a season at A&M. He basically leveraged one win with Reggie McNeal over OU to get a job on OU’s staff. He sat on the OU staff eventually getting to Co-OC but he wasn’t working with the QBs or calling plays. He was the wide receiver coach. He leveraged that Co-OC gig to the HC gig at UH where Keenum was already on the roster. He made some nice hires in Holgersen and Kingsbury as OCs and rode Keenum’s success to the HC gig at A&M where Manziel was on roster. We all know about the 2012 football season which Sumlin leveraged for $5 million a year and the second highest paid coach in the SEC. Maybe he’s Dennis Franchione 2.0 being in the right place at the right time before his ineptness caught up with him. I hope not but we’ll find out in the next 12 months. Sumlin’s coaching seat is officially hot.

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