Now that the dust of Christmas Day has settled and bowl season is approaching over-drive mode, its time to examine something that I’ve been particularly interested in for the past week and a half: the state of the Texas A&M football program and what that means for Head Coach Kevin Sumlin.
The Aggies have made national news the in recent weeks, despite not playing a game since Nov. 28. On Dec. 10 sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen, a former five-star recruit, announced his plans to transfer from Texas A&M. Just days later, freshman quarterback Kyler Murray, a former four-star recruit, announced his intentions to leave College Station. Both players split at time the quarterback position throughout the season, with Allen starting nine of twelve games.
Allen’s announcement to transfer, however surprising, came without drama and was perhaps thought to be a blessing, allowing Murray to presumptively taking the reigns at quarterback permanently. But Murray’s transfer announcement, which left A&M with just one quarterback for their upcoming bowl game against Louisville, brought on a barrage of confusion, rumors and outrage throughout message boards and the Twitter-sphere.
The bizarre and startling transfer announcement from Allen accompanied a story about Allen and his father, Kevin Murray, a former standout quarterback for the Aggies during the mid-80’s, having a sit down meeting with Coach Sumlin, which culminated in Murray deciding to follow through with the transfer.
Now, you might be asking: What’s the big deal? A couple of kids decide to transfer, that happens all the time. If A&M can recruit these four and five star guys, they’ll just get a few more, right?
This may be true. Since Sumlin’s arrival at Texas A&M the Aggies have shown they have the ability to recruit. Not only recruit, but also recruit elite quarterback talent. That’s never been the issue. The issue? Keeping that talent.
The Aggies have officially lost three four/five-star quarterbacks in the past two seasons due to transfer. Kenny Hill, also known as “Kenny Trill”, decided to transfer after the 2014 season and will compete for the staring job at TCU after sitting out the 2015 season. With the departures of Allen and Murray, this leaves Texas A&M with a full-blown quarterback crisis.
A few questions remain, though. Why did this happen? Is this a mere coincidence, or is this a deeper-rooted issue with the A&M football program as a whole? Or, is this a Kevin Sumlin issue?
I believe it s a little bit of both.
There are three specific reasons that A&M is in this predicament.
First off, Texas A&M shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place. Kevin Sumlin should have struck while the iron is hot and taken a better job after the 2013 season. I think Texas A&M has peaked, as far as their ability to succeed and grow as a national brand. Sumlin has helped propel A&M to heights most never thought they’d reach after making the move to the SEC, but after a decline in wins the past couple of years I think its fair to say they might have hit their ceiling.
Secondly, Kevin Sumlin simply over-recruited. I understand that with the ever-changing tides of college football, that it’s necessary to keep a pantry full of able players. With that being said, quarterbacks have egos. Especially the highly touted four and five star quarterbacks that have been told they’re special their entire life.
The surplus of four/five-star quarterbacks at A&M divided the locker room and made it difficult for Sumlin and the rest of the Aggies to settle on one guy. Ultimately, this led to both players being unhappy and deciding to transfer.
Perhaps the most damning part of this situation is the alleged broken promises on Kevin Sumlin’s end. These broken promises in-part led to both Allen and Murray being unhappy. Look, I’m not naïve. I realize that college coaches promise all sorts of things, all the time. But here’s the thing, you can’t promise that two quarterbacks are going to be “the guy”. The quarterback position is unique in that only one guy can be “the guy”. Sumlin promised to hand both guys the keys to the proverbial “car” and they both wrecked that car. Now Sumlin is left to pick up the pieces.
This decline in victories, accompanied with the transfers of top-tier talent has cast Kevin Sumlin in a negative light and now, apparently, has him in hot water.
According to Chip Brown of Horns Digest, Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp “is unhappy with the direction of the program and is working to terminate (Sumlin’s) contract.”
Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle reported Sharp refuted a report by Horns Digest claiming he was exploring the possibility of firing Sumlin. Sharp called the claims a “fairy tale” and “completely false”, saying they could be “out of imagination” of the reporter.
Regardless of whether Sharp has seriously explored the possibility of firing Sumlin, its clear that the Sumlin’s seat has gotten hotter in College Station.
Aside from the difficulty of relieving any head coach of their duties, Sumlin’s case is sure to be especially difficult. Sumlin signed a six-year, 30 million-dollar contract in 2013 (effective Jan. 1, 2014) and his contract in particular contains unique stipulations.
Sumlin’s deal includes buyout provisions that would result in Sumlin being paid all of the money remaining on his contract if he was fired without cause at any point in the deal. As soon as Chip Brown reported the news about Sharp being unhappy with Sumlin and the direction of the program, new reports from Sumlin’s camp surfaced about the potential legal battle that would ensue if Sumlin were fired without cause.
This all means it would be extremely difficult (and likely messy) to fire Sumlin.
So, what does this all mean?
Well, Aggie faithful can look at their current situation with a glass half-full or glass half-empty approach.
The first being that A&M just cleansed themselves of two quarterbacks that never seemed truly comfortable and failed to flourish in their second and first year, respectfully. This newfound hole at the quarterback position opens the door for a potential graduate transfer, like former Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight. Knight is already rumored to be interested in A&M and would be eligible to play right away next season. This could be a nice stepping-stone before verbal-commit No. 1 ranked QB Tate Martell can arrive in College Station and hopefully be the quarterback for the future.
The second way to look at their current situation: Texas A&M just lost two highly touted quarterbacks that in a way, be-smirched the program and the validity of the head coach in the process. A&M also has a head coach with a fairly new deal that seems near impossible to navigate around. Oh yeah, let’s not forget that the Aggies still play in the SEC and the SEC West. To top it all off, for the time being, Texas A&M will be rolling into the Music City Bowl against Louisville with one quarterback that has little to no experience.
Without a doubt, this will be a situation to keep an eye on in both the coming months and years. A lot of eyes will be on the Aggies and Kevin Sumlin during the 2016 season.